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Fall/Winter 2010

There’s a New (Iron) Chef in Town

Despite all the hype, Masaharu Morimoto doesn’t let celebrity status go to his head.

by Peter Crooks

Masaharu Morimoto may be Wine Country’s newest celebrity chef, but don’t expect him to go California casual on us anytime soon. Best known as a star of Iron Chef and Iron Chef America, Morimoto sits down for an interview in his new Napa restaurant dressed in a traditional Japanese robe and sandals, and answers questions in a serious tone.

“Napa, to me, is just like New York, just like Tokyo,” he says, when asked if the Golden State’s laid-back lifestyle suits him. “It’s important to work hard every day to make the restaurant better every day.”

Morimoto’s road to Napa has been a fascinating one. Injuries forced the Hiroshima, Japan, native to abandon his childhood dream of playing professional baseball. Instead, he focused on the art of sushi making and traditional kaiseki cuisine. In 1980, he opened a restaurant in his hometown and later headed to the United States, landing the head chef role at Manhattan’s famed Nobu restaurant. For his first West Coast venture, he sources all produce and poultry within 20 miles of the restaurant. “It’s important to work with local farmers for the freshest food.”

So, it’s no wonder he won’t settle for anything but the best when it comes to fish. “I have special connections with the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo,” he says. “I fax exact orders, and they fly fish nonstop from Japan to San Francisco, and then we drive it straight to Napa.”

Now, the 55-year-old chef has partnered with Oregon’s Rogue Ales brewery to create Morimoto Soba Ale, while also running his own sake brand. Despite juggling many plates as an entrepreneur and a TV personality, Morimoto says that his true passion remains in the kitchen.

“I am a chef first, always. Not a celebrity,” Morimoto says, smiling. “But I do love it when children come up to me excited to see the Iron Chef.”

Morimoto Napa, 610 Main St., Napa, (707) 252-1600, morimoto napa.com.

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