I recently had the pleasure of sitting at a teppanyaki table opposite Chef Masaharu Morimoto as he curated a dinner for a small group of wide-eyed foodies.
Famed for his major influence on the NYC sushi scene in the early '80s, Morimoto rose to stardom after appearing on the Japanese and American renditions of hit TV show Iron Chef. Fate - courtesy of a shoulder injury - had taken him from promising baseball catcher in Japan to diligent student of sushi in his hometown of Hiroshima, but it was his visible discipline combined with a humble approach that catapaulted him to global success.
The unconventional chef writes his own rules, even being known to whip up custom-made ketchup when customers request it alongside their sushi. It's this kind of unpretentiousness that has no doubt resonated so well with his fans and allowed him to build a restaurant empire. I was utterly charmed by his casual disposition; at one point he actually reached across the table and de-tailed my prawns, insisting that I slurp out the remains, or - as he called it - "the best part."
In celebration of his new Business Bay outpost, I spoke to him about his favourite ingredients, ultimate comfort food and the biggest lesson he’s learned from being a chef, while tucking into his Foie Gras and Sea Urchin-stuffed Oysters, Lamb Cutlets and Japanese-Mayo soaked Scallops. Hungry?
How would you describe your cooking style?
It's rooted in classic Japanese styles and cuisines, but with my own signature twists I have added throughout my years of travel as a chef. I try to stay true to myself and the type of food that I like to cook and what my guests have liked in my restaurants. For me, it's all about using the best ingredients possible, and preparing them with respect and passion to create a delicious dish.
How did Iron Chef change your career?
My time on Iron Chef and Iron Chef America is what introduced most of our guests to my style of cooking and cuisine, so I’m very thankful to have had that opportunity and honoured to have won the title of Iron Chef. The majority of my guests still think of me first and foremost as Iron Chef Morimoto, and I love that!
What is the toughest lesson you've had to learn about being a chef?
That food has borders. I learned the art of sushi making in Japan and I thought I could work well as a sushi chef anywhere, but I'm constantly learning new tricks through my travel around the world. Even though people can get a lot of information through social media now, food still has borders.
Did you have to make any adaptations to your menu to cater to the Middle Eastern palette?
Culture is very important when considering a menu for any of my restaurants. I have 17 restaurants all over the world, and each one has its own identity within the city where we operate. I am very passionate about incorporating local flavour into my menus as much as possible, while still staying true to the dishes that we are preparing.
The UAE is really big on food trends like the sushi burrito or flambé desserts. What are your thoughts on such trends?
I've never followed trends. I have a philosophy that whatever you cook needs to taste good first and foremost. We source as locally as we can for all of my restaurants and do so with the community and culture of where we are in mind. Equally, we use a lot of seasonal seafood imported from Tokyo’s most famous fish markets to bring the very best of Japan to the restaurant. This means that, depending on the time of the year, you will see different seafood available as specials at the sushi counter.
What's your favourite ingredient at the moment? Your least favourite?
Sanma and Nodoguro. Winter is the best time of the year for these types of fish. I don’t have a least favourite ingredient. I love all the ingredients before I cook them. When I was on Iron Chef, I had to cook with all the ingredients that they provided and I had to like them all in order to cook them very well.
What's your ultimate comfort food?
A simple meal of ramen, vegetables and fish is the perfect comfort food for me, and it’s also considered the Japanese home cooking comfort food.
Any chance you'll open a ramen restaurant here in Dubai?
We're always thinking about the future without stepping too far out of the past. I can’t say if we will open a ramen restaurant in Dubai for sure, but as long as our guests enjoy our food, we will keep looking at expanding.
- Morimoto Dubai, Renaissance Downtown Hotel, Dubai, Marasi Drive. Call +971 4 512 5577 for reservations