Sushi chef to serve up a showRobert DeNiro liked his restaurant in Los Angeles so much that he persuaded Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, better known as Mr. Nobu, to go partners in a new restaurant in New York City. Nobu, a fusion restaurant, was the result, opening in 1994, four years after the launch of Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills. DeNiro's partner, a celebrated Japanese chef, has gone on to open more Nobu restaurants, in places such as Las Vegas, Paris and Milan. He has 14 today.
Matsuhisa, trained in Tokyo as a sushi chef, opened his first sushi restaurant in Lima, Peru. His fresh and innovative spin on Japanese culinary tradition impressed epicures from all over, who appreciated his aesthetic presentations and creative mixing and matching of ingredients.
Wherever he opened a new restaurant, his food became the talk of the town, and a legion of celebrities followed: toro tartar with caviar became Madonna's favorite dish; sashimi salad, Tom Cruise's favorite; spiny lobster soup, Martha Stewart's favorite. In 2001, Manhattan's Nobu restaurant was ranked near the top of all restaurants in the Zagat Survey for New York City. Now 53 and based in Los Angeles, the chef regularly makes the rounds to his restaurants to ensure top quality and service.
Matsuhisa will visit Seoul next week to present his specialties for three nights, from Thursday to Aug. 24. He chose the Shilla's Italian restaurant La Fontana to be his venue, instead of Japanese restaurants.
The special seven-course meal will cost about 150,000 won ($125) per person.For reservations or more information, call 02-2230-3431.
The JoongAng Ilbo English Edition recently hooked up for an online chat with Matsuhisa:
Q : What is the concept and theme of your food in Korea?
A : The concept and theme are the same as they are at all the Nobu restaurants, where the food is prepared basically in the same way, although the fish and other ingredients differ according to the country. The difference is that in Korea I would like to use Korean ingredients in my signature dishes. This will be my first trip to Korea, so the only Korean food I have tried was here in the U.S., and it was mostly Korean barbecue. But I felt the Korean culture in the food and it was delicious and very interesting. I use some Korean spices, such as the red chili paste, gochujang, and plan to use a lot more in the future. Food always changes. Every country's taste changes.
Some people call fusion food "confusion" food. What are the criteria of fusion food in your opinion or from your experience?
Fusion does not mean purely mixing. I take each ingredient and try to use it in its simplest form, and above that the spices influence each ingredient. I've had many failures, but I know it was all meant to be because without those failures I would have never learned new things and other possibilities.
What is the order of importance in making a great restaurant?
Taste -- consisting of food temperature, presentation and ingredients, among other factors -- service, atmosphere, good clients and good reviews.
You've worked with celebrities. What is it like to work with Robert DeNiro? Anyone else?
He's a very good friend and partner. Very trustworthy. Kenny G. and Giorgio Armani are partners in other restaurants. I am looking forward to the reaction I get from Korea.
If you have free time in Seoul, what will you do?
I would like to go to the fish markets, look around the city, and get to know many people so I can learn more about the culture.
Where do you get your inspiration to create a new dish?
Inspiration comes when I meet a new ingredient that interests me. The soft shell crab roll was made when I thought about using the soft shell crab in sushi, when in those days it was mainly only fried. I came up with the idea to roll it with other ingredients and use cucumber to roll around the seaweed.
Which Nobu restaurant is your favorite and why?
Matsuhisa in L.A. because it was the beginning of it all.
by Inēs Cho