If you believe in destiny, you will nod your head knowingly at Masaharu Morimoto’s tale of becoming a chef. And if you don’t, it will challenge your belief. A Hiroshima high schooler an inch away from becoming a pro baseball player, Chef Morimoto’s sports career was halted by a shoulder injury, which nudged him towards his other passion — making sushi. It was, however, not simply a turn of fate that made him the award-winning Iron Chef he is today. He’s worked hard to open 16 restaurants across the globe, one of them in India — Wasabi by Morimoto at Taj Mahal Palace hotel Mumbai, recently celebrated its 14th anniversary.
This outpost, which he opened in 2004, was his second worldwide, and a frontrunner for contemporary Japanese in the country. And while India’s predominantly vegetarian market was vastly different from what he was accustomed to, the chef sailed through sans trouble. “I did not encounter any major obstacles because I realised the variety of international backgrounds in India and that guests were both interested and adaptable to other cuisines,” says Chef Morimoto about developing the menu for his first restaurant in the country.
Makings of an Iron Chef
Known for designing his cuisine as well restaurants in a visually impressive manner, Chef Morimoto is popular for taking traditional Japanese cuisine as the base and building upon it using international techniques and ingredients. In short, he has acquainted the world with modern Japanese cooking. Apart from his famous sushi, dishes such as Wasabi Crème Brûlée, Pork Kakuni (braised belly), and Tomato Carpaccio with Yuzu and Soy Dressing showcase his signature style brilliantly.
Chef Morimoto has several brands across the world, including, Morimoto, Morimoto Asian, Morimoto Sushi Bar, Atelier Morimoto XEX, at outposts such as Mexico City, Orlando, Boca Raton, Tokyo, New York, and many more. Deeply invested in each of his ventures, he shares how he loves each of his creations equally, “I try to have each menu tell a different story, specifically of its place in the world. I write all of my menus and am involved with each opening and continued training. I am emotionally involved with all of my dishes so I can’t choose just one.”
No slowing down
It all began however with a coffee shop, his first venture when he was just 24. He studied the art of sushi-making in Hiroshima for seven years, and in due course graduated to a sushi and sashimi restaurant. After manning that for five years, he went on to explore the world and landed in New York, where he soon started working under the celebrated sushi chef, Nobu. During this stint he came on Iron Chef Japan (1998) and Iron Chef America (1999), and won over the audience with his creativity and culinary skills, thereby earning the title ‘Iron Chef’.
As his magic in the kitchen cast its spell over patrons, his entrepreneurship shown not only through restaurants but several other undertakings. Beer, sake, grape-seed oil, knives, wine — Chef Morimoto has a signature line of each. He also has two books under his belt: ‘Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking’ which won the Julia Child Award for Best First Book, and ‘Mastering The Art of Japanese Home Cooking’. From the lanes of Hiroshima, where a sushi supper was a treat on his father’s payday to earning more accolades than can be listed on one page, the 63-year-old chef has certainly come a long way. And there’s more on his plate, “We recently announced that we will be expanding our Momosan Ramen concept to Seattle. So, for today, that is my immediate plan for the future. As long as we have great partners and the restaurants are places that our guests enjoy, we will keep looking at company growth.”