Yesterday, we brought you a preview of URBANDADDY's interview with the Iron Chef. Today, the full, uncut interview, painting the picture of a thoughtful, if not charmingly loquacious, sushi master. Do read all the way through. You'll be glad you did.
UD: What’s the best part about having a restaurant in NY?
MM: When I was here 20 years ago, I didn’t think I would have anything like this. Working here, many years, to get green card, working at Nobu, then becoming Iron Chef, I thought someday I would be an owner of a restaurant in New York. This was my dream. My dream came true, so that’s the best thing for me.
UD: The worst?
MM: No day off! And I’m not young enough.
UD: Any issues about choosing the name Morimoto for the restaurant?
MM: My first name is Masaharu. When I came to open a restaurant here, I thought I would name it Mori, or Moto, or Masa, or Haru. But—there is already a restaurant called Mori here, there is Moto here, Masa here, and Haru here. So I have to do “Morimoto.” I thought, is Morimoto too long for a restaurant name? But we did it.
UD: In a Batali/Flay cage match, who wins?
MM: Ahhhh. Depends on rules. What kind of gloves, barefoot, something like that. If sumo rules, maybe Batali wins. Maybe boxing or something with different rules, Bobby wins. Depends on rules.
UD: If Flay and Batali teamed up and took you on, could they take you or would you still win?
MM: When I was young, yes. Not now.
UD: What is your favorite restaurant in NY?
MM: 280 [redacted], 18M.
UD: Is that one of those secret dining clubs?
MM: No, my home.
UD: So that means we can ring your doorbell and come by to eat?
MM: [Laughter] I don’t cook myself. I don’t cook anything in my house. I have a personal chef. My wife. She is cooking all the time for me.
UD: Is she a better cook than you?
MM: Aaah, no comment.
UD: But what’s your favorite restaurant in the city?
MM: I don’t know much about the restaurant scene now. I just came back to New York 3 months ago. But I lived for four years in Philly. Now I’m back but I can’t go anywhere because I have no time. I heard about openings, this and this, but I have no time. I don’t even go across the street [to Del Posto].
UD: When you have time, what’s the first restaurant you’ll hit?
MM: Maybe across the street.
UD: Favorite restaurant in the world?
MM: A sushi restaurant called Kyubei, in Tokyo, Ginza. The owner chef, his mind is very flexible. Most sushi chefs are traditional, it must be like this. He is not like this kind of person.
UD: Back to your restaurants. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen from behind the sushi bar?
MM: I have been there 4 years at Morimoto, and it’s kind of a famous restaurant in Philly. Lots of birthdays, anniversaries. Many guys ask me to help propose. He gives me the ring, I put the ring in food, I bring the food and serve it to her and say, this is from him. I did it over 30 times. With 100% yes. Right after, I shake the guy’s hand and say, “welcome to hell.” [laughter] I’m joking. Is this bad?
UD: What’s your favorite thing on your own menu?
MM: I like sushi. I get the fish from Japan myself. I order through the distributor, fish company, I have the guy who choosing my fish in Tokyo, and sending to us directly. So I have best fish in this town, I believe.
UD: What should people know to order that’s not on the menu?
MM: You can’t.
UD: You can’t order something off the menu?
MM: Well I learned from Nobu hospitality, so they can ask, and if I have the ingredient, I can make it.
UD: Would you make scrambled eggs?
MM: Yes—but with truffles.
UD: Speaking of Nobu, what is the most important thing you learned from him?
MM: Hospitality. He didn’t say no to customer. It’s not everything, but he tries to make customers happy.
UD: Are you hospitable?
UD: Do you smile when you don’t feel like smiling?
MM: I have to. I try. Physically, getting old, but emotionally, I’m still young. That’s why sometimes I’m still kya kya kya! [does some wild karate moves]
UD: Anything by way of hospitable advice for men trying to close at your restaurant?
MM: If it’s first date, he should call and tell us it’s first date. He should have an icing table, like a corner table. We have no icing table here at Morimoto New York, but all the tables are nice. And then three don’ts: Don’t be nervous, don’t be too serious, don’t rush. Rush no good.
UD: It worked for you?
UD: Could you ever date a woman who didn’t eat sushi?
MM: I’m married.
UD: Does your wife like sushi?
MM: Yes, she likes sushi a lot.
UD: If she didn’t like sushi, would that be a problem?
MM: Before I got married, I never have the girlfriend who doesn’t like eating raw fish.
UD: Yes, moving on. Do you have an iPod?
MM: I have one but I cannot put anything on it. I drive a Mercedes, I have so many things here [on the dashboard], I cannot use anything. I am not a digital guy. I cannot set up the CD, I cannot see the DVD, I cannot use the navigation system.
UD: If you could download music to your iPod, what would be on it?
MM: Easy listening! Mostly Japanese songs. Some American ones, like Kenny G. Easy, easy, you know. I like to listen like this, aaah [singing, leans back with his eyes closed].
UD: You're a world famous sushi chef now. Do you have any regrets?
MM: When I was 17 years old, I played baseball seriously in high school. We are one of strongest teams, and we had a big competition, it’s like the Superbowl. We are the top team. We are supposed to be number one in prefecture and go to national competition. I was playing catcher. A catcher error means score. My team lost 1-0. That’s my fault. The first round of this game, the TV camera come in very close on me. My catcher mitt was very old, but very comfortable, it works well. But the second round, I change a new glove, so it looks good for the camera. But then the glove didn’t catch the ball. We lost the game. So if I change my life, I would go to that point, and use the old glove.
UD: And if you did, would you be playing baseball now?
MM: I gave up baseball. I had two dreams – to be professional baseball player, or to be sushi master chef. I’d rather be cooking. I used to play baseball in Central Park, Sunday very early morning, the Japanese league.
UD: Mets or Yankees?
MM: Mankees. Mets and Yankees, Mankees. Actually I like cheering Japanese players from Japan, like Seattle Ichiro, Nomo, Seattle Mariners catcher, Jojima Jo, Yankees Matsui, Mets Matsui, I don’t have any particular team, but I am cheering the Japanese players.
UD: What do baseball and cooking have in common?
MM: Passion, you have to try your best. Have to understand you are professional. You are making money from the customers. Professionalism.
Photo of Morimoto with the bear courtesy of Chefmorimoto.com.