At all of my restaurants, we polish the rice on site to retain the moisture and serve it at its highest possible quality.
Before Masaharu Morimoto wowed the world with his culinary creations on Iron Chef, he played minor league baseball in Japan. After sustaining a shoulder injury that kept him off the field–and out of the major league–he found his way to the kitchen. “I guess it was either fate or luck that led me to becoming a chef,” he tells Haute Living. Twenty-eight years, nine restaurants, two television shows and an award-wining cookbook later, we’re glad it did.
The 58-year-old chef is currently blowing diners away at his second New York City eatery, Tribeca Canvas, serving American soul food such as macaroni & cheese and bone marrow potato puree using Japanese ingredients and techniques.
When your baseball career ended, what made you pursue a culinary career?
I always had two dreams growing up—to be a professional baseball player or a sushi master chef. After getting injured, I knew that a culinary career was my calling. Both baseball and cooking require passion, professionalism and a love for what you’re doing.
Describe your cooking style.
I am organized and quick and like to focus on both flavor and unique presentation. I like to brainstorm, draw, and create new and unique dishes that showcase my culinary personality and excite diners.
Why did you choose “comfort food” as the theme for Tribeca Canvas?
I felt that it was time to do something different. I have become known as a sushi master chef and I wanted to try my hand at something new that diners wouldn’t expect from me. I decided to take classic American foods like nachos, mac & cheese and fried chicken, and upgrade them with my personal twist.
What is your favorite dish served at the restaurant?
The Miso Sea Bass with barley, English peas and pickled ramps is perfect for summer. Some of my other favorites are Fried Chicken Kara Age with ginger-jalapeno dipping sauce, as well as Lamb Ragu Buns with pickled daikon and raita. We also just launched brunch, which has some delicious dishes for diners looking to upgrade their typical brunch offerings.
What comfort foods do you crave when you’re stressed out?
I crave my wife’s cooking–she always makes sure that I eat healthy. She cooks fish, tofu, curry, rice and more.
Is there a specific ingredient that you love to cook with?
This may seem too simple, but my favorite ingredient is rice. People may not consider rice to be an ingredient, but if it’s cooked at the exact right temperature for the perfect amount of time, rice can be the star of many dishes. At all of my restaurants, we polish the rice on site to retain the moisture and serve it at its highest possible quality.
What is the toughest part about competing on Iron Chef?
No matter how many years I’ve been cooking for or how many episodes of the show I’ve been on, I still get nervous every time! It will always be a challenge to use surprise ingredients, no matter how prepared you think you are.
What’s the hardest secret ingredient you’ve ever had to cook with?
Secret ingredients are never easy! The hardest have been ingredients that I had never cooked with before, like exotic chili peppers and eggnog.