Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto is one of the key players in facilitating the widespread admiration and enjoyment of Japanese food in American culture. He was the original chef at Nobu in New York in 1994, and opened his first namesake restaurant in Philadelphia in 2001. Locations in New York, Mumbai, New Delhi, Los Angeles, and Mexico City soon followed.
Chef Morimoto first competed on the Japanese television show Iron Chef in 1998 and then became one of the stars of Food Network’s Iron Chef America in 2004 (and arguably the one to beat). His first cookbook, Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking, won two International Association of Culinary Professionals awards, including the Julia Child Award for Best First Book.
After a shoulder injury ended a promising career as a baseball catcher in Japan, Morimoto began studying sushi in his hometown of Hiroshima, and opened his first restaurant in Japan at age 24. Since that time, he has received just about every possible accolade for his cuisine and aesthetic, including several appearances on San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants, a James Beard Award, and Food & Wine Magazine’s Best U.S. Restaurant Openings for Morimoto Napa in 2010.
Chef Morimoto recently talked with The Daily Meal about his newest restaurant, Morimoto South Beach, as well as his history, tastes, and triumphs.
What was your first restaurant industry job?
Sushi chef. Of course, I started as an apprentice. The owner of the restaurant wouldn't let me touch fish for the first year or so. First, I had to learn basics, such as cleaning, serving customers, chopping scallions, washing rice, etc.
When you first walk into a restaurant, what do you look for as signs that it’s well run and will be a good experience?
Warm, friendly greetings from the staff at the reception desk. It's not just the first impression, but the welcoming attitude of the staff usually implies the spirit of great hospitality, which is reflected not only in the dining room but also in the kitchen.
Is there anything you absolutely hate cooking?
No, but once at an Iron Chef battle the secret ingredient was chile peppers. I had a hard time because I rarely used them in my cooking. Trying to taste a pepper during the battle, I bit it and burned my tongue with the heat!
If one chef from history could prepare one dish for you, what would it be?
I don't know any historically famous sushi chef, but I'd love to eat sushi made by someone in the Edo Period.
What do you consider to be your biggest success as a chef?
Opening a restaurant with my name, but since I already have multiple restaurants with my name, that's a thing of the past now. I have to run those restaurants well, which is going to be my real success.
What do you consider to be your biggest disappointment as a chef?
Because I have multiple restaurants in various states and countries, I cannot serve all my guests directly anymore, but I travel often to visit my restaurants, and whenever I do, I work in the restaurant and greet my guests.
I approach all my restaurants differently because the climate, clientele, the interior, and the staff are all different. The clientele in Morimoto South Beach changes according to the season, which is quite interesting to me. We try to create a sexy, exciting atmosphere in the restaurant, serving great food. To add more to the atmosphere, our desserts at Morimoto South Beach are visually sexy and exciting, too, let alone delicious.
How often do you plan to change the menu?
I don't change the menu that often. We will always have seasonal fresh ingredients, which will be used in my signature dishes, sushi, and specials.
Is there any food you don’t eat?
No. I eat anything if it’s edible.