Monday, April 11, 2016

My 30 Minutes with Nobu

Published on Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, March 27, 2016


“How many years did you live in Taipei? Do you speak Mandarin? Where did you learn the Philippine language?”

That was how my one-on-one interview with THE Nobu Matsuhisa started – the world-famous chef asking a small town girl, who really just loves to eat, questions about herself.

He showed genuine interest in getting to know me, and after our thirty minutes together, I felt like we’ve been friends for a decade, or since 2006 when I had my first ever Nobu experience at the InterContinental Hong Kong.

All my succeeding Nobu meals gave me the same comforting, warm and fuzzy feeling, no matter where I was in the world, through dishes that were familiar yet exciting, simple yet packed with flavor, coupled with service that was seamless and caring. “The Nobu Experience.” I nodded animatedly, fully able to relate when the 67-year old chef assured with pride that every diner enjoys the same high-quality food and hospitality in all his restaurants, whether he is in Cape Town, Budapest, or Australia.

It was surreal that this gentle and childlike soul I was face-to-face with was the same brilliant man behind the success of 40 restaurants and 2 hotels across 5 continents. The numbers are still growing year after year.

When I mentioned that my questions would be more personal rather than business-related because I wanted to get to know the real Nobuyuki underneath the award-studded chef’s uniform, he quickly replied, with his eyes twinkling, “Personal? Okay, I have one wife and two children. But only one wife, ok!” Everyone in the room bursted into laughter.

No way. He had a sense of humor, too. Could this man be any more perfect?

Here is the rest of the most enjoyable interview I’ve had in a while. (Plenty hilarious, off-the-record statements omitted. Sorry, guys!)

How would you describe yourself outside of the kitchen?

I am Nobu but I am also a chef. I love making happy to the guests, making happy to my friends, making happy to myself. I travel 300 days in a year because I like to see my teams, my family. Automatically when I come to a Nobu branch, the chefs will ask me when can I come again. It’s like kids asking their father. So I promise to come back again in the same year, that’s why the traveling never stops.

How do you manage your time between work and leisure?

Even when I travel, I exercise. Exercise relaxes me. I take vacations with family usually after New Year’s, maybe 10 days, and also in August. But my vacations get shorter and shorter. First year it was 3 weeks, then last year 2 weeks, and most recently just 10 days.

What is your favorite city?

My home is Los Angeles. I have my house, my first restaurant Matsuhisa, my wife and my daughter. Los Angeles is most comfortable city. But I also built a house in Japan, one hour from Tokyo, in Hakone. My house has a hot spring, I go there during vacations. I don’t see anybody, only my family and nature and just relax.

What is one thing you can eat everyday?

I love to eat rice but now I worry about eating too much because I gain weight. Rice, I love it. I like to eat it once a day. I love not only Japanese rice, but also Chinese rice, Thai rice, Korean rice, any rice dishes like fried rice or congee.

One food you will never learn to like?

I never learn to like strange food. Example, every time I go to Hong Kong in January or February, the Chinese chef will recommend the snake soup to keep the body warm during winter. But I had bad experience with snakes. When I lived in Peru and during a camping trip in the amazon, somebody caught a fish and grilled it and asked me to eat it. He said it was eel but I know my fish. After biting, it was so… [made facial expression and a few sounds expressing his disgust]. After this experience I don’t like snake forever, even when people say snake soup is good and it makes the body strong. But no, thank you.

Most memorable meal?

I travel to many countries. If it’s about good meals, I have so much memory I cannot mention just one restaurant. But for me the most enjoyable meal is about passion. I don’t care about the visual and the taste, but if somebody makes only for me like when my wife cooks for me or my daughter cooks, this is most impressive for me. My granddaughter who is 5 years old, I taught her how to make sushi. Last Christmas, she made sushi for the whole family. This kind of meal is most memorable to me.

What would you be if you were not a chef?

I like to paint. Not oil, but something lighter like watercolor or pastel. I’m a chef. I like to use white plate as my canvas. I take fish or vegetable and the sauce will be my color, all natural, simple. I like to make art on the plate.

How has being a famous chef changed you as a person?

When I come, people ask me if they can take pictures and I never say no. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. I like to stay home, I like to relax, but I never say no. There is no privacy, but no choice, this is my life. But also I realize, hey people know me, so I am also very much proud of myself.

Did you ever imagine that Nobu Hotel and Restaurant would one day have a home in Manila?

Yes, Manila has beautiful peoples. The culture and economy are not like Tokyo or New York, but this type of city I like to introduce the food from my restaurant, I like to introduce the hospitality from my hotel. Madonna said a good quote. She said, “If Nobu opens in some city, the city is going to be changed.”

And in turn, what has our city introduced to you? Do you have a favorite Filipino dish?

I do not have enough time to go around yet, but I have so many Filipino chefs in my restaurants. Even Mike, the head chef in Nobu Manila, came from Las Vegas and now he is back home. Sometimes my Filipino chef in New York will make Filipino food for staff meal. I like milkfish, but it has so many bones. [Laughs] I tried it sautéed, fried, and in soup. They say you can have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

You don’t look a day over 60. What is your secret to staying young and happy?

Age is just a number. Age means mentally and physically. That’s why I like to have young generation around me. I like talking to young people because they teach me new things like using the iPhone, what is most fashionable now, they give me a lot of information. This is mentally. Then physically, I exercise.

What is your biggest regret in life?

I made a lot of accidents and mistakes in my life but I learned from them. My experiences made me the person I am now. That’s why I always say to young people, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Just do it. Make mistakes and learn from them. Always do things with passion. Without passion, there will never be success. I don’t have any regrets.

Your greatest success?

I am most proud of my restaurants - 40 in 5 continents over 29 years. I am proud that my Nobu family is growing and I can give opportunities to next generation chefs.

How do you want to be remembered?

I like to think of myself as a chef, but let’s ask my staff Mike, Kenny, Marlon and Hiro what they think I am. I would like to hear. [Chuckles]

Marlon Hirsh, Kenny Hernandez, Mike de Jesus, Nobu Matsuhisa, Hiro Tahara

Mike de Jesus (Head Chef, Nobu Restaurant Manila): To me, Nobu is my mentor, somebody who I set my standards upon and I try to follow what he emulates. He’s a very humble man. Everybody these days sees all these celebrity chefs on TV, living extravagant lives, but when you meet Nobu, he’s just down-to-earth and that’s very humbling, to see somebody who has amassed such a career and yet be able to communicate with him, work with him, talk to him. It has set the tone for my career.

Kenny Hernandez (Manager, Nobu Restaurant Manila): It’s not just in the kitchen, it’s the details in the whole restaurant - how things should look, the style of service, the hospitality, the emotion that you feel when you enjoy a meal. You see the culture that was built around Nobu and then eventually you understand that this was started from one person and his philosophy that was passed on from his family. For me, it’s learning his attention to detail, his creativity, and then how everyone that is part of the family, who you work with everyday for years, they really become that family to you.

Marlon Hirsh (General Manager, Nobu Hotel Manila): Nobu is a name that can be larger than life, so to have him be grounded and down-to-earth and someone you can approach and talk to, you get the best of both worlds. You get to see the man who created the culinary empire and yet he’s still very human. You still can relate to him and he relates back. He’s someone you aspire to be.

Hiro Tahara (CEO, Nobu Restaurants and Hotels): Nobu is also a father figure. We call ourselves Nobu family. He always tells us our success is his success. We can talk to him about personal stuff as well. How he lives, how he treats us, that became our company philosophy, his very humble ways. We always need to act like him. How he treats us like family is also how we treat our staff like family. We look to him as a boss, a business owner, father and mentor.

Nobu: A lot of people congratulate me for my success, but my final success is the success of people around me. Even when I’m getting old, my family is still growing. My staff is my family. If one day people come up to me and say, “Nobu, thank you so much. I worked with you and now I did it.” This is what I like to hear from my team. Their success is my success. This is true story.

Nobu and I

Nobu touched me that morning with his humility, dedication and gentle spirit, and again, that evening with an 8-course dinner that he personally prepared for the luckiest people of Manila. From the appetizer of toro tartare with caviar, to a beautifully roasted Chilean sea bass in a truffle corn aji amarillo like I’ve never had before, the perfectly grilled Japanese A5 wagyu, and miso cappuccino that I inhaled in 60 seconds… each course enveloped me to the deepest depths of my stomach in Nobu’s heart and passion.

Nobu Restaurant, City of Dreams Manila

Toro Tartare with Caviar

Roasted Chilean sea bass in a truffle corn ahi amarillo

Grilled Japanese A5 wagyu

Miso Cappuccino

Pepper Teehankee, Charisse Chuidian
Micky Fenix, Jin Lovestoeat, Monica Tiosejo, Sheree Chua

Nobu Restaurant is located at Level 1 Nobu Hotel, City of Dreams Manila, Asean Avenue corner Roxas Boulevard, Entertainment City, Parañaque. Tel: 02 691-2882

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...