Nobu was recently reopened at its new location at the Eden Roc. The restaurant is the first part of a major renovation for the landmark Miami Beach hotel, with one of its towers being transformed into Nobu Hotel at Eden Roc. Once complete, the project — a partnership among chef Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa, actor Robert De Niro, and Hollywood producer Meir Teper — will boast 350 guest rooms and penthouse suites on the 15th floor. The rooms will feature exclusive amenities such as a welcoming tea service and special in-room dining options.
This is the second U.S. hotel under the Nobu Hospitality brand, the first opening at Caesar's Palace Las Vegas in February 2013, providing a Zen port in the Sin City's neon storm. Hotels in Chicago and Malibu are being planned.
Chef Nobu himself was in Miami Beach over the weekend, spending time in the kitchen of what is the largest of his restaurant empire, which spans from New York City to Melbourne. Despite a busy weekend, the chef invited a small group to participate in a hands-on sushi-making demonstration. Of course, I accepted the Nobu challenge.
Chef Nobu and his team of sushi chefs greeted the reporters, many of them in town to cover Art Basel. After a minute or two of photos, the chef admonished us all to put down our phones and wash our hands. The chef explained that making sushi is a tactile project and that hands are the most important tool in the process. "In the United States, my chefs have to wear gloves to make sushi, but I believe that if you wash your hands good, it's the same, maybe even better." With a sigh, almost in disbelief of American food service rules, Nobu said maybe one day he will try to persuade the powers that be that a thorough hand-washing is as effective as latex. Because this was a demo, the chef (after a thorough hand-scrubbing) used bare hands.
Once we all got back to our stations, we instinctually reached for our phones. But before we could get our paws on the germy little devices, the chef admonished us not to pick them up for the remainder of the demo. Without electronics, we were left to devote ourselves to the task at hand. Each station was provided with some fresh pieces of fish, rice, water, wasabi, soy, and sheets of seaweed.
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It is said that the true mark of a master is making the difficult seem downright easy. This is certainly true of Nobu. The 66-year-old chef, who has been making sushi since he was in high school, was clearly in his element, forming perfect pieces of sushi that could rival any of Basel's artworks for beauty, precision, and color. As the rest of us glued our fingers together with the sticky rice and worked hard to fashion something vaguely edible from the delicate ingredients, Nobu kibitzed about having wives and girlfriends (then confessed he's been married to the same woman for decades).
Unlike Anthony Bourdain, who shuns the use of chopsticks, Chef Nobu is all about preference. In other words, use your hands or use your chopsticks — whatever works best for you. There are a few rules, however. First, don't pile on a ton of wasabi. Nobu puts the proper amount on his rice while preparing the sushi, so there's no need to add any. Also, if you're using soy and ginger, use them (ahem) gingerly. A good piece of sushi speaks for itself.
Nobu also answered a question about the difference between himself and Jiro Ono — owner of the three-Michelin-starred Sukiyabashi Jiro, in Tokyo, considered the greatest sushi artist alive. "First off, Chef Jiro is much older than I am," Nobu quipped before getting down to brass tacks. "At Chef Jiro's restaurant, it's all about the food. You eat an amazing meal, but 20 minutes later, you're given the check and you leave. In my restaurants, I want people to eat and drink and enjoy themselves." And with that, glasses of sake appeared.
As for the final sushi product, like a good professor, Chef Nobu weighed in on our final grades. "Not bad for a first time. You just need some more practice. In about 20 years, you'll be considered a master." Of course, the fish and rice were so sublime that even a rookie couldn't help but be successful. Even if the looks were off, the flavor hit the mark.