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The Long Hard Road To Sushi Greatness

Matsuhisa Restaurant in Beverly Hills
Matsuhisa restaurant in Beverly Hills, CA

Chef Nobu Matsuhisa always knew he wanted to be a sushi chef.  From the first time his brother took him to a sushi restaurant in his native Japan, Matsuhisa he has aspired to make people happy with top quality sushi using only the best ingredients.  With 22 restaurants all over the world, and three new locations opening this year in places as far flung as Mexico City, Moscow, and Cape Town, he has obviously achieved his goal on a global scale.

However, this determined sushi chef didn’t find his success easily.  His career started when he was 18 with a seven year apprenticeship in Japan that included three years of nothing but dish washing and bussing.  Afterwards, Chef Nobu travelled to Lima, Peru to ply his trade in his own restaurant.  For awhile he was very successful, and lived comfortably.  His restaurant was popular with the many travelling Japanese businessmen who frequented Peru’s capital, and the city’s location right on the Pacific meant ready access to the finest fresh seafood.

But Matsuhisa’s business partner was more concerned with profits than making fine sushi every day.  He insisted the chef buy cheaper ingredients and reduce his operating expenses.  To Chef Nobu, this was an impossible demand.  He simply wasn’t able to compromise the quality of his work.  For three years they fought over food expenses.  Then he quit.

Sushi by Chef Nobu Matsuhisa
Sushi artistry by Chef Nobu Matsuhisa

After a few years working here and there, Matsuhisa got the chance to open his own restaurant again, this time in Anchorage, Alaska.  He worked tirelessly to make the restaurant a success, and even worked the first 50 days they were open without taking a day off.  He finally shut the doors on Thanksgiving day for a rest.  And that’s when his friend and business partner called in a panic to tell him their beloved restaurant was on fire.  They had no insurance, and Chef Nobu lost everything in the disaster.

After a short return to Japan, Nobu travelled to L.A. to work as a sushi chef in a friend’s restaurant.  It would take him several years to climb out of debt, regain his confidence, and find a restaurant that he could call his own.  Finally, Matsuhisa opened in Beverly Hills, nine years after the fire in Alaska.

Robert DeNiro became one of many Hollywood notables who were also regular customers.  After much cajoling, DeNiro finally convinced Chef Nobu to start another restaurant in New York city.  The two, along with several other investors, have since built the global sushi empire that Matsuhisa now runs.  These days the celebrated sushi chef contents himself with travelling the world and managing his restaurants.  He has finally seen success, and he takes great satisfaction in bringing the world his particular art, expressed through quality sushi.

About Greg McGuire

Greg has blogged about the food service industry for years and has been published in industry magazines, like Independent Restaurateur and industry blogs like Restaurant SmartBrief. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two sons and enjoys reading, live music, and the great outdoors.

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Agricultural farm in Alaska in the Matanuska Valley near the town of Palmer. By National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) from USA (Farm, Matanuska Valley, AK) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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