Never Leave LA

Twenty things I learned from Chef Nobu over lunch

Nobu, now the world’s most recognized Japanese restaurant, came on my radar 14 or 15 years ago when our Washington, DC crew spent a week at the Shore Club Hotel in Miami with the likes of Mark Wahlberg, Jessica Alba, Tara Reed, Adrien Brody, and Jamie Foxx partying in our midst either poolside, at a table nearby on New Year’s, or the start of each evening at the hotel’s jam-packed Nobu bar lobby space.

Nobu is where I discovered how sushi should really taste. Growing up in Connecticut, sushi was nowhere to be found in the ’80s or ’90s and it was not until I moved to Washington, DC in 1998 that sushi became a welcome meal.

Upon arrival to my new Los Angeles home 12 years ago, I was introduced to Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills, Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s first restaurant to open in 1987, on La Cienega Boulevard. Now there are 51 restaurants. Actor Robert De Niro is one of the reasons Nobu expanded in the early days as he was living in NYC and frequented the LA restaurant and suggested they open a restaurant together in NYC. Making sure to perfect his first restaurant, Chef Nobu declined the offer and then 4 years later he was ready to expand to New York City’s Tribeca area where “Bob” was waiting for him to say yes. Booked solid from day one in August, the 1994 opening of NOBU New York was a testament to the chef’s menu concept with acceptance in a different environment and much larger scale.

Ten years ago, weekend trips to intimate Nobu Restaurant in the corner parking lot of Malibu Country Mart became an exciting adventure as sushi, miso black cod, jalapeno accented yellowtail, and celebrities surrounded our Sunday dining ventures. Now I live in walking distance of the swanky newer oceanfront Nobu where most people come from all over the world to visit. So when an invite arrived to have Chef Nobu prepare my lunch, you can only imagine how quickly I managed to clear my schedule for the day.

On the heels of the new Nobu Hotel Los Cabos and Chicago openings, Chef Nobu delighted us not only with his fresh melt in your mouth fish but also with his charming and funny personality while serving fifteen of us lunch at NOBU Los Angeles. By the end of the meal, I realized how Chef Nobu really cared about the customer experience by the way he talked to us and how welcome he wanted us to feel. Towards the end of the meal, he summoned the waitstaff to make sure they had asked us if we would like coffee.

Twenty Things I Learned from Chef Nobu while he Prepared my Lunch:

  1. Chef Nobu’s idea of a Michelin star is people smiling and laughing over his sushi.
  2. Chef Nobu goes once a month to Japan and travels 10 months a year, staying in LA when grounded. His schedule can look like – Japan to London to Cape Town to Doha to Japan to France to Germany.
  3. He’s been married for 40 years but his wife doesn’t come with him on trips.
  4. He really cares about health and wants to be healthy every day. He said that daily exercise is very important, especially to sweat.
  5. Chef Nobu uses monk fruit now in the rice in all Nobus so there are less sugar and fewer calories.
  6. He drinks a bowl of miso soup every day when he wakes up. “Japanese people take miso every morning,” he shared.
  7. Uni for Nobu Restaurants comes from not only Santa Barbara and Japan, but also San Diego.
  8. His favorite sushi is tuna and whitefish. “I eat all,” he happily declared.
  9. When he is not eating sushi, he likes to eat pizza, ice cream, and chocolate.
  10. If he had to pick one food he doesn’t favor, it is snake soup that he tried in Hong Kong.
  11. Some of his favorite restaurants outside Japan include casual Paper Moon in Italy, an Italian restaurant called Marco in Monaco, and the Intercontinental Hotel in China for Peking duck.
  12. In LA he goes to Spago a couple times a year. He let us know that he is the same age as the owner and he will be dining at Georgio Baldi tomorrow.
  13. He uses local produce as much as he can. He goes to the fish market every day. He imports from Japan, Australia, Spain, and Italy too.
  14. He lets us know that little fish last a day or two while bigger fish like tuna can last 3-4 days. “If sushi tastes fishy, it is not fresh.”
  15. Nobus are open 7 days a week. They don’t update the menu often. He says there are a lot of choices and they want people to feel very comfortable.
  16. In his home, he has his own sushi bar where he makes sushi for his entire family and also makes sushi with his grandchildren.
  17. He is not worried about overfishing since there are many farm-raised fish in Japan.
  18. “The second generation eats the same dish.” He chuckles as he tells how he invented the Cindy Rice after Cindy Crawford and now her daughter Kai comes in and order it.
  19. When eating sushi, he states, “You always eat in one piece, never bite. No soy sauce needed. Too much sodium.” When he presented each delicate fish slice in front of us, he stated, “You must eat immediately like ice cream on a table.”
  20. His vision of success is to have people come back for sushi the next day. He is not looking for a title but to make customers happy. “Now it’s a dream come true. I started when I was 8 or 9 years old. Customers trust Nobu so they come back because they are confident with our brand.”

In awe of the sushi master’s skills and influence around LA and the world, I snapped a picture with Chef Nobu with his signature pose and gleefully finished our sushi lunch with a signed World of Nobu Cookbook and a few nights stay at the new Nobu Hotels Los Cabos or Chicago.

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