The Nobu interview continues. We've chewed the fat about black cod and Nobu's many imitators, so now it's time to get down to the nitty gritty...
JB: Do you worry this type of ‘contemporary Japanese’ restaurant might go out of fashion?
NM: Well, people are still coming to Nobu-style restaurants. Why? First of all, customers accept this food. Business-wise, it makes money. So that’s why investors spend money to make the restaurants. And then they are head-hunting the chefs from my restaurants. So this is business competition. At the end of the goal, the restaurant has to keep its quality, it must always try to upgrade its great food and service, create new dishes. With this kind of competition, one day it’s a success and another day it’s not a success. This is natural, I don’t worry about it. It’s good for the Japanese because I get to present my Japanese food to the world.
And you don’t think people will get bored of it?
It’s about quality. Sometimes people will go to a restaurant and think Nobu is better. Or they will go to another restaurant and think that is better. This is competition. That’s why I like to try my best. Competition means we have to take care more, we have to concentrate more. This is good for the chef - no lazy!
Are you afraid of a backlash?
That’s why we have such different menus. we have a lot of choice. If one day, you say no Japanese food..?
No, I mean if people get tired of this type of restaurant. In Dubai in the last year we’ve had seven or eight of these places open...
We need it! (laughs)
It’s your fault! But it’s as if it’s very fashionable at the moment but then maybe next year it’ll be something else? Maybe they’ll go and eat German food? Though probably not...
Everything is possible. After we open, we have to see the next step.
Were you surprised by how the celebrities that normally come to your London restaurant threatened to boycott it over your refusal to remove bluefin tuna from your menu?
You know, it’s bluefin tuna. We do nothing illegal. Nothing illegal. But I care about bluefin tuna for the next generations. That’s why the Japanese technique is to do a bluefin tuna farm. We know. But boycott, it’s um..? Greenpeace attacked us, to lock the door with a chain at the entrance... This is terrorist. It’s not fair, you know. But if we do something wrong maybe I will stop using bluefin tuna. But the government decides how many kilos or pounds you can use. So we listen to the government. If the government says don’t use bluefin tuna I would never go against the government.
So, you don’t listen to the celebrities?
London is where Greenpeace attacked this restaurant. We sell bluefin tuna more than before. This is a true story. But still, I’m not against bluefin tuna. In the menu we mention it’s bluefin tuna. Customers order this. It’s not my choice. We don’t push through the sale. Automatically, the customers like it, but we don’t do anything illegal. Now bluefin tuna sells more than before. The media is talking about the bluefin tuna so a lot of people understand. But also, on the other side, it’s a misconception.
What’s interesting about the case in London is that your restaurant was heavily associated with the celebrities who went to dine there, and it seemed as though a lot of them were turning their backs on Nobu...
**Goes off record** (Here is where the interview gets a bit, shall we say, passionate, and Nobu asks to take things off the record. We return with a rather less controversial line of questioning...)
What’s new on the Dubai menu?
The main course usually has a garnish, like carrot and potato for example. We have cilantro - coriander - and shiso leaves and Japanese vegetables in the garnish. But this time we’re calling it a coriander salad with grilled shrimp, together. Shiso is very expensive in Japan, but it never makes money because it’s just a garnish. So, I’d like to make a supporting actor a main actor!
It’s been promoted.
Yeah, that’s good (laughs). Also, the Japanese eel always makes sushi, so this time I showed to the chef how to make unagi steamed rice, which we can do for lunch or do family style for three or four people to share one dish.
How long before that’s on Zuma’s menu?
Ah, you know, we start it here. Somebody comes here and eats it. And then somebody comes to spy or see. Then people like it. Then it comes to Zuma. This is great, also. Their little twist will be the difference. But they are more than welcome, free to do it.
I suppose chefs have to get their inspiration from somewhere - where do you get yours from?
Sometimes when I have nothing to do on a plane, I think what shall we have to eat? Eel? So, how about eel in a different way? Sometimes I’m thinking about my creations. Like miso. Why should miso only make the soup or a sauce? I’d like to try the miso made dry. So, one day we made the freeze-dried miso. Now the sashimi with dried miso is a very popular dish. But this one, nobody can copy it because - a lot of process (laughs).
They don’t have the technology...?
No, no. But I started selling a jar in Los Angeles, at the market. Many people go to the market and buy the dry miso and do their own menu. But the label is Nobu (laughs)!
Any plans for new restaurants in the Middle East?
Doha. Maybe next year, my designer says. Maybe the end of 2010 or the beginning of 2011. I never know about the construction.
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