The Daily Meal Hall of Fame: Nobu Matsuhisa

Born in Japan and inspired in Peru, this dynamic chef-restaurateur is imitated all over the world today

Nobu's style of cooking has been seriously influential. 

The Daily Meal is announcing the inductees into its Hall of Fame for 2017. The Hall of Fame honors key figures, both living and dead, from the world of food. We are introducing the honorees one per weekday. Our fourth inductee is Nobu Matsuhisa. For all Daily Meal Hall of Fame inductees, please click here.

One of the most influential chefs in modern international cuisine, Nobuyuki "Nobu” Matsuhisa (1949–) was born in Japan and trained in a Tokyo sushi restaurant. Then a Peruvian customer of Japanese descent convinced him to open a restaurant in Lima, a city with a large Japanese community. There, the 24-year-old chef first encountered ceviche and the hybrid Japanese-Peruvian raw fish dishes known as tiraditos. He was amazed by the explosive flavor combinations of their citrus and chile marinades and by South American seafood. “It was the first time I tasted raw fish without soy sauce,” he once told a reporter.

Matsuhisa began to experiment with his own style, blending elements of the rustic Peruvian ceviche with traditional Japanese sushi. He moved to Los Angeles, and after working for 10 years at two Japanese restaurants there, he opened his own instantly popular Matsuhisa in 1987.

Intrigued by Matsuhisa’s creative sushi style, Robert DeNiro, a loyal customer, convinced him to become a partner in an ambitious restaurant in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City. In August of 1994, he and DeNiro, along with New York restaurateur Drew Nieporent, opened the influential Nobu. It took the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in 1995, the beginning of an impressive list of awards and honors. In her 1995 three-star review, New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl wrote, “It has grown into a restaurant that cannot be compared to anything else.”Matsuhisa’s imaginative menu launched a new style of Japanese/South-American cooking that quickly became popular all over the world.

Matsuhisa’s imaginative menu launched a new style of Japanese/South-American cooking that quickly became popular all over the world. Nobu’s signature creations include hamachi (yellowtail) with jalapeños and black cod with miso, dishes now widely reproduced. Matsuhisa recalls with amusement that his famous flash-cooked fish dishes were invented when a customer ordered a large plate of sashimi and sent it back because he didn’t eat raw fish. Not wanting to waste the expensive fish, Matsuhisa poured hot oil over the sashimi and added a garnish. The customer was delighted. Suddenly, tuna sashimi, flash-cooked with oil and topped with toasted sesame seeds, began to turn up everywhere from cocktail lounge menus to Martha Stewart’s food blog.

The original Nobu in Tribeca closed in March of 2017 after 23 years in business. A new version is opening in New York’s financial district, and there is a bustling offshoot in midtown Manhattan. There are now over two dozen Nobu restaurants in cities including London, Tokyo, Moscow, Budapest, Beijing, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and Melbourne.

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Matsuhisa has introduced not just America but the world to a unique blend of cuisines that both honors its Japanese-Peruvian inspirations and illuminates pure Japanese food itself.