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Take Five with the One and Only Nobu Matsuhisa

Chef Nobu Matsuhisa in the new garden dining space at Nobu Palo Alto.
Chef Nobu Matsuhisa in the new garden dining space at Nobu Palo Alto.

Much like Madonna, Adele and Beyonce, this storied chef is so recognized the globe over that you know him readily by simply his first name.

The one and only Nobu Matsuhisa came to town this week to christen the new Japanese-inspired outdoor garden dining space at his Nobu Palo Alto restaurant and hotel, completely transforming what was formerly a florist shop into a zen oasis.

If you have an appetite for fine Japanese cuisine, you owe a debt of gratitude to him. If you appreciate impeccable sushi and sashimi, especially done with groundbreaking global influences such as jalapenos, olive oil, garlic, and lemon, you have him to thank for introducing this new style. Matsuhisa helped turn what was once considered exotic into a mainstay of which we now can’t get enough.

His accomplishments are nothing short of breathtaking, opening 21 restaurants in the United States and Canada alone, not to mention 16 in Europe; five in Mexico and the Caribbean; six in the Middle East and Africa; and eight in Asia and Australia. In all, 56 restaurants across the globe. Moreover, his hotel in downtown Palo Alto is one of 34 operating or in process of opening worldwide.

The Palo Alto restaurant is one of 56 Nobu locations worldwide.
The Palo Alto restaurant is one of 56 Nobu locations worldwide.

It’s been quite the journey for Matsuhisa, one that began with the most challenging of circumstances in Japan, when he lost his father at age 8 in a motorcycle accident, only later to get expelled from high school for acting out. Looking to turn his life around at 18, he moved to Tokyo to apprentice in a sushi restaurant. What followed next were a series of soaring highs and crushing blows — moving to Lima to open his first restaurant, only to have that business partnership dissolve badly, then relocating to Alaska to open a Japanese restaurant, only to see it destroyed in an accidental fire less than two months later.

Eventually, armed with a green card, he immigrated to Southern California with his wife and two young daughters for a fresh start. In 1987 he opened Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills. There, a regular nudged him repeatedly to open an outpost in New York until he agreed to do so, debuting restaurant Nobu in Manhattan in 1994. That regular was none other than actor Robert DeNiro, who would go on to partner with Matsuhisa in all his future projects and be instrumental in steering him to opening hotels, too.

Yesterday, I had a chance to spend a few minutes with Matsuhisa in the tranquil garden with its decorative bronze gate, seasonal blooms, and boulders that were hand-picked and flown in from Japan.

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