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.
What makes you persevere in the face of adversity?
Nobu Matsuhisa: 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.
Who inspires you?
Robert De Niro: 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.
Nobu Matsuhisa: 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?
Robert De Niro: I make coffee, have a health bar, and read the news—often with morbid fascination.