How Nobu Got Help With the Wake-Up

"So he say: 'OK, got it, I going to take care of it.' So the next day he brings the bunch eel in a big net, like dozens of eel, then [I said] 'Oh thank you so much. So how much is it?' 'It's OK, give it to your dog.' So then I pay him a little money, say 'Thank you.' Then back to restaurant, just picked up the nice one -- it's a prep in making a sushi or tempura or other eel dishes.

"But still, he trusts me. But one day another sushi chef or another restaurant guy went to this guy because they find out Nobu is using the eel. So he ask the fisherman, 'Can I have some eel, too? '"

The punch line is delivered with relish.

"'Oh,'" the fisherman said. "'You have another Japanese dog?'"

Nobu's Peru run came to a close after three years, after he resisted his partner's demands that the restaurant cut its supply costs.

"He start yelling to me, 'Nobu, the food costs [are] too high ... so you don't necessarily buy the best fish, because Peruvian people [don't] know good quality,'" Nobu said. "I was shocked. Then we... [had] an argument. ... Maybe I going to go. Maybe I going to stop. Then, I was young, that's why, I stop the partnership."

The Mighty Wife

Next was a stint in Argentina. After a year, Nobu's wife became pregnant with their second child. Worried about their future and still strapped for cash, the young couple reluctantly returned to Japan, after four years in South America.

"So you know almost like I give up," said Nobu. "OK, my dream was a [foreign] country, not back home. But this time, you know, I lost all the money. I use all the money, so I have no money, then friends even the friends, I call, 'Let's go to dinner together, let's drink together,' they say, 'I'm busy, next time.' Because... I'm poor now, so the friends are gone."

Before long, however, another partner approached the chef about the opportunity in Anchorage -- and it was off again.

Through it all, Nobu said, his wife has been at his side.

"Maybe I am very lucky, because since I open [a restaurant], always I...[think] about just cooking, just you know what fish, what new dishes, so how customers make happy, smiling, laughing, so always I concentrate to about cooking. But the mighty wife, you know, is support 100 percent for me. I'm not the greediest, but you know, always my wife support to anything you want.

"Now we have restaurant in ... five continents. So you know, every other three or four days I'm traveling in different city. So right now it's a little bit tough, because you know five continents means different language, different weather, it's a long flight, different cultures. But still they have the Nobu restaurant, you know, I have a Nobu family there and talk to everyday.

"I'm not perfect. I am not Iron Man. ... But every city I have the Nobu family. So it's hard to traveling but it's not too sad, never homesick, because these cities I have the family. Especially back to my home, Los Angeles, my wife is there.

"You know, we marry 37 years. So last 10 years I am travelling like this. Last year, or two years ago, I stay only two months a year at my house. You know, that's why we still married!"

This came with a hearty laugh.

"Just kidding, you know, we love each other."

'Hit to the Wall Is Most Important'

When his Alaskan restaurant burned, Nobu found himself in a remote corner of a foreign country under a pile of debt with a wife and two young children to provide for and no way to make money.

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