Anyone who’s seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi knows a master sushi chef must be dedicated to their craft. They have to create food with precision and source the highest quality of ingredients. Chef Masaharu Morimoto has that reputation from his days at New York’s Nobu and for his stints on Iron Chef America. But he didn’t always have such a discerning palate.
Before becoming a world-renowned chef, Morimoto was a gifted teenage baseball player with big dreams of going pro. Though that didn’t ultimately come to fruition, those years as an athlete informed his initial thoughts about food.
Chef Masaharu Morimoto pursued a baseball career before becoming a chef
Morimoto grew up in Hiroshima, Japan. He was a big fan of his hometown’s baseball team, the Hiroshima Carps, according to Mashed. A gifted catcher, he played the sport as a child and in high school. “The thinking man,” Morimoto laughed during an interview with Orlando Weekly.
Though his hitting average wasn’t great — around just .300 with few home runs — Morimoto had dreams of going pro. Unfortunately, those plans were cut short when the athlete broke his shoulder. The injury left its mark, as one CBS reporter told him she could still hear it clicking all these years later when he moved it in a circle during an interview.
Luckily, Morimoto was equally fond of the idea of becoming a sushi chef and set about that career path instead. “I always had two dreams growing up — to be a professional baseball player or a sushi master chef,” Morimoto told Haute Living. “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.”
Being an athlete made Morimoto care more about quantity than quality at first
Before the world-famous chef started filling restaurants with patrons expecting a five-star experience, Morimoto was a hungry teenager just trying to avoid feeling hungry. Being an athlete meant he was always looking for ways to curb his appetite, regardless of what exactly he was eating.
When Orlando Weekly asked about his earliest food memory, Morimoto said it was trying to fill his stomach. “I played sports, so I was always hungry,” he said. “My memory comes not about a particular piece of delicious food; rather, just trying to get full. To me, food was all about quantity rather than quality when I was young.”
Later, of course, Morimoto’s perspectives on food and dining would evolve, as he now owns and cooks at several high-end restaurants around the world. He also became one of the most formidable contenders on Iron Chef America, known for his exceptional palate and attention to detail in his dishes.
Now, Morimoto owns 19 restaurants and several food lines
A big part of Morimoto’s changing perspective on food happened when he was the executive chef at Nobu, the famed restaurant in New York City. “Before I worked at Nobu, I had thought the sushi chef was the center of the restaurant. However, working at Nobu, I learned that the customers are everything. Our job is to make them happy,” Morimoto told Orlando Weekly.
Yuhi Fujinaga, Morimoto’s chef de cuisine at Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs, says the chef’s attention to his clientele is what has elevated his food above the norm. “If you don’t have guests, you don’t have anything. The smallest attention to detail is important. Omotenashi. The hospitality factor. That’s what he’s taught me,” Fujinaga told the Orlando Sentinel.
That hospitality factor certainly isn’t lost on Morimoto’s guests, as they continue to fill 19 of his restaurants worldwide. The acclaimed chef has also launched a line of knives and whiskey and wine labels. What started out as a quest to quench his appetite has turned into a lifelong, globally successful career.