We got upclose with Chef Hervé Courtot, Corporate Chef of Nobu and Chef de Cuisine of Nobu Dubai, to find out how Nobu took over the world by such a storm.
In conjunction with their inaugural Chef’s Table dining experience last week, Nobu Kuala Lumpur welcomed Chef Hervé Courtot, Corporate Chef of Nobu and Chef de Cuisine of Nobu Dubai, to its kitchen. While he was down in KL, we got up and close with the man who has worked with Nobu since 2001 to find out what makes Japanese cuisine so popular and how does Nobu stand out in that domain.
Q: When and how did you first explore Japanese cuisine?
A: I was in France where my background was in French cuisine, and then I met with Nobu. For me, it was something completely different so I was very interested to work with them. The people at Nobu were very nice and very open to teach me another way of cooking, so I ended up with them and now it’s been almost 20 years.
Q: From your experience, how do you find Japanese cuisine different from French cuisine?
A: The way of cooking or preparing Japanese cuisine is different – it’s more complicated than French cuisine I would say, which is why it’s very interesting. There’s a lot of different techniques, like how to make a stock and how to balance the temperature and flavours. I think in both France and Japan, cooking is very important in the lives of people, but I think Japanese cooking is more advanced and harder to master. That is why you see many French chefs today using Japanese ingredients and techniques to make French dishes.
Q: What makes Nobu different from other Japanese restaurants?
A: For Nobu, one of the best experiences we have is the Chef’s Table, where the customer gets to create their own menu with the chef. You can tell us what you like and don’t like, for example, if you like fish, and you like it to be spicy, we can make that for you. It’s a new experience here in Nobu KL but we have it in other Nobu restaurants as well. I think it’s also fun to share (the dishes). In Asia, maybe you’re used to sharing but in Europe where I come from, people are not used to that. When we first opened a restaurant in Europe, we wanted to introduce the idea that the best experience is to share. When you share, you get to eat more variety and you eat less so you don’t feel too full after your meal.
“If you are a chef somewhere and you don’t grow with the people that work with you, then that is something you’re missing in your life.” – Chef Hervé Courtot
Q: What is your greatest achievement as a chef with Nobu?
A: We opened Dubai 10 years ago and we had to train staff on the floor and in the kitchen – people that have never worked in a Japanese restaurant before; people who come from different origins. We trained them, they became good, and some of them became very good, so when we opened a new Nobu restaurant somewhere else, we could send them there to be the manager, chef or sushi chef. That is what makes me the happiest: When I see people I have trained become a chef and go somewhere else, earn a good salary and make their lives better, and I can see their passion in what they do. I think that should be the life of a chef – if you are a chef somewhere and you don’t grow with the people that work with you, then that is something you’re missing in your life.
Q: In your opinion, what is the reason behind Nobu’s success around the world?
A: I think it’s Nobu (Matsuhisa) – the chef himself, and the way he works with you, which is always pushing you and supporting you. Today, he owns 45 restaurants all over the world and he’s 68 years old. Most people may say, “That’s enough, I’m famous, I’m rich so leave me alone” but no, he stays humble and he gives so much motivation to other people. He’s a good example and I don’t think I’ve met many chefs like him – that’s one of the reasons that makes Nobu so successful.
Photography: Gan Yew Chin