In the world of food, Chef Nobu Matsuhisa is pretty much the epitome of cool. The proud owner of 41 Nobu restaurants, 10 Nobu hotels, and 11 Matsuhisa restaurants all over the world, Nobu-san is a self-made man. He also counts some of the most famous fashion designers, actors, singers and artists among his friends, and his charm leaves you hanging on his every word. He’ll happily discuss travel, cuisine, wellness and even art, as long as there is passion
Now a household name, Nobu’s career hasn’t always been smooth sailing. But as a true pioneer and adventurer, who wasn’t afraid to explore beyond traditional Japanese cuisine, he has continued to push the envelope and impress the world around him with his creations. He lives on the road 10 months a year, visiting his numerous hotels and restaurants. He works tirelessly for his various projects he believes in, but he also likes to spread good vibes and likes to enjoy life, and that’s the reason why so many people flock to him and his establishments. He’s not only cool, he’s fun too!
We were lucky enough to sit down with Nobu-san at the InterContinental Hong Kong where we also had the rare opportunity to lunch with him at his eponymous Nobu Hong Kong eatery.
DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN 3 WORDS
Respectful, passionate, and grateful.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?
I’m currently training my teams. I’m not getting any younger, I’m 70, so I’m training the next generation who will one day take over. But that doesn’t mean I’m retiring anytime soon. I don’t think about retirement. I love what I do.
WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG?
I’ve always wanted to be a chef, ever since I was a little boy. My older brother took me to a sushi restaurant one day, and I was so fascinated. I knew there and then that I was destined to be a chef.
YOU’VE HAD A VERY INTERESTING CAREER. I BELIEVE YOUR FIRST RESTAURANT IN US, IN ALASKA, BURNED TO THE GROUND AND LEFT YOU WITH DEBTS TO PAY OFF. HOW DID YOU FIND THE WILLPOWER TO KEEP ON GOING AFTER THAT?
It was my family. I have two daughters. And I remember one day, we were at home and they were fighting with each other. They were screaming, and it pulled me out of my reverie. I realized again that I had a family and that life goes on. I pulled myself together and continued doing what I love.
HOW DO YOU TRAVEL?
When I’m undisturbed, I love doing eye exercises with stereograms. On the plane, I like to stretch and walk around. I also have a fitness regimen with lots of cardio. I like a good sweat session.
YOUR FAVORITE SPA
I like Asian spas. And of course, I love onsens.
NAME YOUR TREASURED HOTEL
Where we are today, InterContinental Hong Kong [smiles].
See also: Healthy Eats in Hong Kong
HOW DO YOU DESTRESS?
I love to spend time by myself. I sit still and just listen to the natural sounds, such as the wind, birds chirping, and maybe my grandkids in the far distance. It’s mindfulness, a bit like meditation.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE HOLIDAY DESTINATION?
I built a place in Hakone, which is just one hour away from Tokyo. I’m surrounded by nature there, and I also have a natural onsen. I love to spend time there and just enjoy the silence in nature.
YOUR FAVORITE PLACE TO DINE
There is an Italian restaurant in Monaco called Marco. I always go there when I’m in the area. There’s also Paper Moon in Milan, and when I am in Venice, I like to eat at Da Fiore.
FOOD YOU CRAVE
I’m actually quite fond of Italian food.
HOW HAS PERUVIAN AND ARGENTINIAN CUISINE INFLUENCED YOUR FOOD?
Peru taught me how to prepare fish in a completely new way. It really opened up my mind and expanded my horizon. Argentina taught me how to cook meat. I started to weave these influences into my dishes and created my own unique Nobu-style food.
ART YOU COLLECT
I quite like KAWS. In fact, he and his family just came to my restaurant in Tokyo the other night. Brian is a very nice person.
I also like Alec Monopoly. I met him in LA before he was famous, and he created some art work for me. I don’t just like their art work, I also like the artists who create them. I like them as individuals.
WHAT KEEPS YOU UP AT NIGHT?
Normally it’s jet lag. And back in the day I might have taken a sleeping pill to cope with it. But these days, I try to live a more natural life. If I can’t sleep, I get up and do something, like I’ll go to the gym. I try to make the most of my time.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
People who are passionate. I like having interesting conversations with people who are passionate about something.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR FRIENDSHIP WITH ROBERT DE NIRO
He has played a significant role in my career. We’re business partners but also friends. We also travel together sometimes. He’s a great guy and we’ve just clicked ever since we met.
WHAT’S ON YOUR PLAYLIST?
I don’t really spend a lot of time listening to music. I like it when it’s quiet. Music isn’t natural, so I prefer the sounds of nature over music.
PEOPLE YOU FOLLOW ON SOCIAL MEDIA
I’m proud to say that I manage my own account [laughs]. It’s called @therealnobu. I follow my restaurants and hotels of course, and also some other chefs. I did this TV show Nobu’s Japan with Discovery Channel where I selected five other chefs to come to Japan, and I introduced each one to a different area. I invited Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, José Andrés, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Éric Ripert. So I follow them on Instagram. And now I also follow Gordon Ramsay…because he started following me [laughs].
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
I’m most proud of my team, and also myself.
THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER BEEN GIVEN?
The best advice I’ve ever received came from my grandmother, who also partly raised me. She told me to “never be two-faced”. Always do something, not because someone is looking, but because you feel strongly passionate about it. Always do your best.
Always try my best.