Chef Masaharu Morimoto exudes an energy that few can match. At age 63, the Iron Chef’s rapidly expanding restaurant empire could give a lesser person sleepless nights.
Yet, Morimoto presents a picture of mischievous charm, dressed in his trademark blazer and shorts, with his mind working in overdrive as he preps for his next culinary marvel. The celebrity chef’s exquisite technique with his kitchen knives is the stuff of legends, and why not considering he has only learnt from the best — the world-renowned Chef Nobu Matsuhisa himself.
In the city for an appearance at Taste of Dubai weekend, which concludes on March 9 at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, Morimoto is one of a handful of chefs who has successfully bridged the culinary traditions of his native Japan and taken it mainstream.
While many know him by his award-winning titles and accolades, it is perhaps his journey from a promising athlete (an injury ended baseball career in Japan) to a culinary master that makes Morimoto a formidable force in his field.
Today, his empire includes a restaurant in Philadelphia, Wasabi by Morimoto at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, followed by a second in New Delhi, a flagship in New York and, Dubai of course.
Amid television appearances — who didn’t love him on ‘Iron Chef’? — and penning books, Gulf News tabloid! pegged down Morimoto ahead of his Taste of Dubai appearance.
Tell us about this year’s Taste of Dubai and what are you going to be doing at the event?
I will be conducting a Sashimi & Sushi master class at the Chef’s Theatre on March 8 and judging a Cooking Challenge on March 9.
From all the celebrity chefs attending, who are you most excited to meet?
I am just looking forward to being a part of the three-day celebration of food in Dubai.
How would you describe the UAE food scene?
The UAE has become one of the top culinary destinations in the world, with renowned chefs from all over the globe opening restaurants here. The UAE is brimming with an array of cuisines and culinary innovations. It’s an exciting time to be a chef here.
Which is your favourite UAE restaurant?
The Turkish restaurant — Ruya, where you can enjoy authentic and contemporary Anatolian cuisine.
From a promising baseball career to cooking — that’s quite a leap...
I injured my shoulder when I was a young player and that was the end of my baseball career. The only other job I ever wanted was to be a sushi chef, so I put all my energy into being the best I could. Sushi was always a very special food memory early in my life.
What is the learning you treasure after working with Chef Nobu?
A. Before I worked at Nobu, I had thought the sushi chef was the centre of the restaurant. However, during my experience at Nobu, I learnt that the customers are everything. Our job is to make them happy.
What are you most passionate about cooking?
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 is all about using the best ingredients possible, and preparing them with respect and passion to create a delicious dish.
What is the biggest mistake you have made as a chef?
An experience during a challenge on ‘Iron Chef’ stands out to me. It was the battle where chilli peppers were the secret ingredient. I tasted all of the varieties to find the differences between them, and one of the chili peppers was so hot that I lost my sense of taste for the remainder of the episode.
What’s a food trend that you simply cannot get your head around?
I’d say the nature of food trends in general. Good food should not be treated as a trend but rather just as delicious and interesting food.
How does a chef like you stay in shape when surrounded by such amazing food?
When I am working, I only eat one meal a day. I eat ramen, sauteed vegetables, a little meat or fish, and rice.
Are you looking to expand the Morimoto brand in the UAE or the Middle East?
We are always thinking about the future. I can’t say if we will open another restaurant in Dubai for sure, but as long as our guests enjoy our food we will keep looking at expanding.
If you were hosting last supper, who are the individuals you’d like to invite and what would be on the menu?
Japanese Emperor Akihito and his wife Empress Michiko. I would choose Koshihikari rice from Uonuma, Niigata, and select the grains piece by piece so that all of the pieces are in similar size, which will make the rice cook evenly.
Then, I would make miso soup using Dashi which I would make from scratch and home-made Miso that I’d start from fermentation. It will be accompanied with pickled vegetables made in my nukadoko (fermented rice bran bed) and Akami tuna sashimi with three-year-old fresh wasabi from Shizuoka.
• 250g Rice
• 125g Hamachi
• 30g Sesame Spinach
• 30g Zen Mai
• 60g Pickled Daikon, Carrots
• 1Ea Egg Yolk
• 1Ea Nori
• 100g Buri Bop Sauce
• 10g Sesame Oil
• 5g Yuzu Kosho
• Steam white rice.
• Slice the Hamachi Yellowtail in 5 slices (25g, 4mm thick).
• Blanch and sautee spinach with garlic, sesame seed, and sesame oil.
• Shred daikon and carrots.
• Add black pepper and olive oil to carrots and cook, but keep the crunch.
• Pickle the daikon with rice vinegar, mirin, and salt.
Buri Bop Sauce
Teriyaki sauce infused with garlic, sesame oil, and freshly chopped Shiso leaves
• Make sure to have a heated plate up to 300 degrees.
• Brush the inside of the stone pot with sesame oil.
• Place the rice in the middle shaped like a pillow.
• Top the rice with the vegetables on separate corners.
• Add the Hamachi to the top with a raw egg yolk.
• Add shredded Nori and drop of Yuzukoshu (A Japanese paste of citrus skin and black pepper).
• Add part of the sauce on top and mix the plate all together.
• Use the hot sides of the dish to caramelise and grill the fish while mixing.
Don’t miss it!
Taste of Dubai runs from March 7 to 9 at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre. Standard tickets start from Dh95 and VIP tickets start from Dh285. More on tasteofdubaifestival.com