Chef-restaurateur Nobuyuki Matsuhisa — aka Nobu — is renowned for his influential Asian fusion food that has been widely imitated. The Nobu brand, whose co-founders include actor Robert De Niro, has 41 restaurants and nine hotels around the world.
Here, we sit down with the man himself to find out more about his childhood, life, and approach to food.
Did you grow up in a cooking family?
Yes. My mother and grandmother were always cooking traditional, simple Japanese food — steamed rice, miso soup, grilled fish…
What memories do you have of being in the kitchen?
Japanese houses aren’t big — in the morning, I’d wake up to the sounds and smells of my mother preparing the dashi stock.
Who influenced your cooking the most?
Watching my mother and grandmother inspired me to cook, but my brother helped me discover sushi. Today, sushi is all over the world, but when I was growing up, it was a very expensive and special thing. He took me to a sushi restaurant in Saitama, where I’m from, and we sat at the counter and watched the chefs make it. I didn’t know what any of the names meant, but after one bite, it was my dream to be a sushi chef.
What was your favourite childhood dish?
Miso soup. In Japanese culture, people eat it with everything. Each day, it can have different ingredients — clams, tofu, seaweed — but the core flavour is the same.
What item in your fridge would you rather not admit having?
I travel for 10 months a year, so I never see my home fridge. I know more about the fridges of the hotels I stay in.
If you weren’t a chef, you’d be…
An artist. I love to paint. I paint what I see: the sky, the beautiful clouds. Nothing too serious or contemporary, just what is around me that day.
What was the first and last cookbook you bought?
I was 18 and it was by a Japanese chef. It was so long ago I can’t remember his name, but I do remember that he was using caviar, foie gras and truffle. I’d never seen these European ingredients before, and it inspired me to use them too. The most recent cookbook is by the chef Ken Hom.
What is your go-to drink?
I drink a lot of green tea, but I love tequila too…
What is the most overrated food trend?
Lots of chefs have complicated their food with fussy, theatrical presentation, such as little bits of foam on plates. I like to keep my cooking clean and simple.
What do you cook at home?
I travel for so much of the year that when I’m home, my wife cooks for me. It’s my time to relax.
What would your desert island meal be?
Something traditional. There’s so much you can do with freshly caught fish: I’d make sushi with it and sashimi. I’d make a miso soup and steam some rice too.
What is your most useful and useless piece of kitchen kit?
My knives and chopping boards are very important. Useless? The microwave.