It’s fair to say that no one in America (and perhaps the world) can cook Japanese food quite like Chef Masaharu Morimoto. The original Iron Chef & former Nobu chef is just as skilled at turning out traditional sushi and kaiseki meals as he is at Asian fusion. (And it takes a lot for a chef to convince me of the merits of fusion.) And yet, somehow whimsical creations, such as sashimi with burrata or a foie gras croissant with a soft duck egg and red miso achieve a level of brilliance. The Hiroshima-born culinary superstar went from being a bad boy, who used to sneak out a window to go downtown when he was an apprentice in Japan, to owning restaurants all over the world, everywhere from New York to New Delhi.
While he no longer returns to Japan since he no longer has family there, Morimoto is one of several big-name chefs raising funds for the Red Cross relief efforts there. Those who donate $10 or more will even receive a copy of some of his best recipes. To donate, go to donate.keeprecipes.com
Happily married for more than 30 years. What did you want to be when you grew up? A professional baseball player.
Do you still play? And have you gotten to cook for any professional ball players?
Unfortunately, I no longer play. But yes, I have cooked for some Japanese major league players, such as a former Yankee Hideki Matsui, former Met Kaz Matsui, and non-Japanese players, such as Alex Rodriguez and many players on the Phillies.
What was your first job in food and what did you learn?
I was fortunate enough to be a sushi chef at a sushi restaurant where I learned everything a sushi chef had to know.
Training to be a sushi chef is notoriously difficult. Can you share any anecdotes that really tested your drive to succeed in the kitchen?
When I was still an apprentice, I lived upstairs from the sushi restaurant. It’s a typical training life for sushi apprentices in Japan. Their entire life is spent at the restaurant. But I would sneak out of a window after midnight and go out to downtown areas almost every night. I would push a car from the restaurant’s parking lot without starting the engine, so that nobody would notice. Apprentices were not supposed to do anything like that and we were meant to only follow the restaurant’s rules. I was a maverick from that point on. That part of me has never changed. I believe it has positively impacted my creativity.
It’s terrific that you’re contributing recipes to support Red Cross relief efforts in Japan. Chefs seem very quick to get involved in philanthropic activities. Why do you think that is?
Chefs cook food for people. Although our food doesn’t directly go to those who suffer in Japan, it goes to people who donate their money to buy the food, and the money goes to those who suffer. We know and have the means to help others.
Many of your dishes are very complex. How can home cooks adapt your recipes?
Some of my recipes may be very difficult and complex for the home cook, but I hope they can learn something new and get ideas from my cookbook and restaurants that they can use in everyday food.
Can you offer any tips for people who want to make their own sushi at home?
Sharpen your knife before making sushi.
What’s the most important kitchen tool to own?
How often do you get to visit Japan? Do you still have a lot of family there?
I rarely visit Japan because I don’t have many family members there.
Who has been the toughest competitor you’ve faced on Iron Chef?
Every chef has been a tough challenger.
You’ve already accomplished so much, so how do you stay motivated to pursue new culinary aspirations?
The culinary world is so deep that there are always a lot of things for me to explore.
So what’s next for you this year?
I’m opening a few restaurants this year; a couple of them don’t serve sushi. I’m excited to do something new.
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