By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
The excitement of the Iron Chef and of cutting edge Japanese cuisine has come to Seattle in the form of Momosan Seattle, a new ramen and sake restaurant located in the International District.
Chef Masahuru Morimoto, known to the world as the Iron Chef since he competed on the Japanese television show starting in 1998, and later on Iron Chef America, talked with the Northwest Asian Weekly about the new venue, why he chose Seattle, and what keeps him motivated and inspired.
“The culinary world is so extensive and I always have something new to discover,” said Morimoto, who started out as a youngster wanting to be a professional baseball player—or a sushi chef.
“When I injured my shoulder early on in my career, I turned to sushi, which was always a very special food memory early in my life,” he recalled. “I find inspiration everywhere—from ingredients to a street vendor, and cities I have explored, to a book.”
It’s safe to say that Morimoto’s inspiration is nowhere near drying up. At the time he wowed audiences on Iron Chef Japan, he was already renowned for introducing his signature style as head chef at the restaurant Nobu, in New York City. According to its website, Nobu is “known for its innovative new style cuisine paired with a hip crowd and celebrity following.” This was exactly the case for Morimoto, who challenged tradition by experimenting with combinations of eastern and western cuisine, while staying true to his roots. During his Iron Chef Japan debut, he was compared to the musician Prince, but for cooking (some of his debut menu items combined ingredients like potato chips and red snapper).
Morimoto now has restaurants in Philadelphia, New York, Napa, Boca Raton, Mumbai, Mexico City, Tokyo, and Maui. He’s got a location at Disney World in Florida, as well as at the MGM Grand in Vegas. Not only that, but he dabbles in the creation of alcoholic beverages. On the drink menu at Momosan Seattle, you’ll find Morimoto’s own signature sake, Morimoto wine by Mondavi, and three beers he produces in collaboration with Rogue Ales. Interested in shopping for more Morimoto? He’s got his own set of Miyabi Morimoto Edition knives, instant ramen and miso soup, and a cookbook!
So what exactly is his culinary style? Morimoto said, “The style of my cooking is rooted in classic Japanese styles and cuisines, but with my own signature twists I have added throughout my years of travel as a chef. I try to stay true to myself and the type of food that I like to cook and what my guests have liked in my restaurants. For me, it is all about using the best ingredients possible, and preparing them with respect and passion to create a delicious dish.”
According to information provided in conjunction with Momosan Seattle’s opening, “noodles are front and center, highlighting Morimoto’s varieties of Japanese-style flavor forward ramen, ranging from a dense and silky tonkotsu to a lighter Tokyo chicken, as well as tsukemen, tan-tan, duck, and butabara ramen options. The menu also includes a variety of grilled dishes and Japanese bar snacks, all with Morimoto’s signature twist, along with a selection of sushi.”
Dishes served will reflect upon the variety of our community and Morimoto’s own extensive background.
“From my experience of having restaurants worldwide and with the mindset of having Momosan Seattle located in Seattle’s International District, the menu naturally covers cuisines from different regions around the world,” said Morimoto. Examples of the ways in which the menu covers ground internationally range from the many types of Japanese-style ramen and Japanese bar snacks, to spicy wonton in Szechuan sesame chili sauce or duck fat French fries. Morimoto assured the Weekly that Momosan Seattle will “work with local vendors and source local products wherever possible.”
Why Seattle? Morimoto has strong ties to the Emerald City and its citizens.
“I love Seattle and have long-standing relationships with dear friends in the city, including the owners of Uwajimaya market and baseball star Ichiro Suzuki,” he explained. “I have even thrown first pitches three times during Mariners games, which is one of my favorite things to do. I’ve visited Seattle many times over the years, keeping a close eye on the perfect spot to open a restaurant here.”
Momosan Seattle is Morimoto’s 17th restaurant, and he is already on the move again to Kyoto this fall, to open his 18th restaurant—Morimoto Kyoto, in Pontocho Alley, a location that, according to Morimoto, is “considered Kyoto’s top scenic dining destination, and rooted in centuries of history and tradition.” Next, he will be onto Brooklyn to open his 20th restaurant, and fourth Momosan restaurant, in 2020.
“I travel more than 300 days a year to visit my restaurants around the world,” Morimoto explained. “So, traveling has been a part of business for me. My home base is NYC, though I have homes in Japan and Hawaii. In my limited free time, I love to get out and golf as much as possible. When I travel, if I have an extra day, I will try to get in a round!”
The Weekly asked Morimoto how he honors his original success as a maverick chef challenging traditions, while also respecting those same traditions and yet continuing to innovate.
“I always try to stay true to myself and my cooking,” he answered. “One of the biggest changes was my time on Iron Chef and Iron Chef America, as that introduced most of our guests to my style of cooking and cuisine, so I’m very thankful to have had that opportunity and honored to have the title of Iron Chef. The majority of my guests still think of me first and foremost as Iron Chef Morimoto, and I love that!”
Momosan Seattle, located at 504 5th Avenue South, in the Publix Building, is now open for dinner nightly from 5-11 p.m., and will open for lunch soon. For more information, including menus, visit momosanseattle.com.
Kai can be reached at email@example.com.