The Popular Sushi Restaurant Where Masaharu Morimoto Was Once Head Chef

It's impossible to talk about the Japanese cooking competition show "Iron Chef" or its stateside spinoff, "Iron Chef America," without mentioning Masaharu Morimoto. The chef racked up an impressive number of wins over the course of his yearlong tenure on the original version of the series, which made him an ideal candidate when Food Network decided to make their own version of the show in 1999, per his website. As a mainstay on "Iron Chef America," he would go up against the likes of Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Cat Cora in epic kitchen stadium battles that proved his aptitude for creative and uniquely plated haute cuisine.

It shouldn't come as a shock that Morimoto already had a wealth of experience under his belt before he reached "Iron Chef" fame. According to Food Network, the chef cut his teeth at sushi restaurants in Japan before moving to the U.S. at the age of 30, sharpening the skills he needed to eventually head the New York City outpost of a Japanese-fusion restaurant that has since become a full-blown empire. It was there that he caught the attention of "Iron Chef America" producers, and the rest is history.

Morimoto worked at the Nobu flagship

When Masaharu Morimoto left Japan in the 1990s after his initial "Iron Chef" stint, he rose quickly in the ranks of the city's competitive restaurant game, eventually landing a role as the Executive Chef at the original location of the iconic Nobu, per his website. Given the restaurant chain's celebrity-backed origin story, this role was no small feat. The venture is the namesake of Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa, a celebrity chef known for his fusion of Japanese ingredients and Peruvian techniques. 

Food & Wine writes that the chef opened Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills in 1987 after a long battle with restaurant failures. His unique offerings garnered the attention of none other than actor Robert De Niro, who encouraged his friend to open a restaurant in New York City. Together with film producer Meir Teper, the actor backed what would become Nobu's first location in the Financial District. 

By the time Morimoto was leading Nobu's downtown kitchen, the restaurant was already a household name. His experience there led him not only to "Iron Chef America," but also to his own string of ever-growing restaurants

Morimoto's own empire

Chef Masaharu Morimoto took a page out of the book of his employer in 2002, when he opened his own eponymous restaurant in Philadelphia. A second location in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City closed in 2020, per Eater, but the shuttering was cushioned by the success of the chef's various other eateries elsewhere in the city and around the world. As of this writing, those include Manhattan and West Hollywood locations the Sa'Mato, which slings pan-Asian fare like popcorn shrimp and Japanese-style chicken karaage. 

The most prolific branch of Morimoto's empire is by far his self-titled chain. Morimoto restaurants pepper the globe, from Taghazout Bay to Las Vegas to Mexico City and beyond, per the chef's website. There you'll find an array of traditional sushi and sashimi options, plus omakase menus and appetizer options like spicy tuna crispy rice. Ramen and sake fans will want to hit up their nearest Momosan, which has locations in Seattle, New York, and beyond.