Cooking with Nobu
Celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa was in town last week, hosting an exclusive omakase dinner as well as a one-off cooking class. For those who didn't make it, we sat down with chef Nobu to get his cooking tips for all aspiring home cooks. He also talks about one of the first dishes he learned to cook, as well as the thinking behind one of his newest dishes.
Asia Tatler Dining: What are some of the most popular dishes you teach in your cooking classes?
Nobu Matsuhisa: We teach two dishes, yellowtail with jalapeño and salmon new-style sashimi (pictured below). We call this dish "new-style sashimi" because it consists of very thinly sliced sashimi put onto a plate with garlic, ginger and chive. There is also a sauce of soy and yuzu. After that, hot olive oil and is poured on top of the sashimi, which cooks it slightly on top.
ATD: What are some of the simpler dishes you like to cook at the end of a long day?
Nobu: Japanese people like noodles. I like cooking soba noodles and pasta. I love noodles.
ATD: What is your favourite tool in the kitchen?
Nobu: A sharp knife.
ATD: What are some tips you can pass onto home cooks to make their dishes look and taste restaurant-level?
Nobu: My style of cooking is simple and that's why I use white plates. White plates are like white canvasses, and you print the colour on top with food. I don't like too much decoration, so as much as possible, keep the decorations minimal and keep it simple. This is my way. I hate too much decoration on a plate.
ATD: What is the easiest Japanese dish to master that will also impress guests?
Nobu: Nothing in Japanese cuisine is simple. Even the dishes that look simple are not easy. For example, in miso soup, you need dashi and kombu stock with miso paste. But how much miso paste do you put in? It's about the balance of the dashi and miso; and then you also have to think about the tofu and how hard or soft it is. Nothing is easy. It looks easy, but you have to cook with heart.
ATD: What was the first thing you learned to cook?
Nobu: How to make steamed rice. In my generation, rice was cooked with no electricity, so you spend the first 15 minutes boiling water. Then you have to turn the fire down for seven minutes, then turn it up for seven minutes. Then you count to ten seconds and switch off the fire. After 15 minutes, you get steamed rice. This didn't take me long to master, but you always had to be watchful, otherwise you'd get burned rice.
ATD: What was the most difficult dish or most difficult technique you ever had to master?
Nobu: Cooking is not the complicated part, it is the timing that really shows the touch of the chef. An example is grilling: 20 seconds of overcooking and the meat becomes dry. So it's all about timing, always being careful how long you cook things.
ATD: What are some new dishes or recipes you've been working on?
Nobu: In our restaurant, we use a lot of vegetables. But we don't really use things like broccoli stems, carrot peels, the green part of the leek or the first leaf of the cabbage. Sometimes we use them for staff meals, but mostly we throw it out from habit. In my new dish, I take all these leftovers and we put in the food processor with fresh ginger, garlic, dried chilli and kombu; as well as seven to 10 percent miso-flavoured salt. Then we take a protein, a fish fillet or chicken or pork or some scallops and marinade it in this vegetable mix. Then it's cooked under a salamander. Because all the vegetables taste goes into the meat, after it's cooked, it tastes completely different. No longer is it just chicken or fish, it's also got all the vegetable and umami flavours. It's an interesting and also ecological dish.
ATD: What are some rules that every aspiring cook should follow in the kitchen?
Nobu: Just be ready to learn, be passionate in what you do. To become a chef, the most important is patience and passion. Never give up. Just trying to always do your best, then one day, you become a good chef. With passion comes success. Without passion, you'll never attain success.
ATD: What are some of your favourite restaurants in Hong Kong?
Nobu: Yesterday, I went to Yan Toh Heen (dish from Yan Toh Heen pictured below), it's very simple food and tasty and if I come to Hong Kong, I always go at least once. I also like the fish markets in Sai Kung and if I have a Japanese guest or friend of mine, I take them there. It's very Hong Kong.