Feb 02, 2006|
HK Magazine: You have 16 restaurants in 12 cities worldwide, but this will be the first in Asia outside Japan. Why the wait?
Nobuyuki Matsuhisa: We’re very selective about the locations, but I’ve been looking at Hong Kong for the past few years and it was just a matter of the right timing, location and partner, and we’ve found all three at this hotel. The Chinese head chef here personally delivered a proposal to me at my Beverly Hills restaurant.
HK: What’s the concept?
NM: It’s designed by David Rockwell, who did many of my other places. Like the others, the concept is all about the food: we’re going to use sushi flown in several times a week from Japan but might consider local produce for our cooked dishes. Having worked in so many countries, I’ve absorbed a little bit from each, so the menu is quite innovative and there are a lot of signature dishes. The tiradito sashimi includes sea salt, lemon juice, coriander and chili paste, and we have things like black cod which no one else used to do.
HK: Sounds expensive.
NM: I try to keep the costs fairly low. Because of the other locations we have some pretty solid suppliers, so I don’t have to chase all over. It’s not about the money; the philosophy is about exceptional food.
HK: You’re one floor above Spoon by Alain Ducasse – any plans for a dining tour or other collaboration?
NM: I hadn’t thought of that but it’s a fun idea. I’ll be here quite a lot for the opening and then visit as often as I can, so a dining tour sounds like a good idea if that works out.
HK: Your first restaurant burned down 50 days after opening – did it teach you any lessons?
NM: It took me nine years to pay everything back but I was determined to try again. My family’s support kept me going; I arrived in LA with just $20 and one bag, knowing one person. [Actor and restaurateur] Robert De Niro pushed me to open a restaurant with him but the timing wasn’t right until four years later. I had already opened Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills in 1987 and he came often. It was already successful so we decided to open Nobu in New York in 1994 with restaurateur Drew Nieporent, and the chain began.
HK: Is De Niro a silent partner or is he hands-on?
NM: While not a chef, he has really good taste in food, and a very hearty appetite. I was at his house for Thanksgiving and he always pretends to want just a little bit, but just keeps eating and eating, especially at the restaurant in New York. I bounce ideas off him and respect what he has to say, but ultimately the menu is up to me. He’s been to Hong Kong a few times and thought opening a Nobu here was a good idea.
HK: When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
NM: The day my older brother took me to a sushi restaurant [in Japan]. Of course, I had tried my mother’s sushi but the environment in a professional kitchen was fascinating. When I was 24, a customer invited me to chef for him in Peru, and I started to use local elements in my sushi, starting my style.
HK: Shanghai is all the rage in the restaurant business – any plans to open there?
NM: We selected Hong Kong because it’s more cosmopolitan; people know and appreciate their food. It’s more international and better suited for my kind of cuisine and service style.