Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Morimoto Asia WaikikiRestaurant Insider
July 4, 2021
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: RICKY RIDELA
ANNE LEE speaks with Iron chef and Morimoto Asia Waikiki founder MASAHARU MORIMOTO
When I spoke with the OG Iron Chef , Masaharu Morimoto (aka Chef Morimoto), everything had a sense of place: how he chose New York as his home, how he picked his restaurant locations, and how his path led him to become one of the most recognized chefs in the world. He is charming and funny — and he can sing! Oh, and he’s still friendly with Bobby Flay.
AL: When did you come to this country?
MM: 1985. I used to play baseball in Japan. My dream was to play for a professional baseball team, one was for a franchise called the Hiroshima Cubs. I was drafted to play in high school.
AL: How did you become a chef?
MM: As much as I wanted to play baseball, I also wanted to be a sushi chef. Having a shoulder injury paved my way to the restaurant world, starting from a busboy, runner, server, basically learning how to do everything in the kitchen.
In the late ’70s and early ’80s, there was a sushi boom, which brought me to LA for the Olympics. After that, I had the opportunity to go to Japan, Korea, Anchorage and New York, and the most affordable route was New York City.
After my first year, I thought I could take this talent to other places where there was a sushi boom, including the West Coast and Hawaii. Or, I could stay five years in New York and bring money back to Japan. The second year, 1985, Japan’s currency took an opposite turn and the American dollar exceeded the Japanese yen. It did not make financial sense to go back to Japan. In 1986, I purchased a condo in New York and made it my home.
AL: How did Iron Chef happen?
MM: In 1994 in Japan, chef Rokusaburo Michiba was the first generation Iron Chef Japan. As the executive chef at Nobu, I was asked to be on Food TV, the original broadcasting company from Japan that owned the copyright. It then went to the Food Network, and now Netflix.
AL: What was the most memorable moment for you when you were on the show?
MM: I knew I had to be in Japan for every battle, and had multiple tapings back and forth. My debut was a big thing. Everyone was watching and wondering, “Who is this Iron Chef?” The 747 airplane took off, it was at least a 14-hour flight, but it felt like five minutes. I spent it thinking of situations that could postpone my debut; I had lots of pressure. But, I took hold of what I had to do, I knew once I had the knife in my hand it would be very clear.
AL: What did you prepare for us?
MM: Surf and turf sushi roll ($38), featuring wagyu beef-wrapped shrimp tempura, asparagus, goma sauce, gochujang aioli and sesame seeds; roast duck ($35), which is hand-carved roasted half duck, seasoned flour tortilla, apricot sweet chili and hoisin miso; and tuna pizza ($16). This is fresh tuna, crispy tortilla, olive, red onion, anchovy aioli, tomato, jalapeño, Tabasco and micro cilantro.
AL: How did you develop your knife skills?
MM: Working hard. When I was first working as a chef, I watched other chefs and saw how fast they were with the knives. Knowing I need to be quick and present to the customer was important.
AL: What are you most proud of regarding your culinary journey?
MM: Maybe once I am at the end of my journey and that question was asked, I would be able to say all of these different things. I still haven’t reached that yet because I want to still keep on going, striving for the best in everything I achieve.
AL: During the pandemic, many people gained weight but you took the reverse approach and lost 30 pounds. Tell me about that.
MM: I have a sense of responsibility in which I can provide a foundation for everyone to work. If I am not keeping myself healthy, there will not be opportunities for my team to keep moving forward.
AL: Who is your favorite chef?
MM: I have been asked that many times but I do not have an answer. When I want to eat something specific I like to make it a certain way. I like to create food for myself based on what I want to eat.
The same for a guest that comes into a restaurant; it tastes good today, but not guaranteed for their palate tomorrow, regardless of consistency, but on the way they feel.
AL: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
MM: The restaurant business is not just about food; that makes up only 40%. Service and atmosphere makes up the rest.