'Iron Chef' Masaharu Morimoto says being back on the cooking competition makes him 'proud': 'It's an honor'

·5 min read
Chef Masaharu Morimoto says at home, he lets his wife do the cooking.
Chef Masaharu Morimoto says at home, he lets his wife do the cooking. "She is the most trusted chef for me," he tells Yahoo Life. (Photo: Masaharu Morimoto; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

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Chef Masaharu Morimoto's name has become synonymous with best-in-class Japanese cuisine. Today, his accolades include ownership of nearly 20 restaurants worldwide, several cookbooks and of course, the title of Iron Chef, which he's held since the late ’90s.

For over 20 years, Morimoto has inspired generations of chefs as he cooks on television. But it was a group of nameless sushi chefs that first inspired him to culinary greatness.

"On special occasions, my family went out to dinner at a sushi restaurant in my hometown," he tells Yahoo Life. "I remember as a young boy, I would idolize the sushi chefs working quietly and surely behind the counter."

Morimoto says these chefs left such an impression on him during his childhood that without them, he's unsure what his own journey with food would look like today. "This was what inspired me to study the art of sushi-making and ultimately open my first restaurant at the age of 24," he says. "Without inspiration from them, who knows if I would have pursued the art of sushi-making."

Thanks to these sushi chefs, Morimoto's name has become synonymous with excellent Japanese cuisine. "I am very proud of that," he says. "It all happened naturally, but through a lot of hard work."

The "hard work" Morimoto has poured into his career is apparent, as is his passion for his favorite food to make — and to eat — sushi. A glimpse at the chef's favorite dish to make for himself shows the attention to detail he puts into everything he cooks.

"My favorite dish would be a meal I cook myself," says the 67-year-old chef. "I would choose Koshihikari rice from Uonuma (a city in the Niigata prefecture of Japan) and select the grains piece-by-piece so all of the pieces were similar in size, which would make the rice cook evenly."

"Then, I'd make miso soup using dashi (a Japanese broth), which I would make from scratch, and homemade miso that I'd start from fermentation," he adds. "It would be accompanied with pickled vegetables made in my nukadoko (a fermented rice bran pickling bed) and akami tuna sashimi with 3-year-old fresh wasabi from Shizuoka (a city in Japan's Shizuoka prefecture)."

In every dish Morimoto crafts, each step is completed with the utmost care. So when he steps away from the kitchen, who does he trust to dedicate that same level of attention to detail? One special chef comes to mind.

"I do not cook at home — my wife does the cooking," he says. "She is the most trusted chef for me." Morimoto has been married to wife Keiko Morimoto since 1970. While the two share a rather private relationship for a chef with his level of celebrity, Morimoto reminisces about their early days of marriage, sharing meals together at a favorite hometown restaurant.

"Rakucho in Hiroshima, Japan — I believe they have the best okonomiyaki (a savory Japanese pancake)," says the Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking author. "When my wife and I were newly married, we had a restaurant in Hiroshima and we would go to Rakucho after our service. It was the only restaurant we would look forward to going to after a long day."

From a perfect meal after a long day of hard work, to his own experiences in the restaurant industry, Morimoto says, "cooking and eating always make [him] happy." Especially during the last few years amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The pandemic was very hard on the restaurant industry, but it made me very happy to see how quickly the industry banded together to support each other and showed a tremendous amount of creativity in order to keep serving our guests," he says. "I'm so proud to be a part of this industry."

"It reminded us of our strengths and taught our team how to quickly adapt our business model to serve our guests best," he adds. "Now that things are getting back to normal — or I should say 'the new normal' — I am excited about what lies ahead."

Since becoming an Iron Chef for the first time on the original Japanese show and later competing on Iron Chef America, Morimoto's career has grown, largely in part to the notoriety gained from his television appearances. Now, he's headed back to the franchise, this time as a judge on the new Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend streaming now on Netflix.

"It's an honor to be back on Iron Chef, this time in the judge's' seat," says Morimoto. "I'm very grateful that I got to be on both Iron Chef and Iron Chef America years ago — it taught me another level of focus while dealing with stress and pressure."

Morimoto credits his time competing on Iron Chef with inspiring a new level of creativity in his dishes, something he hopes to pass on as a mentor for a new generation of young chefs.

"I'm very proud to be called Iron Chef Morimoto and feel a certain responsibility when people call me that," he says. "I also really enjoyed working with so many great chefs who I am now able to call my friends."

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