How Nobu Got Help With the Wake-Up

"So my mother is my mentor," Nobu said. "She makes the miso soup, the Japanese pickles, and grilled fish, the tempura for tempura oil, shrimp, vegetable oil, fish ... this kind of thing. I'm very happy to stay with mother. Like, 'Wow, tempura's great, fish is great!' You know, the soup is great. Always I [am] tasting, I was tasting when I stay with my mother.

"The kid doesn't know taste, but always I still have mother's taste, mother's flavors, you know I miss that. So it's nothing that complicated, that cooking is very simple. Hot food, eat hot, cold food, eat cold. You know, this is very simple, cooking basic. So my cooking, it's most of the basic, simple and fresh ingredients."

The young Nobuyuki soon hatched two life's ambitions. Looking at photo albums, Nobu said, he was captivated by a picture of his dad on a trip to Palau.

"Always I'm missing my father, looking [in] the photo album," Nobu said. "So one picture ... on Palau. So you know, one of my dreams was ... I want to go to another country."

The second dream was waiting behind the sliding screen of a sushi restaurant his older brother took him to.

"I was so shock[ed] for this energy," Nobu said. "Then [I thought] 'Wow, I [am] going to be a sushi chef,' immediately. ... That's right, as a kid I had two dreams: one a sushi chef, one is I like to go to another country, like my father."

From Tokyo to Peru

At 17, Nobu took a live-in job at a sushi restaurant in Tokyo called Matsuei. He started as a dishwasher. Then he connected with his first sushi master.

"He teach me how to buy the fish, how to prep fish, how to make the sushi rice, how to do the business, you know, it's like my teacher, my mentor," said Nobu. "So I stay almost seven years with him ... I was a dishwasher for everybody, nothing important in the restaurant. But after five years none of the senior chefs was left, so it means I start [as] the senior."

One of the regulars at Matsuei was a man who lived between Japan and Peru. He spoke with Nobu about opening a restaurant in Lima. Then he made an offer. Nobu wanted desperately to accept, but feared displeasing his mentor, the man who had taught him everything.

"You know I was so much thinking, thinking, thinking. But you know I have a dream, and I like to catch my dream too," said Nobu. "[So] I explain to my mentor, 'Somebody offered to me to come to Peru ... and I want to go.'

But finally ... he said, 'OK, so you take chance, so you take the opportunity,' and thank you very much. So then I get married with my wife now. So, then I went to the Peru."

In Peru, Nobu discovered an entirely new cuisine. He began weaving Peruvian influences into his Japanese dishes, forming a culinary aesthetic that would later make its mark on the world. The restaurant attracted more and more customers.

"Of course the Japanese and Peruvian fish are different, but it's the same Pacific Ocean," Nobu said. "They are different, but I know fish."

A Partnership Ends

In some cases Nobu filled holes in Peruvian cuisine with favorites from Japan. It struck him that Peruvians never ate eel, a staple of the Japanese diet.

"One day I went to the fish market and find one eel. Then I ask the fishermen, 'Oh, you can get the eel?' So his face looks funny, he says, 'You want to eat this one?' So … I lie, 'I come from Japan, I bring the dog, but my dog used to in Japan eating the eel every day. But Peru doesn't have any eel, so my dog is a little bit homesick.'

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