‘Iron Chef’ Masaharu Morimoto, one of the popular ambassadors of Japanese food across the globe, has no complaints if the world identifies sushi and tempura as the face of Japanese cuisine, which has its own regional variants and intricacies.
‘Iron Chef’ Masaharu Morimoto, one of the popular ambassadors of Japanese food across the globe, has no complaints if the world identifies sushi and tempura as the face of Japanese cuisine, which has its own regional variants and intricacies. In the capital recently for the 10th anniversary celebrations of his second restaurant in India, Wasabi, at Taj Mansingh, he says, “If anyone thinks Japanese cuisine is just sushi and tempura, that is fine. We can’t choose whole things, a complete culture at one time, we have to take it step by step.” However, he is modest about his own efforts in popularising his cuisine. “I try from my end to change things. Maybe I can make a small difference. If I cook a dish that appeals to people, and they say, ‘Oh, this is Japanese, I didn’t know, let’s try that’. So that, I think, is my work.”
And, while he is open to introducing local flavours in his food across the world, he abhors the word ‘fusion’. “I am sort of in between. I can do whatever you love, whatever local people want.” But how does he judge how much to tweak a dish to suit local palates? “Take this restaurant,” he says, “People who come here travel around the world. They have been to Europe and the US. They are aware of what to expect. So that’s why I have to figure out a balance between my culture and the local expectations at all my restaurants. Sometimes, culture is 80% and local 20%, sometimes local is 80% and culture 10%. That balance is a mystery, it’s a challenge.”
And, what does he think about Indian food? “Curry is very famous in Japan. I know that the curry we have there or in Germany is very different to what you find here, but people love it nevertheless. I don’t know a single person in Japan who does not like curry and rice.” So can Indian food ever enjoy the exalted status that Japanese cuisine has achieved, given that Japan has the maximum number of Michelin-starred restaurants? “I think so. I know several restaurants in Tokyo, fine expensive Indian restaurants. People recognise Indian food. In Manhattan, we have an Indian town, lots of Indian residents live together and there are many Indian restaurants. I think you can do this, Indian cuisine can have a fine-dining concept.”