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There is no formula when opening a restaurant, says Nobu Matsuhisa

Sometimes it’s all about gut feel

Photo courtesy of City of Dreams Manila

Last weekend saw prominent Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa host The Nobu Experience in Manila as part of his global culinary tour that saw stops in London, Paris, and Melbourne. During the one-night affair, chef Nobu dutifully interacted with guests and satisfied them with canape-style dishes like black cod butter lettuce with crispy kataifi and mixed seafood ceviche with quinoa. While naturally demanding, it’s small fry compared to how he built his Nobu brand in 1994. Over e-mail, he tells exactly how he did it.

What certain things influenced your approach to the Nobu experience?

When I was a young boy, my eldest brother took me to a sushi restaurant for the first time. I was spellbound by the technique, skills, and gracefulness of the sushi chefs. I was also intrigued by the chefs’ interaction with their guests. From that moment I knew that I was going to be a sushi chef. Creating the Nobu experience is all about my guests. Good food and good service in a welcoming setting. Seeing them with a smile on their faces after they’ve tasted my food or stayed at a Nobu hotel is what truly makes me happy.

Is it easier to be a chef and restaurateur now than it was when you first started?

I think some things are easier now because I have a lot more experience and knowledge, but there are still challenges. When I first started out I only had one restaurant, now I have over 30 and hotels.

Given your worldwide success, how do you maintain quality and consistency when opening and operating in different locations? 

I travel 10 months out of the year to visit all of the locations around the world. I spend a lot of time with my team on these trips. I have a very strong team of managers and executive chefs. They understand my philosophy and also help to ensure quality and consistency.

And how do you know when it’s the right time to open a new place?

I don’t think we have a specific formula for when it’s the right time to open a new place.  When the timing works out and everything falls into place then we are ready to open.

How would you locate the Japanese food scene in the context of the rest of the world?

I feel like Japanese food is definitely more accessible now and has gained worldwide attention. Also, people’s palates are expanding and they are willing to step out of their comfort zone and try new things. Not just with Japanese food but with all food.

Finally, has there been anything about Filipino cuisine that has surprised you?

With all of the many cultural influences, I am surprised that Filipino food still maintains its very own distinct flavors and taste. I truly enjoy it!

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