CK: Chef Morimoto, you’ve cooked for people all around the world, from celebrities to every day diners. Is there anyone that would make you nervous to prepare a meal for?
Morimoto: No. I don’t cook for anyone but myself. Even when I’m on Iron Chef and supposedly cooking for judges, I’m really cooking for myself. Everyday, I challenge myself to be a better cook.
CK: If you’re cooking for yourself, what are you making? What foods comfort you?
Morimoto: I enjoy everything. My comfort food would have to be Japanese food. I could eat it everyday. I like Thai, French, Italian foods, but I couldn’t eat it everyday. People like to categorize me and my restaurants as serving Japanese food. But it’s not. It’s my food, influenced by my Japanese roots. Again, I cook for me.
Yagihashi: Noodles are my comfort food. I could eat them everyday. Of course, there’s such diversity in noodles, there’s so many different kinds and you can’t forget about pasta. I could eat it all everyday.
CK: So how did tonight’s event come about?
Morimoto: Actually, it’s a funny story. Takashi called me and asked if I wanted to do an event. I said sure and didn’t give it another thought. He planned the menu, he prepared everything, he got all the ingredients. I just left it up to him. I didn’t check on anything. I trust him as we’ve known each other a long time.
CK: How did you and Takashi meet?
Morimoto: Takashi knew Nobu-san (Nobu Matsuhisa) before he met me. One day, Takashi came into Nobu Restaurant while I was working. He told me he needed fish to be cut and I started working right away. That’s why he (Takashi) liked me.
Yagihashi: We’ve known each other for at least 15 years. He’s been here (in my restaurant) before and he’s seen me in the kitchen. We trust each other and that means a lot.
CK: You’ve both described your cooking as “global cuisine.” What do we have to look forward to in global cuisine?
Morimoto: I’m learning more and more about endangered species and overfishing. My skills and background are
based in seafood and Japanese people eat a lot of seafood. I think Americans need to learn more about seafood and I need to learn more about sustainable seafood.
Yagihashi: Tastes are changing. I came to the United States twenty-five years ago and people never said ‘Let’s go eat Japanese.’ Now, people not only say ‘Let’s go eat Japanese,’ they specify what kind of Japanese: sushi, ramen and either authentic or more creative Japanese.
As I get older, I find myself wanting healthier foods, more vegetables, less creams, less salt. I love seasonal vegetables whereas when I was younger I wanted a lot of proteins and meats. So for me, I guess you can say I’ll be cooking a lot more healthy stuff, just because my tastes have changed.
CK: Are there any up and coming chefs that you like to keep your eye on?
Morimoto: Lots of chefs come and go. Who’s a chef, what makes a chef, it changes all the time. I guess I like Michimi-san, he works in my kitchen. He’s young, energetic and works hard.
Yagihashi: I don’t know many young chefs, but I do know Chef Paul at Vie Restaurant here in Chicago. He’s very good and great at using local foods.
CK: Do you see yourself slowing down or retiring anytime soon? What’s next? Another book, another restaurant?
Morimoto: I have restaurants, I have knives, I have beer and sake, I have a cookbook. I don’t need to do anything else. People ask me to create t-shirts, hats, cookware. I don’t want that. I want to cook and make what I like. I have a theory, it’s that life is about not only having big dreams but a big foundation.
Life is about multiples. If you act like a zero, then nothing will happen to you. But if you act like a number, a big number with big work, then you’ll get big rewards. I’ve dreamed big, but my dreams were in big actions. Every dream had multiple hours of work behind it. I’m not a zero and I don’t want negative returns.
Yagihashi: I’m not going to die in the kitchen, that’s for sure. But I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. I think if there’s ever a day when I don’t want to come to work, then it’s time for me to retire. I’m working on a book about Japanese street foods. It’ll feature a little bit of izakaya, yakitori, oden (fish cakes) and really it’s about comfort food.
I have three beautiful children and I take them to Japan so they can learn about their culture. I think the world is getting smaller and the more we can widen our views, the better we’ll be.