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Web Extra: Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto comes to Napa

Internationally acclaimed celebrity chef opens first West Coast eatery, Morimoto Napa


Photo by Hopper Stone

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 traditional Japanese robe and sandals and answers questions with a serious, intense 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 is 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 native to abandon his childhood dream of playing professional baseball. Instead, he focused on the art of sushi making and traditional Kaiseki cuisine. He opened a successful restaurant in his hometown in 1980, but was drawn to Western influences, so he headed to the U.S., landing at Manhattan’s famed Nobu restaurant. There, as head chef, he fine-tuned his signature style of Japanese fusion cuisine. In the mid-‘90s, Iron Chef came calling, and the exposure let Morimoto to open eponymous restaurants in Philadelphia and Chelsea.

Morimoto’s first West Coast endeavor is a perfect opportunity to showcase his cuisine with fresh, local ingredients. “We get most of our produce, ducks, quail, and pork from within twenty miles of the restaurant,” says Morimoto. “It is very important to work with local farmers for the freshest and best food possible.”

While Morimoto’s produce and poultry may be local, he can’t get the high quality fish he needs out of the Napa river. Not to worry: “I have special connections with the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo—the biggest fish market in the world,” he says. “I fax exact orders, they fly fish from Japan to San Francisco, non-stop, and then we drive it straight to Napa. No middle men.”

In addition to his growing restaurant empire, the 55-year-old chef has partnered with Oregon’s Rogue brewery to create Morimoto Soba Ale, and has his own sake brand as well. 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; that is not important to me,” says Morimoto. Leaning back in his chair, he cracks the first smile of the interview. “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, morimotonapa.com.

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