Robert De Niro and chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa chat with actor Jeremy Irons (center)
The famous American actor Robert De Niro opened a luxury Nobu restaurant in central Budapest’s Hotel Kempinski this October. With this step, the Nobu empire launched its expansion into Central and Eastern Europe.
The gala opening was also attended by the stellar Japanese chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, who has gained world recognition owing to his original Japanese-Peruvian fusion. The 61-year-old Nobu, as the culinary wizard is nicknamed, first met De Niro 20 years ago in Beverly Hills, where he was running his family restaurant. Currently, the Japanese chef operates a total of 26 restaurants in 21 countries on five continents. Four Nobu restaurants have to date received Michelin stars: two in London, and one each in Beverly Hills and Las Vegas.
“I’ve eaten in hundreds of restaurants, from Tokyo to New York, but I’d never encountered the food that Nobu prepares. So once I told him that when he wanted to open his outlet in New York he should definitely get in touch,” recalls De Niro, who admits to not being able to cook at all. He does, however, consider himself a gourmet and greatly esteems people who can manage to create truly original food.
After a lot of persuasion, Matsuhisa finally assented to the superstar’s offer, thus writing the first part of the Hollywood cuisine fairy tale. In 1994, the Japanese chef and De Niro, aided by the seasoned restaurateurDrew Nieporent, opened the first Nobu outlet in New York City. It became an instant hit.
Later on, the joint business was entered by the film producer Meir Teper, who in 2004 left the movie industry in order to fully devote his time to Nobu restaurants. Another co-owner is the entrepreneur Richie Notar, 50, the head manager of the Nobu empire.
For five years the famous producer of Hungarian origin Andrew Vajna tried to talk De Niro into opening a Nobu restaurant in Budapest. “Yet five years ago I had no certainty that there would be an appropriate raw-materials basis for a Nobu restaurant in Budapest. You won’t lure Nobu to a place where there isn’t, for example, a wide selection of fresh fish. The basis for our dishes is fish, which Japanese cuisine is able to process best. Today, the situation is completely different,” De Niro said.
At Budapest’s Nobu, the chef initially plans to offer everything you can find on the menu of the other restaurants of the luxury chain. “But I cannot rule out that after a few months Hungarian cuisine will not inspire me for new creations,” said Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, who after completing school worked for seven years at Tokyo’s Matsue Sushi restaurant. There in 1973 he was approached by one of the guests, a businessman from Peru with Japanese roots, with an offer the young cook simply could not turn down.
A few months later, the 24-year-old Matsuhisa opened his first restaurant in Lima. From that moment on he combined Peruvian and Japanese cuisines. After four years, he took his chance in Alaska, yet his restaurant burnt down and the financially ruined cook left for Los Angeles, where he worked in sushi bars.
From the money he managed to save, in 1987 he opened his first restaurant in Beverly Hills. And that is where he met Robert De Niro. By the way, since Matsuhisa was acquainted with many actors, he was also cast in minor roles in films. For instance, in 1995 he acted in Martin Scorsese’s “Casino,” portraying a wealthy businessman.
The two faces of Nobu.
Frank Reiss, a contributor to Czech Position, reports from New York.
I highly recommend that those who are planning to visit New York note down on their “must experience” list a Nobu restaurant located in Manhattan’s TriBeCa (Robert de Niro’s “territory”), at 105 Hudson Street. Although you can easily spend $150 dollars there, but for those who can’t afford such an amount there is Nobu Next Door. They serve food of the same quality, prepared by the same staff, but at a significantly lower price. The catch is that Nobu Next Door doesn’t take reservations. The restaurant opens at 5 p.m. and whoever hasn’t been lining up for at least half an hour is out of luck. Nobuyuki Matsuhisa recently opened a third restaurant in New York, at 40 West 57 Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues) in midtown Manhattan. A culinary miracle is guaranteed, and as they say in New York: “You can’t go wrong.”