Nobu Next Door

Growing up, Chinese food was the standard Sunday night dinner.  This is big among Jews.  Not sure why.  A lot of them have gone upscale to Japanese food.  Much more costly.  Last night we joined in those festivities with another family and had dinner at Nobu Next Door.

I started thinking about Nobu Next Door while I am reading Michael Ruhlman’s, The Reach of a Chef.  Nobu Matsuhisa opened his first restaurant in Los Angeles.  He called is Matsuhisa.  I ate there several years ago, when he was there.  It was a religious experience.  I would put it in one of my top ten food eating experiences, ever.  We went with the total nod to the chef.  Food just kept coming out.  We even went with the desserts which we talked about endlessly the next day.  Every one was so full that we weren’t going to do dessert and then succumbed.  Next day’s conversation was basically "thank god we ordered that dessert". 

Then Nobu Matsuhisa expanded his empire.  When Nobu opened in NYC, he was there a lot.  It was quite good but not as good as Los Angeles.  Now his empire consists of 13 Nobu restaurants and 2 soon to open funded by the Myriad Group.  Products, books, etc.  Is Nobu still the chef supreme or just a restaurateur training people to execute his recipes.  To me, it is the latter.

Ruhlman writes about this in his latest book.  He returns to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park where he wrote The Making of a Chef and then The Soul of a Chef.  He asks the President of the institute is the chef of today good for the industry? 

Certainly the restaurant industry has created a whole new level of excitement with celebrity chefs.  More people are interested in the industry.  Cooking has reached an entire different level than it did 10 years ago.  Products, books, availability of food, interesting concepts, etc. are now at our finger tips.  So, what is the downside?

Going to Nobu Next Door last night, I knew just what to expect.  I have seen the menu many times.  I know what is good and what I like.  Nobu is a formula.  The original prices set on the menu was for when Matsuhisa was cooking for me.  Now, I wonder how often he shows up.  The success of my meal is based on the management and the chefs hired to create Nobu’s recipes. 

If I was a top chef, I’d do the same. Expand my empire and make the most of the times.  Patrons must realize that even though they are eating in an Emerill or Bobby Flay or Mario Batali restaurant, he is not the chef.  Although each do have a signature restaurant that they come back to after their latest expansion or show on the Food network, to cook. 

I still enjoy going to a small restaurant when the chef is sweating out the details in the back.  You are actually enjoying the creativity of the chef that night with their own 2 hands who is also managing the cooking staff.  As much as I had fun at Nobu last night, it wasn’t special, it is the standard formula that Nobu has executed on brilliantly. 

Just an interesting observation while reading Ruhlman’s book.  There are a ton of new books out there about the Culinary world.  These days, being a Chef is a very different life than it was 10 years ago.  Franchising the brand seems to be the optimal word here.  At the end of the day, I believe, the food suffers. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. W. Anderman

    You make some excellent points. I am torn. I agree totally with your perspective, especially concernng Nobu Matsuhisa. On another hand I understand that in order to survive and to grow they must be able to adapt to one of the most compettive business environments…that of the restaurant. As in most business endavors then it means taking it from the retail level to the institutional level, which as good entreprenures the few you mention and many more have done.

    You are most certainly right…it is almost not funny how these chefs are branding and others are truly preparing the dishes. It certainly does not merit the pricing structure of when the master prepared it at the time the menu was established.

    We are paying increasing costs to have pupils of the master prepare commercialized versions of their original culinary breakthroughs. I thought that price comes down as things reach mass production and as you point out, a dozen restaraunts under one branded chef is most certainly close to mass production.

    I think we are dealing with the “Wolfgang Curve”, who has been available in your supermarket’s frozen section for years…kind of takes the thrillout of Spago’s wouldn’t you say? On the other hand what a brand and what a franchise…a revenue stream and margins which will most certainly outlive its namesake…

    It is as if food at this level has become another form of entertainment; it takes on licensing, royalty, and content rights. So you are correct in the way that the food suffers and more importantly the patron suffers, but I would think only if you had the experience of the original to begin with…on the other hand if you never had the opportunity to experience the masters orginal works in the early days of their career…is the public benefitting from the ability to replicate the dish in the form of the master and under his guiding hand? Isn’t this a treat that would not otherwise be avaialble to a mass audience. The chef has to become a business to survive and I would assume that is what the book is saying. An artist is only capable of so many originals themselves, but think of how many signed and hand touched lithos are avaialble…you still get the artist, the picture, and their very speical touch…for a price.