For the longest time, I was sure that Kleenex was the name of the tissue. In this sense, the
recognition and consistency of certain brands have made them even more realized than
the original items themselves. What comes to mind when I say for example, “APPLE”? If
you are like most people on this planet, it probably was not the fruit. What comes to mind
when I say the word “NOBU”…?
KA — Change, such a small word, but it can create so much fear. It seems the ones who
embrace this word are the ones that create the most in our world —but everyone has their
own way of dealing with change. What is your way?
NM — My way is to adapt and be creative. Japanese food is very traditional and in
order to make the people enjoy more food, I have to create a way. For example, some
American people are afraid of raw fish, and thus I created dishes such as the New
Style Sashimi which is slightly cooked so that they may enjoy. Also, we use sauces
as a dressing to make it easier and comfortable for them to try. I use interesting products
and combine them with Japanese cooking techniques to create the Nob u Style of Cooking.
KA — Nobu, the name brings a certain energy of respect, even to someone who has
never frequented a NOBU restaurant. To what do you attribute this mystique?
NM — The level of quality that we preserve here. Be it with food, service or décor. People
can expect great tasting food and service every time they frequent the restaurant. I believe
the main attribution is the whole package that we provide, when everything syncs together,
we can be certain that the customers will have a great experience.
KA — Traveling around the world as you do with this name “Nobu”, how do you stay as
grounded as you are?
NM — To be true to myself and not change my own character. Being a chef is my life. I
am grateful for the compliments but being Nobu is not to let “Nobu” get to my head.
Being humble is a part of my character. Every time I am in the restaurant I am always
smiling and talking to all my customers.
KA — How important is alone time to your sense of being centered?
NM — It is very important to me. When I need to relax and refocus, I don’t want to see
anyone at all. I like to go to the hot spring and be close to nature. No cars, buildings,
or phones. I like to read books and be quiet.
KA — The name NOBU has become so large as an icon, that to think that there is actually
a person with that name, is sort of similar to realizing that there is a family with the name
“Kellogs”. Has the power of the NOBU brand affected your ability to be, Nobu?
NM — I have to be responsible to the name and protect the people working for me. I feel
like a father responsible for taking care of his children. I have to make sure that the quality
and standards are being maintained and I cannot afford to make any mistakes. I am proud
that the name has become so large, but it comes with responsibility to maintain the quality
in order to keep growing, we cannot escape it.
KA — Your reality seems to be based on contradictions, and a sort of “going where no
one has gone before” attitude. Starting with Peruvian influences and love for places
as far removed from the genesis of Sushi, as the idea of ice cream in the Arctic–yet you
seem to make it all work. What is it about a place that inspires you?
NM — My first inspiration to cook is from my mother. I started as a sushi chef in Tokyo
when I was 18. I was there for 7 years before moving to Peru. Peru has opened new doors
in different cooking styles for me. As a professional chef, I am always learning something
new from all my travels.
KA — Which city in the world have you seen the ultimate NOBU challenge and thrill?
NM — At the moment it is our new locations in Moscow, Dubai and Cape Town. In the
Middle East, the main challenge is the religious restriction. We cannot use alcohol or
soy sauce in the cooking there. For Moscow, it is difficult to obtain fresh fish. We have
to order them from London, Italy and France. In Cape Town, Japanese food is not as
popular as in New York, London, LA or Tokyo which are bigger cities that know and
appreciate the quality of the food.
KA — When are you most at home and relaxed?
NM — In Los Angeles at home with my wife, and in our country house in Japan.
KA — What has been the single event that has created the most change in your reality?
NM — The “City Meal on Wheels” which I have been a part of for a few years now.
It is a non-profit charity dinner which involves a lot of work. People appreciate
this, and it makes me feel good to be able to give back to the community.
KA — How important is giving back to you as a person, and NOBU as an organization?
NM — It is very important to myself and the company to be able to give back to the
community that we are a part of.
KA — What would be the next location(s) for NOBU to conquer?
NM — The new locations will be in Beijing and Doha next year.
KA — How did your relationship with Robert De Niro become what it is, since it
seems like the attraction of opposites? Besides the common love for Sushi, what
has kept your union so strong?
NM — He was a customer at Matsuhisa in Los Angeles. We became friends and
he asked me to be a partner. It has been
almost 20 years now. We have a long standing relation and we talk together
about our new projects.
KA — After the fire that burnt your first restaurant in Alaska, you were determined
to first repay your commitments. Do you feel that this sort of patience and integrity is
part of your success?
NM — Yes. That event was like hitting a brick wall, I completely lost myself. But that
has opened many doors for me, which was hard at that time. I needed patience,
appreciation and support from my family, as well as love and passion. I have never
thought about suicide again. I believe that one cannot do anything without passion.
It is the most important thing. I always trust myself and my philosophy.
KA — If you were able to present a vision of a future here on Earth, what would
that be in 5 words?