March 16, 2017

by Mitch Ziems

When I arrive, Nobu is waiting at the front of the room with a warm smile. He’s flanked by some of the best chefs from his international team, including Mark Edwards, Executive Chef of Nobu London for over 20 years, and Sean Tan, Executive Chef of Nobu Melbourne, and they all look similarly happy to be here.

The World of Nobu master class is an exciting chance to see the work of Nobuyuki ‘Nobu’ Matsuhita up close. Renowned for the way he blended traditional Japanese cuisine with American influences, his signature style has made Nobu so popular (he has 32 restaurants across five continents) that you don’t even need to be a fan of sushi to know his name.

And if you’re not a fan of sushi, Nobu will make you one.

“Sushi is more than rice and fish. It is passion and heart,” remarks Nobu. In his mind, there’s no difference between his work and the work of a parent who puts together a lunchbox for their child’s day at school.

It might seem like a humble analogy, but Nobu clearly means it. It’s not just skill that made him one of the most influential Japanese chefs ever, but also love. As he goes through his process, he remains casual, cracking jokes and making sure everyone in attendance can see what he’s doing. The demonstration is not overwhelming; it’s by no means a science project, broken down into little steps to explain everything that’s happening. Instead, it’s a discussion, one framed around sharing ideas (and, yes, a little advice) in order to inspire a creative spark in our own cooking.

That said, there’s a keen art to it all. When Nobu asks two attendees to practice turning and pressing the fish for use in sushi, it seems a relatively simple task. At least he makes it look like one. Like a musician, Nobu doesn’t need to send so much as a glance towards his hands as he turns his fish, instead focusing on the attempts of the women who are trying to copy him. They don’t do a great job, but he sends them back to their seats with a laugh.

When Nobu’s team takes over, he remains nearby, personally carrying around samples of sushi or stepping up to ask questions. The attention remains on him for the most part, at least until Mark Edwards steps up to explain the highlight dish: umami sea bass. It’s an intelligent dish that takes the left over restaurant ingredients that would otherwise go to waste, and turns them into a distinctively Japanese delight.

Nobu’s masterclass proved both unique and memorable. While it presented technique and design in an insightful way, it’s the glimpse into Nobu’s love for what he does that stood out most. He has accomplished much, and yet at 68, shows no sign of slowing down. But who says he should?

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