International Food Network star, "Iron Chef" Masaharu Morimoto was a guest at this year's New York Anime Festival. I was fortunate enough to get a half hour to sit and talk to him. Below is the full transcript of our discussion and interview. Please note that some edits have been made to improve grammar/readability.
How do you like being at an anime convention, is this your first time?
When I was home in my apartment I told my wife I was coming here and she said "anime? why anime?" I know nothing about anime, but I do know manga. When I entered in this convention building I saw a lot of young kids there, exactly the same as I saw in Japan's Akihabara, so I was surprised. It doesn't matter if your'e in the East or West, you'll find the same type of people sharing the same culture.
The Japanese version of Iron Chef is a little similar to an anime in terms of direction and characters
Right and Iron Chef is also coming out on the Wii too, like an anime.
(Says exaggeratedly in the microphone)
Iron Cheff Wii, Coming Soon!
If you had to choose between Iron Chef America and Iron Chef Japan, which one did you have the most
Both are not fun. Honestly, I often want to quit. Sometimes it's too much stress, too much pressure. On the one hand it's hard but on the other hand I'm honored because there are only three or four iron chefs in the world and I'm one of them. But it's not fun because I have a lot of responsibility for this.
When I joined Iron Chef Japan a lot of kids were inspired to go into cooking. Since then those kids went to culinary school and now that they're 30 to 40 years old the Japanese restaurant scene has picked up a lot. That's what I want to do in this country and why I feel I have a lot of responsibility. I don't want to show them silly things, I want to do my best. The kids watching want to be like me, Bobby, or Mario and I want them to grow up inspire the restaurant scene in the US.
You've been in New York a long time and you've seen Japanese food become popular...as a master chef how do you feel seeing so many low quality sushi places, which are almost like fast food? Is that OK?
That's OK, I'm just concerned about safety. A lot of people are asking where should they go to eat but what kind of menu do you want? What kind of budget?
Safety is the most important thing. Right now we're having problems in Japan that some ingredients are not safe because the government can't control them. Some things say "Made in Japan" when they're really from China or Taiwan and that causes problem. So we should control this most.
Food made in the right way, safely, I respect.
You mentioned that you feel a lot of pressure on Iron Chef, after so long are you still nervous when the secret ingredient is revealed?
I'm always shaking. I have a lot of experience but that's also a problem since you can't repeat dishes. Every time I'm up I try my best but you have to keep surprising the audience.
There's a lot of people in the US who for Japanese food all they've ever eaten is sushi or ramen, what other types of foods do you recommend?
A lot of people value Kobe, but it's not real, it's impersonated here in this country. Just like anime and manga, it has to be authentic and come from Japan.
Kobe is also a brand name, like Saran Wrap, and doesn't represent all Japanese beef. I want to fix that.
You have restaurants in New York, Philadelphia, Tokyo, and now India...running one restaurant is hard enough, how do you manage so many and keep the quality so high?
I have two in India...Tokyo is easy to keep the quality high because I have people who I can trust. In India I'm dealing with a hotel--one of the highest quality hotels called Taj,--so I can trust them to manage the restaurant. I make the menu, send the chef, and sometimes I go when I have the time. Maybe from now on I should deal with a hotel since they can handle everything.
Maybe I'm not going to have a lot of restaurants called Morimoto to keep the brand name strong. I want to be everywhere though, like McDonalds
Is there a dish at your restaurant you particularly recommend?
A lot of people ask me this, but it's like kids. If you have 10 kids and are asked which kid you like the best, same thing. I have five restaurants with different concepts and different menus. I can't recommend anything above anything else. I can recommend the catch of the day from Japan but the grand menu I can't. The server can recommend though.
About a year ago I was walking with my parents and I think that I saw you and I was trying so hard not to say anything because I know you're bothered a lot. So my question is how's it like to be a celebrity chef
I don't think I'm a celebrity but I'm more popular than normal. I'm very honored. I walk every day between my apartment and business. Three years ago one or two people would recognize me, now it might be 10, but it's fun. Sometimes I'm busy but I do my best to sign autographs. So feel free to ask me to take a picture.
Do you find that with all your Food Network contracts, managing, etc. that you still have time to cook and create recipes?
Cooking is the part that I really love, but unfortunately it's becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of my time. So for example "why anime?" "yes anime"
This is my job, but I always want to hold a knife behind a kitchen.
Would you ever consider going on one of Bobby Flay's shows and challenging him to a throwdown?
(Laughing) I think so, yes.
If there was a young kid who wants to become an Iron Chef, what path would you recommend?
They should stay healthy, eat a lot, listen carefully...some talk too much, like me. That's it.
As an artist, you have to pay attention to the food's design, the taste...do you ever have something like writer's block when wanting to make a disH?
Don't think too much about creating new things. I don't think that's cool. The coolest part of the restaurant business is making the customer happy and having them say they enjoy the foodl. Most young chefs are "edgy" and think too much. We are not geniuses. When I was young and started to work in a Japanese sushi restaurant, I learned a valuable lesson.
Japanese teacups aren't made of glass, you can't see how much tea is inside when you pour. This forced me to pay attention to the customer and how much they drank. You have to learn to listen.
One of my dreams in life is to become a judge on Iron Chef, how should I train for this goal if I had, say, a five year timeline?
There's no guarantee that Iron Chef will be running in five years. Maybe you should write a letter to the producer. When I did Iron Chef against Bobby Flay ten years ago, one of the judges was from the audience, so who knows?