How the Japanese chef proves that when success is not an option, but rather a requirement
Being a visionary has everything to do with seeing what’s not already there and identifying how to create it. When a young and classically trained sushi chef named Nobuyuki Matsuhisa moved from Tokyo to Peru visionary things happened. Challenged by the new ingredients and approaches to cooking that he absorbed from the local culture, Matsuhisa, who would soon be known simply as Nobu—the way most great giants of industry become known by a singular name—began to create an entirely new kind of cuisine. It should be mentioned that at this time, at 22 years old, Nobu had never left Japan but certainly carried heavy dreams of traveling the world. It was crushing when his restaurant concept didn’t work out and Nobu had to pack up and move to Argentina, but what he gained was a new understanding of a laundry list of Peruvian ingredients not previously used in Japanese cuisine, from cilantro to jalapenos, peppers and the like, that would never again be absent from his arsenal of kitchen tools.
From Argentina, Nobu traveled to Alaska with some amassed debt, a little fear and a lot of faith. He prepped for months and opened another restaurant to rave reviews. Some fifty days in, on Thanksgiving, the unthinkable happened. The new, hot restaurant quite literally went up in flames. As he watched the spot crumble beneath the strength of a raging fire, he was about ready to throw in the proverbial towel. In the singular move that may have changed his life, he called a friend with a small sushi restaurant in Los Angeles and after a little convincing planned to make the move.
Green card in hand he hoped over to La La Land and began to put his new skill set to work. Guests marveled at the new style of food that he says isn’t necessarily fusion, but rather a “courageous” approach to Pervian-inspired sushi and Japanese cuisine. Some seven years or so were spent perfecting what would become globally known as Nobu-style cuisine. Now he was ready to gamble once more on going on his own. Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills became the game changer. So lauded was his unique menu and so precisely executed his dishes that fans grew exponentially. The press followed and soon, everyone who was anyone needed to get at that Matsuhisa. One person in particular was very fond of the concept. Robert De Niro approached Chef Nobu about opening the concept in New York. While Nobu didn’t feel ready to expand at the time—he was still getting his footing at his eponymous location—it would only be a mere four years until the twosome went into business.
In 1994 Nobu and De Niro opened Nobu New York to unprecedented crowds. So popular was the spot, even by New Yorker’s standards, that they had to open Nobu Next Door just to manage the spill over. As of the time of print there are thirty-two Nobu restaurants ranging in location from Miami Beach to Mexico City, with some four more set to open in 2017 with locations in Houston, Newport Beach, Washington DC and another New York location downtown, in the Financial District. Executive chefs for each location have the creative freedom to create Nobu-style dishes unique to each location that have become so popular to Nobu regulars that they’ve cross-pollenated show up at partner restaurant menus the world over. A Miami special, as an example, includes the ‘Nobu Cuban’, a bun filled with Pata Negra and pork belly in a reference to the super popular-in-Miami Cuban sandwich.
“Miami is such a vibrant city: always evolving, always something new to try, always a mix of fun and luxury,” he says.
The opportunity afforded to these younger chefs is Nobu’s returning of the favors that were afforded him. He’s vocal about having been given chances that he hopes to be able to provide for other talented chefs who are willing to work as hard. In a slightly more elevated package comes a collection of Matsuhisa-branded restaurants as well including one in Le Royal Monceau, Raffles Hotel in Paris.
He’s a far cry, many a location and a slew of awards away from the rubble that was his Anchorage location, lost in a fire. Today, his collection of nods include Matsuhisa being chosen as one of the Top Ten Restaurant Destinations in the world by the New York Times in 1993; Michelin Stars; Goodwill Ambassador awards and James Beard accolades, just to name a few.
And in true visionary form, he continues to fill the voids. The Nobu name has become so synonymous with quality and level of lifestyle that it’s spilled over to a carefully curated hotel concept. Currently, some of the premier locations for his branded hotels include The Nobu Hotel on the Eden Roc property on Miami Beach where the restaurant of the same namesake also resides. Similarly, there’s a Nobu Hotel, City of Dreams in the Philippines; Nobu Hotel, Caesars Palace and Nobu Hotel Shoreditch in London, which marks the very first of the brand’s independent and free-standing hotels in that it won’t share a property. Room service 24/7 is just one of the exciting parts of the expertly designed property that, like with everything Nobu does, is primarily built on heart. “I travel 10 months out of the year, so hotels are very important to me,” says the superstar Chef. “We all want to be surrounded by the things we love when we travel, but also discover something we have never experienced before. Nobu Hotel Miami Beach is a special project for us. It’s exciting to take a historic property and make it new again. You are surrounded by beauty and there are so many things to explore…beautiful design, world-class art, a perfect beach and of course delicious food from Nobu Miami and Malibu Farm. And I almost forgot…the new Nobu pool!”
Nobu Hotels are planned for Riyadh, Bahrain, Malibu Beach, Chicago and Los Cabos in Mexico for now and he and his partners show no sign of slowing down.
Who knows what he’ll come up with next; but we sure wait with bated breath. And cravings for black cod miso