[CUISINE] Nobu Matsuhisa - Man Who Spiced Up Sushi & DiNiro
- Nobu Matsuhisa, the man who spiced up sushi
By S. Irene Virbila, Times Staff Writer
In a wildly polyglot city where Midwesterners live next to
Oaxacans; Taiwanese, Armenians and Russians mingle with Hollywood
hipsters; and Tongans live side by side with native Californians is
it any wonder that their various cuisines have blurred into each
Los Angeles is fusion central and has been since its founding. Just
look in anybody's pantry. Ingredients, techniques and recipes from
far-flung places mingle throughout local kitchens. And what about our
restaurants? By now, they've offered practically every combination
you can think of Korean-Creole, Oaxacan nouvelle, Franco-Japanese,
pan-Asian, Filipino-Mediterranean, Thai-Italian and on and on.
Most such marriages barely take a comet ride through the culinary
skies before fickle gastronauts are off to chase the next new thing.
But the one fusion that has stuck, and that Los Angeles has exported
to the rest of the world, is Nobu Matsuhisa's revved-up sushi.
Before the now world-famous Japanese chef came to Southern
California, he worked in Peru, where he began incorporating hot
chiles into his sushi and sashimi dishes. In L.A., he used not only
chile, but garlic, caviar, olive oil, even butter. His original
restaurant, Matsuhisa, on La Cienega's restaurant row, was a runaway
hit when it opened in 1987. He'd found a flavor profile that made
sense to Angelenos craving ever more vivid food.
Matsuhisa's new-style sashimi, with warm olive oil poured over the
raw fish, was a sensation. Angelenos swooned over yellowtail sashimi
garnished with rings of fiery red pepper. He cut squid to look like
pasta and tossed it in garlic and butter. He tried out all sorts of
wacky ingredients and combinations. You never knew what would appear
on that night's blackboard of specials. And with stars waiting in
line for a seat in the inner sanctum, sushi was suddenly glamorous.
In 1994, when Matsuhisa opened Nobu in New York financed in part by
his biggest fan, Robert De Niro the Los Angeles chef took
Manhattan. He went on to open restaurants in Tokyo and London and
Milan, Italy, essentially colonizing the world with his eccentric
Latin American-Japanese fusion sushi.
Chefs who worked with Matsuhisa merely had to whisper his name, and
backers came running. In L.A., we're already on the third or fourth
generation of chefs influenced by his high-flying fusion and yet
we're just as crazy about Matsuhisa's sushi as ever.
And in the chic, design-conscious setting of his various Nobus, it