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The Game Changer: Sushi Chef Nobu Matsuhisa

The Game Changer: Sushi Chef Nobu Matsuhisa

  • By Lucinda Scala Quinn
  • Portrait by Adrian Gaut

Japanese sushi chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa came to America and forged a stunning new cuisine. In turn, that led to a celebrity following and a brilliant, globe-spanning career. But the beauty of Nobu’s food, a study in simplicity, is how accessible it is.

“The first step is love. The next is to be patient. And the most important aspect is passion.” Chef and restaurateur Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, known to all as Nobu, could be describing a successful marriage, friendship, or family. But this is also the same advice he offers young chefs. The 64-year-old Nobu knows, because he was once a young chef himself: Raised near Tokyo, after high school he apprenticed with a sushi chef until he was 24. Then he left home to cook, first in Peru and Argentina, then in Alaska, and later in Beverly Hills, California, where he opened Matsuhisa in 1987. With a menu offering black cod with miso, toro tartare, and sashimi salad, it was the start of his expectation-defying, genre-defining empire, which now includes 30 restaurants on five continents and the Nobu Hotel at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. 


Virtually every Japanese restaurant in the United States has been influenced by Nobu's creativity.
Lucinda Scala Quinn

While people often describe his style as Japanese-Peruvian, Nobu playfully reduces it to this: “My cooking is simply ingredients plus umami.” (Never mind that umami –– Japanese for “pleasant savory taste” –– is famously indefinable.) That said, he does credit travel for his ever-evolving palate: He and his wife, Yoko, call Los Angeles home, but he spends most of the year on the road, with local art, produce, and street life fueling his creativity. On a recent visit to Dubai, he and his chefs combined rice, dashi broth, and grated Parmesan cheese –– like Italian risotto, but based 100 percent on Japanese technique. When he’s at home, though, the food he eats is pared down to its simplest, most delicious essence: steamed fish, rice, eggs. Indeed, despite having influenced virtually every Japanese restaurant in the Western world, Nobu is never far from the fundamentals he learned as a boy: “I was inspired by my mother and grandmother,” he says. “It’s still my happiest time when I’m eating.”

Breakfast Bowl

Nobu drew from elements of a traditional Japanese breakfast for this donburi (rice bowl). 


Breakfast Donburi Rice Bowl

Partially cooked salmon (Nobu is known for this technique) is flaked and seasoned with soy sauce, and eggs are scrambled soft with minced white onion, tomato juice, and sake. 

  • 1
    Simmer Salmon

    Place salmon in a small pot with 1 inch of salted cold water. Bring to a simmer until 70 percent cooked (it should be opaque on the outside yet slightly rare on the inside), 3 to 4 minutes. 

    Simmer Salmon
  • 2
    Flake Into Bite-Size Pieces

    Add soy sauce. 

    Flake Into Bite-Size Pieces
  • 3
    Seasoned Scramble

    Whisk together eggs, onion, tomato juice, and sake in a bowl. 

    Seasoned Scramble
  • 4
    Cook Eggs

    Swirl oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Add egg mixture and cook, stirring, until just set but still soft, about 2 minutes. 

    Cook Eggs
  • 5
    Garnish and Serve

    Divide rice among 4 bowls. Divide and layer fish on top. Crumble nori over fish, then top with scrambled eggs. Garnish with sesame seeds. (Nobu suggests a dollop of caviar or salmon roe.)

    Garnish and Serve

Best When Shared

Nobu’s sashimi salad features partially cooked yellowfin tuna, a boon to anyone who doesn’t enjoy completely raw fish.

How It’s Done

A savory-sweet miso sauce (which you’ll also find on Nobu’s black cod) is spread on fried halved Japanese eggplants, then they're broiled to golden perfection.

Family-Style Cooking

Crispy-skinned salmon with soy-kissed grated daikon. Oshitashi and plain white rice complete their breakfast. 

Savory Flavor

Oshitashi is a classic Japanese side dish made with various leafy greens. While spinach is the most typical green used, in this version, red chard is lightly cooked, drained, and chopped, and then tossed with soy sauce and topped with bonito flakes.