OLT: You were a baseball player in Japan before you became a chef. How did the transition happen from playing baseball to cooking?
Masaharu Morimoto: When I was a child, I had two major dreams—to become a baseball player or a sous chef. When I was in high school, I played baseball very seriously. My hometown Hiroshima has a baseball franchise called Hiroshima Cubs owned by Matsuda. They almost picked me, but then I had a shoulder injury, and I had to give it up. That’s how I gave up my first dream and went straight to the next.
OLT: How did that dream pan out? Tell us about your journey from Japan to the U.S. and the rest of the world.
Masaharu Morimoto: I started my cooking career by working in a sushi restaurant in Japan for seven years, and then after getting married, I started my own business: it started off as a coffee shop, but after a year, I began serving sushi, lunch and dinner, and sashimi, besides coffee. Business was doing well, but I wanted to see more of the world. So, after five years of starting the coffee shop, I decided to shift to the U.S. I still live there today and have several restaurants in the country, and thanks to the Taj Group, I’ve been able to bring my food to India too.
OLT: You worked at Nobu in New York. How was that experience for you?
Masaharu Morimoto: I was the executive chef in Nobu. It was a great experience. Chef Nobu gave me the freedom to experiment, to create new dishes, techniques. I was very inspired by him and I respect him a lot. He taught me a lot—not everything, but a lot—and he’s one of the reasons I am where I am today.
OLT: Do you have a signature cuisine that you have created, or is it an adaptation of Japanese cuisine that you serve at your restaurants?
Masaharu Morimoto: My customers, their history and their culture are very important to me. Since I am serving Japanese cuisine outside Japan, I have to cater to their palates. There are several of my countrymen who tell me what I serve is not traditional Japanese. I agree with them. But all cuisines change when you take them out of their native lands—I am here to do business, not only to make money, but also to keep my customers happy with what I serve. To India I bring the signature Morimoto dishes I created in the U.S., but here I have to adapt the dishes to my predominantly vegetarian and vegan customers’ tastes.
OLT: Do you enjoy eating Indian food?
Masaharu Morimoto: Indian food is very popular in Japan, you know. Of course, the non-spicy variety. I enjoy eating the mildly-spiced curries and the fish and lamb preparations. I also try to make naans at home sometimes as well as some tandoori dishes. I even serve dishes like lobster masala and tandoori chicken in my restaurants.
OLT: Sushi has become very popular in India in the past few years, but it’s still expensive. Is there any way to bring sushi to the masses?
Masaharu Morimoto: Well, for that, the government of India will have to reduce taxes and excise duties on importing fish! We import fresh fish every day from Japan for our raw preparations, since the seafood available here is not fresh enough to use for sushi. That’s what makes a sushi meal so expensive.
OLT: What’s your take on molecular gastronomy?
Masaharu Morimoto: It’s interesting, but it’s not my type of cooking. I’ve dabbled with it a bit, but it involves a lot of machines, fancy gadgets, etc, as well as mathematics and chemistry. For me, good food is cooked with the heart, hands, mind, senses and soul.