At the Ritz Hotel in Paris, where Nobu Matsuhisa recently opened a pop-restaurant that serves until December 11, the Japanese chef explained what defines Nobu style cuisine and presented the recipes to his signature dishes.
With 27 restaurants in 22 different cities around the world, it is easy to forget that Nobu is not only the name of a restaurant but is also the nickname of its highly acclaimed chef. Nobuyuki Matsuhisa was born in Japan and worked in Tokyo, Peru, Buenos Aires and Alaska before founding his first Matsuhisa restaurant in Los Angeles in 1987. Trained as a sushi chef, he was heavily influenced by his travels and combined traditional Japanese cooking with South American influences to create what he terms “Nobu style” and what his menus term “new style” cuisine. Black cod with miso, yellowtatil sashimi with jalapeno, and new style sashimi are just some of his signature dishes that have been so influential they appear on menus around the world.
Having partnered with Robert de Niro in 1994 for the opening of the first Nobu restaurant in downtown New York, the Nobu empire now stretches from Moscow to Dubai. Its most recent outpost opened in Budapest in October and Mr. Nobu is currently cooking at a pop-up restaurant at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, which runs from October 11 to December 11. It was here that he talked to Luxuryculture.com about developing his original style and shared with us the recipes to some of his signature dishes.
Baby Spinach Salad With Dried Miso and Grilled Shrimp
Ingredients (Serves 2):
10 large shrimp
2/3 cup (60g) sliced leeks
vegetable oil for frying
8-10 oz baby spinach
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons truffle oil
1 tablespoon yuzu juice
6 pinches freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons Dried Red Miso
For the dried miso (makes about 1/2 cup (80g):
Using a palette knife, spread 2/3 cup (180g) miso (any type of cooking miso such as red, white and yellow works well) as thinly as possible on a nonstick baking mat. Place in a warm area to dry out naturally, for 1 to 2 days. Alternatively, dry in a 230F (110C) oven for 1 to 2 hours, being careful not to allow the miso to darken. Crumble evenly. Keep in an air-tight container.
1. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Grill both sides until medium rare and set aside.
2. Deep-fry the leeks at 320F (160) until crisp. Set aside.
3. Dress the spinach leaves with the olive oil, truffle oil, yuzu juice, ground pepper, and Parmesan cheese. Mix in the fried leeks. Toss in the Dried Red Miso at the end, right before serving, so it stays crunchy.
Salmon Tataki With Karashi Su-miso
7 ounces boneless, skinless fresh salmon fillets
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat a nonstick skillet to medium heat. Season salmon fillets with black pepper, and then sear them for 5 seconds on each side. Make sure the outside is completely seared and turns white. Immediately plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain and pat dry with paper towels, then refrigerate.
Karashi su-miso is a miso mustard vinegar sauce that can be made at home or – as Nobu suggests – can be bought from all good Japanese supermarkets.
Is part of your success the result of adapting Japanese food to western tastes?
I was born in Japan, lived in Japan and studied in Japan. But my dishes do not look like traditional Japanese cooking. I don’t want to say it is nouvelle cuisine or nouvelle Japanese. Instead, I prefer to say this is Nobu style food.
What differentiates Nobu from other Japanese restaurants?
My 'new style' Japanese cuisine is a fusion of traditional Japanese with South American influences. Some dishes contain different flavours, herbs and spices that are usually not found in traditional Japanese cuisine. For example, one of my most popular dishes is Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno.
You began as a sushi chef – what inspired you to break away from traditional Japanese cuisine?
I started working in Tokyo but after several years I moved to Lima, Peru, to open a restaurant. There, I was shocked because sashimi in Japan is 100% fish, miso, soy sauce and wasabi. But in Peru, fresh fish cooked with lemon is called ceviche. I was shocked because it was such a different sauce. It made me think about the freedom to cook in different ways. I started to create.
How do you feel about the fact your style of cooking has been copied so much?
I think that any kind of cooking, just like music, acting or painting, is the copy of something else. This is especially true at the beginning of someone’s career. But then it’s about experience and developing an original style. Cooking is like fashion: every year it changes in terms of taste, presentation, and product. It used to be all about the Ferran Adrias of this world, with foam and doctor’s tools. His food has now inspired the whole world. But Ferran does not make Spanish food, he makes Ferran Adria food. You can never tell what’s next.
How much does traditional Japanese philosophy, if not cooking, inform Nobu cuisine?
I like to always put my heart into my plate. I love people. I respect people. I like to try my best all the time.
To what extent do you now cook as oppose to manage your 27 restaurants?
I travel every three or four days to another country. As much as possible I talk with my chefs and discuss new dishes. Then I talk to the management, the customers, and journalists. It’s impossible to stay only in the kitchen.
What is the difference between your Nobu restaurants and Matsuhisa restaurants?
Matsuhisa started in 1987, and they have no other partners except for my wife. Nobu opened in 1994 in downtown New York, when I started working with partners. I just opened in Budapest last week, which is the 23rd Nobu. Adding Matsuhisa restaurants brings it to 27 in total. Is the food the same at all the restaurants? As much as possible but depending on the locations they have different fish.
What was the last dish you created?
On the Nobu menu, it’s the baby spinach and miso salad. In Italy, they love baby spinach and artichoke salad. I do it with dry miso and people also love it.
What do you believe are the three essential elements of high-quality Japanese food?
There is one essential element and that it is to prepare your food from the heart and with passion! I am a chef and cooking is my life and my passion. Quality and freshness of ingredients are also important.
Nobu Matsuhisa at the Ritz Paris is open Monday to Saturday until December 11.
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