Chef Masaharu Morimoto: 'I have no plans of slowing down'
Chef Masaharu Morimoto, 63, chit-chats about his special dinner for the 14th anniversary of Wasabi and travelling 300 days a year
Masaharu Morimoto's first lesson on the job at a restaurant in Hiroshima was how to wash a dish. He moved up the ladder gradually, becoming a busboy, then delivery boy, cooking help, etc. He went on to work with some of New York's finest chefs, including Nobu Matsuhisa. In 1998, he was selected for Iron Chef, a Japanese television show produced by Fuji Films. Later, it got an American version that continues to be on air. In 2001, Morimoto left Nobu to open his own restaurant. Wasabi, one of Mumbai's first contemporary Japanese restaurants, happened in 2004, when the Taj approached him. The chef is coming down to present an Omakase menu to ring in its 14th anniversary.
Edited excerpts from an email interview:
You recently said in an interview, "If you don't love what you're doing, there's no point doing it." What keeps you going?
The culinary world is so extensive and there is always something new to discover. I find inspiration everywhere — from ingredients, street vendors, cities I have explored to books. I have no plans of slowing down.
When you were in Mumbai three years ago, you confessed to travelling 250 days in a year. Do you still travel as much?
That has gone up to 300-plus days a year, with the opening of four restaurants in the past year (including restaurants in Doha and Dubai, and two in Waikiki in Hawaii) and visiting my 17 restaurants throughout the year. I have a special connection with each destination that I have a restaurant in. When I am on the road, I wake up early and walk a lot, so I can take in the neighbourhood around me before heading to the restaurant.
From opening your first restaurant in 1979 to now, what has changed?
Today, guests have such an expansive variety of dining options to choose from. This motivates us to continuously enhance our hospitality and deliver the highest quality possible. I always focus on doing my best with the current trends.
What are your plans for Mumbai? People all over the world are adopting vegetarian options. Do vegans/gluten-free requests get anything on your menu?
Mumbai is where I opened my second restaurant and I have a deep connection with it. After its opening, I realised that there was a variety of international backgrounds in India and that guests were both interested and open to other cuisines. I was surprised by how well-received Japanese cuisine was and that it was becoming a part of the food scene in India. I am always finding ways to open up the world to more Japanese food.
Awards aside, I have more to achieve and I am excited for the future in Mumbai. Even though we do not have items noted as vegan or gluten-free on the menu, we are always flexible about accommodating guest requests.
We now have a couple of Japanese eateries in the city, some specialising in street food and desserts and going beyond ramen and sushi. How does that make you feel?
It does make me happy to see that diners have excitedly embraced Japanese cuisine over the years. I also want to channel this enthusiasm into the home kitchen and clear the misconception that Japanese food is somewhat difficult to approach. I have also shared that message through my latest cookbook, Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking.
Mumbai has come a long way with Japanese food. Has the availability of produce eased?
Mumbai did not have an existing operating system to source ingredients for Japanese food or sushi. We have been procuring ingredients from neighbouring countries, but most of our ingredients such as fish, vegetables and dry foods are sourced from Japan. I am excited to travel to Mumbai, as it has been a while since my last visit. I will check the current situation to see where I can source ingredients from.
Do you think Japanese food has become popular over the years because of health reasons, as it is light on the body?
I think that plays a part for the health-conscious diners and introduces them to healthy Japanese ingredients including tofu, seaweed (kombu, nori, wakame, etc.) and root vegetables such as daikon radish, carrot, burdock and sweet potato. There is an abundance of healthy, fresh ingredients in Japanese cuisine.
Tell us about the anniversary Omakase menu that you will be presenting at Wasabi.
We will have a menu featuring Japanese autumn ingredients, a soup dish and a course composed of the Morimoto Signature menu.
FROM October 2 to 4, dinner only
AT Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai, Colaba
COST Rs 9,250 (veg); Rs 9,950 (non-veg) exclusive of taxes
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