In Conversation With Masaharu Morimoto, the Iron Chef That Brought Japanese Cuisine To Mumbai


The popularity of Japanese food in India continues to rise unabated, with various versions of sushi finding place in practically every restaurant menu. There are also multiple restaurants opening dedicated to this cuisine, but it’s important to give credit to the ones who introduced dishes like sushi and sashimi to our country in the first place. While Tokyo was the first Japanese restaurant to open its doors in New Delhi in 1989, the Iron Chef aka Chef Masaharu Morimoto brought Wasabi by Morimoto to The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai in 2001. 

Morimoto began his career in baseball; however, a shoulder injury led him to give it up and turn to the culinary world instead. He dreamt of being a sushi man when he was little and so he learnt how to make sushi in his hometown of Hiroshima. After opening a restaurant in Japan, he moved to the USA at the age of 30 to develop his culinary skills and explore ways of blending Japanese food with Western techniques. In 1994, Morimoto bagged the job of working at Nobu in New York City and quickly became the Executive Chef there. Once he gained enough experience there, Morimoto decided to begin a culinary empire of his own.

Wasabi by Morimoto is his second restaurant after he opened his first in Philadelphia in 2001, which is why the Mumbai-based restaurant is so dear to him. Today, the Iron Chef has 19 restaurants under his name and is known for modern Japanese cooking. Whether he serves a fresh Ceasar’s salad (something that’s typically not Japanese) or blow torches an Abori salmon sushi right before it is served on your plate, Chef Morimoto’s cooking philosophy is to “make customers happy.” He doesn’t mind adding a modern twist to Japanese food but at the end of your meal, he wants you to leave with a smile on your face. It’s safe to say he’s been successful with that to date. 

Wasabi by Morimoto recently completed 19 years, and the chef visited the city after 5 years to celebrate this occasion with a 2-day Omakase menu. Omakase literally translates to ‘I’ll leave it up to you’ in Japanese, which means the diner leaves it to the chef to select and serve seasonal specialities. After we devoured the 7-course meal at the iconic Japanese restaurant, the Iron Chef sat down with ELLE for a brief chat.  

ELLE: You’ve come to Bombay after 5 years. What have you observed about people’s preferences towards Japanese cuisine? 

Masaharu Morimoto (MM): It’s so good to be back in Bombay. Being back after so long, I’ve noticed quite a few changes in the guests’ palate preferences, such as the heightened appreciation for fusion cuisine and bold flavours. I’ve also seen that guests are much more curious about the story behind the food and where it comes from. Before opening Wasabi, guests were still new to the flavours of Japan, but I think now they have all grown to really enjoy and savour it.

ELLE: I’ve heard of people visiting Japan as tourists and saying that sushi isn’t as big there as outside of Japan. In fact, there are other dishes that are more popular than sushi in Japan. Is that true? How did sushi actually become so popular outside of Japan?

MM: I wouldn’t say it’s not big, but in Japan sushi is just one of the many beloved Japanese dishes, next to ramen, tempura, yakitori, and a variety of others. I think sushi became so popular outside of Japan because of its adaptability. When sushi travels, it adapts to its local culture, customs, and ingredients. That being said, it’s being altered to please guests. There are so many different ways to enjoy sushi, and I think that’s why people like it so much. No matter what country you’re in, you’ll find an adaptation of sushi that’s tailored to that country’s taste palate and I think that is a wonderful thing.

ELLE: What are the factors that make good sushi?

MM: There are a lot of factors that make good sushi. One important factor is using fresh and high-quality ingredients. This is a good sign if the server or chef highlights seasonal sushi in addition to the menu. Another factor is the sushi rice. The type of rice is very important, I always say short grain is the way to go! Presentation is also important. Sushi is an art; making it look presentable is one of the most important factors when creating a quality sushi dish.

ELLE: You’ll be designing a new menu for Wasabi soon. What are some of the things you’d like to include in that?

MM: I like to keep my upcoming menu items a surprise. But I can say, we’re always looking for new ways to expand at Wasabi and how our guests see and consume each dish. We’re committed to continuously refining our culinary techniques, sourcing the freshest ingredients while honouring the flavorful essence of Japan and mixing it with global influences. As we explore the next stage, we know to keep in mind the vibrant flavours of Mumbai.

- Lifestyle Editor


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