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Nobu Matsuhisa & Robert De Niro
A Dramatic Feast

Food

001 Nobu Matsuhisa
  • Words Tom Osmond
  • Images Sebastian Böttcher

Hats off to talented chef Nobu Matsuhisa and actor/director Robert De Niro, who have been expanding the Nobu brand since a chance encounter in L.A. in the late 1980s.

It's not every day that Robert De Niro walks into your restaurant, sits down, and proposes a worldwide business venture before picking up the check. That's exactly what happened in the late 1980s when the actor/director gave in to his curiosities about a new Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine that was turning heads in Beverly Hills. The chef he approached, Nobu Matsuhisa, famously refused for four years before embarking on the Nobu adventure that continues to this day.

002 Nobu Hotel Robert De Niro

“I’m impressed by anybody who does something really well that I know I can’t do.”

Robert De Niro

You both come from two very different creative backgrounds. Does inventing a cuisine or making a Hollywood movie involve a similar creative process to building a hotel?

Robert De Niro: There’s a clear parallel between the two. There are people with different, specified tasks—interior designers, architects, set designers, the hair and make-up team, the director—and you all work together to orchestrate the final product. And then the director shouts “cut!” and announces they’ve changed their mind completely!

Nobu Matsuhisa: Well, being a chef is about taking your ingredients, applying a set of techniques, and using your vision and judgement to make a dish. In the Nobu restaurants, people spend a few hours eating and drinking, but in a hotel the whole experience can last months. And there are so many service points, from check-in to housekeeping, to room service, to how well the guest has slept that night—and there’s the whole dining experience on top of that.

003 Nobu Hotel Sticks Plate
004 Nobu Hotel Box
005 Nobu Hotel Stairs

What makes you persevere in the face of adversity?

NM: Well, when my restaurant burned down in Alaska, I was devastated. I’d had so many setbacks along the way and had finally opened a place of my own, and then I lost everything in a matter of minutes. If it wasn’t for my wife and kids, I would have ended my life. I know now there will always be challenges, but I’ve learned to be patient and to keep moving forward one step at a time, even if it's just a millimeter.

006 Nobu Hotel Matsuhisa And Kitchen Staff
007 Nobu Hotel Interior

Who inspires you?

RDN: The actors Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Montgomery Clift. Someone who also impresses me is the chef Jeremiah Tower. In fact, Anthony Bourdain made a documentary about him in 2016 that was screened at the Tribeca Film Festival. Essentially, I’m impressed by anybody who does something really well that I know I can’t do.

NM: My family and my staff. They inspire me to stay motivated and work hard for them. Also, my customers. It makes me happy to see them eating my food and leaving with a smile on their face.

Do you have any morning rituals?

RDN: I make coffee, have a health bar, and read the news—often with morbid fascination.

008 Nobu Hotel Interior Restaurant
009 Nobu Hotel Building

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