Since he'd been hiding in Philly for the last four years, and hadn't cooked in New York since he was an apprentice to the great Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, we thought you might want to get reacquainted with the sushi master via a UD profile. Here now, without further ado, we give you the very charismatic Morimoto on such topics as 'closing,' Flay v. Batali, and, of course, sushi.
UD: Congrats on your new restaurant in New York. Any issues about choosing the name 'Morimoto' for your restaurants?
MM: My first name is Masaharu. When I first open a restaurant in Philly, I thought I would name it Mori, or Moto, or Masa, or Haru. But there is already a restaurant called Mori here, there is Moto here, Masa here, and Haru here. So I have to do "Morimoto." I thought, is Morimoto too long for a restaurant name? But we did it.
UD: I guess Nobu didn't have that problem. What is the most important thing you learned from him?
MM: Hospitality. He didn't say no to customer. It's not everything, but he tries to make customers happy.
UD: What's the most interesting thing you've seen at Morimoto?
MM: I have been there four years at Morimoto, and it's kind of a famous restaurant in Philly. Many guys ask me to help propose. He gives me the ring, I put the ring in food, I bring the food and serve it to her and say, this is from him. I did it over 30 times. With 100% yes. Right after, I shake the guy's hand and say, "welcome to hell." [laughter] I'm joking. Is this bad?
UD: What's your favorite thing on your menu?
MM: I like sushi. I get the fish from Japan myself. I order through the distributor, fish company, I have the guy who choosing my fish in Tokyo, and sending to us directly. So I have best fish in this town, I believe.
UD: Do you require that your women have the same love for sushi?
MM: My wife likes sushi a lot. And before I got married, I never have the girlfriend who doesn't like eating raw fish.
UD: What should people know to order that's not on the menu?
MM: You can't.
UD: You can't order something off the menu?
MM: Well I learned from Nobu hospitality, so they can ask, and if I have the ingredient, I can make it.
UD: What is your favorite restaurant in NY?
MM: — Park Avenue South, —. [address redacted]
UD: What's that?
MM: My home.
UD: So that means we can ring your doorbell and come by to eat?
MM: [Laughter] I don't cook myself. I don't cook anything in my house. I have a personal chef. My wife. She is cooking all the time for me.
UD: Is she a better cook than you?
MM: Aaah, no comment.
UD: Favorite restaurant in the world?
MM: A sushi restaurant called Kyubei, in Tokyo, Ginza. The owner chef, his mind is very flexible. Most sushi chefs are traditional, it must be like this. He is not like this kind of person.
UD: Speaking of chefs, in a Batali/Flay smackdown, who wins?
MM: Depends on rules. What kind of gloves, barefoot, something like that. If sumo rules, maybe Batali wins. Maybe boxing or something with different rules, Bobby wins. Depends on rules.
UD: If Flay and Batali teamed up and took you on, could they take you?
MM: When I was young, yes. Not now.
UD: When you were young you had plans to be a baseball player before a shoulder injury. Would you rather be playing baseball now?
MM: I had two dreams—to be professional baseball player, or to be sushi master chef. Now I'd rather be cooking. I used to play baseball in Central Park, Sunday very early morning, the Japanese league.
UD: Mets or Yankees?
MM: Mankees. Mets and Yankees, Mankees. Actually I like cheering Japanese players from Japan, like Seattle Mariners' Ichiro, Nomo and catcher Johjima, Yankees' Matsui, Mets' Matsui. I don't have any particular team, but I am cheering the Japanese players.
UD: Finally, most importantly, best advice you could give a guy who is trying to close at your restaurant?
MM: If it's first date, he should call and tell us it's first date. He should have an icing table, like a corner table. We have no icing table here at Morimoto New York, but all the tables are nice. And then three don'ts: Don't be nervous, don't be too serious, don't rush. Rush no good.
UD: It worked for you?