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20 Questions with Nobu Matsuhisa

A few days ago one of my many dreams came true. Yes, I met Nobu Matsuhisa. I don’t mean meet him like see him from a distance or ask a question in a press conference, (because I did that too), but I mean a one-to-one meeting at Amara Hotel. I got to ask him whatever I wanted, laugh, chat, talk about food, his dreams and the things he likes. It was only at the time of our chat when I realised that I have been following him for 20 years, right when the first Nobu in Europe opened its doors (in London).

Humble, friendly, pleasant who never stops dreaming and never stops working (because working for him is his everyday life), is how I can best describe him.

We met right on time as he hates delays, being late and people who are late. He answered most of my questions in a few words but didn’t hold back in expanding where he thought it was necessary.

  1. Favourite food: Simple Food
  2. Favourite restaurant: Mario in Monaco
  3. One ingredient you always have in your kitchen: Soy sauce
  4. Country you always love to go back to: Japan
  5. If there is one thing you could change in your restaurants, what would it be? Nothing.
  6. If you could start over, what would you have done differently? Nothing, cooking is my life.
  7. If I told you to open a new restaurant tomorrow, what would that be?
  8. A dish you are most proud of in your restaurant? Black cod.
  9. What’s your impression of Cyprus so far? This is ironic but in the last couple of days in the hotel’s opening ceremony and in the Matsuhisa opening a lot of guests are very sophisticated. Citizens are like global citizens, international people. Very nice people.
  10. Your first impression of Cyprus food? A lot of water but not a lot of seafood. People tend to eat more meat. Perhaps people don’t know how to eat fish. It’s similar in Sardinia, and unlike Greece.
  11. What do you think is the most common mistake chefs do? A lot of chefs make mistakes except Nobu Matsuhisa (laughs)
  12. Is there something that people should do more to succeed? I always try my best, I am not looking for the easy way. When I perfect something, only then I go to the next dish. Some chefs try to move too quickly.
  13. Was there a turning point in your career? A few decades in 1978 ago I had a restaurant in Alaska which caught fire after only 15 days, and I almost killed myself. It wasn’t my first restaurant but I was at the beginning. That was the lowest I have ever been psychologically.
  14. What are you most proud of? Getting over the incident in Alaska.
  15. Which is your favourite Nobu? Nobu Beverly Hills opened in 1987. That’s the year you were born right? THAT long ago. (And I laugh because I was born in 1983)
  16. Who is your favourite chef? I have private chefs at home. She is my wife and she is the best chef. I love the food she makes. She makes any cuisine and although is not professional it’s simple.
  17. Do you think the culinary world has changed in the last 10 years? There are a lot of new techniques. Before there were only Japanese cooking, Italian cooking, French cooking, and there was a wall between these cuisines. But now the wall is lower and Japanese chefs use caviar and truffle, French chefs use soy sauce. And I love this because my philosophy is that cooking is like fashion: each category is trying to be fashionable, and you need to be fashionable.
  18. Which is your next stop? Paris. I travel 10 months a year. There’s not enough time to stay with my wife but I’m still marry (laughs). Wherever I am once a month I go back home.
  19. Cyprus is a small place and food education is quite low. What would you say to Cypriots to help them or advise them? My challenge is to introduce more fresh fish and how to eat it, introduce Nobu-side of fish and food. Even the use of mayonnaise is ok, but the most important is to be comfortable with raw fish. One of my menus is called “New style sashimi” with salmon, tuna, white fish. Sometimes I add hot olive oil on top so it’s slightly cooked and it’s then easier for people to eat it. Fish is much healthier than meat that’s why I would like to introduce to Cyprus more fish-eating. It takes time, we need to talk to fishermen and face this challenge.
  20. What are your next steps? This is Matsuhisa number 11, we have 40 Nobu restaurants and we still have a lot of projects for both. I have a very good team everywhere. I can’t do everything myself so I have local partners. In my first restaurant in 1987, 32 years ago when you were a baby, my restaurants and my teams were also “babies”. You have grown, they have grown too. We have grown together. Teamwork is great and our philosophy is expanding.

I am beyond thankful to Amara Hotel for this opportunity and of course to Nobu-san for transforming the culinary world into a better place.

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