There's no denying chef Nobu Matsuhisa holds the key to the Hollywood of hospitality, with his empire of 50 Nobu restaurants and a string of laidback luxury hotels across the world complete with uniquely catered takes on local culture and tastes.
Widely known by his first name, Nobu kickstarted his career when he moved from Japan to Peru in 1973.
It was there he experimented between the two cultures we see intertwined throughout his cuisine to this day. It wasn't until he emigrated to the US that he opened the LA-based restaurant Matsuhisa in 1987, an instant hit among celebrities including Robert De Niro, who went on to become Nobu's business partner.
Film fans will be well aware of De Niro's expansive acting career – but some may be shocked to learn of his involvement in the hospitality industry and his position as Nobu's co-founder.
Chef Nobu recalled De Niro, who has since grown to become his close friend, Bob, loving his food at his LA restaurant. Before he knew it, De Niro proposed the pair opened a restaurant in New York.
"At the time, Matsuhisa was only a few years old and I felt that there was still a lot of work to do on my restaurant, so I said I wasn’t ready," Nobu told Indy100. De Niro waited it out and reproached the concept four years later.
"I was so surprised that he had waited and been so patient," Nobu said. "Because of this, I knew I could trust him and I agreed to open Nobu New York."
Film producer Meir Teper then took an interest in investing and suggested keeping the name Matsuhisa, the same as the celebrity chef's LA branch. It was De Niro who suggested to call the New York restaurant Nobu.
Now, despite Nobu's unparalleled success with Justin Bieber, Drake, the Kardashians, Elton John and a host of other A-listers dining at the luxury chain, the famed chef "never thought that Nobu would become what it is today."
He told Indy100 that he had always deterred from expecting too much, and instead, tries "to move forward just one step at a time."
"I am still surprised about how much we achieved, and am just as excited about every new project we announce as I was at the beginning," he added.
Nobu believes it comes down to staying true to his philosophy since the day he started cooking: quality ingredients and excellent service.
"When people come to Nobu they will experience Nobu-style food, dishes made with simple ingredients that are beautifully presented and focused on flavour," he said. "Nothing makes me happier than seeing my guests with big smiles on their faces, experiencing something new and enjoying themselves. This is what Nobu is still about to this day."
However, Nobu admitted that the worldwide phenomenon is much more than the man himself.
"It's also my team," he shared, adding that he spent years personally training staff across the world, especially head chefs.
"When I travel throughout the year to each location, I also make sure to spend time with my chefs in the kitchen, watching them and working with them to perfect our iconic Nobu dishes," he continued. "I will never forget what it’s like to be a chef in someone else’s kitchen, so I want to do everything I can to support them."
Following the success of the trio's eponymous restaurants, they soon started toying with the idea of hotels which led them to open the doors to their first Nobu Hotel opened inside Caesars Palace, Las Vegas in 2013. Two years later, they opened a hotel in the City of Dreams, Manila.
"I travel so much and so do my partners, Bob and Meir," Nobu explained. "One day we were talking about how nice it would be to be able to stay in hotels that are like our restaurants, that have a similar style and atmosphere. We knew that the Nobu way would translate across well to hotels, and this is how the idea started."
Nobu Hotels provide a "modern cool luxury and mini Japanese tradition" in each lifestyle hotel from London to Los Cabos.
Speaking about the inspiration behind each location, Nobu explained how they spend a lot of time with local partners and ensure "they really understand the Nobu way."
Through their connections, they explore the local culture and tastes, working with local suppliers and artists to "bring as many unique elements into the hotel as possible."
For instance, "at Nobu Hotel Shoreditch we used a local artist called Richard Harding to create the ceiling and wallpaper in some of the new bedrooms," Nobu said. "We call them Yuhi rooms – Yuhi means sunset in Japanese, so from the shape and textures of the design, you can see a modern Japanese sunset. We also used a local design studio, Studio Mica, for the new Nobu penthouse."
With the ever-evolving success of Nobu, the celebrity chef admits he doesn't think too much about the future.
"For myself, I like to live in the moment and enjoy what’s happening now."
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