The Main Line Tonight Interview: Chef Masaharu Morimoto
by Greg Salisbury, Food Editor
For restaurants to survive even a few years is a great achievement. To be in business for 20 years is downright remarkable – especially in this pandemic afflicted world. Morimoto is still one of the region’s most groundbreaking, influential restaurants. In addition to winning numerous awards, it launched executive chef Masaharu Morimoto’s global empire, which now includes 14 restaurants spread across three continents, two cookbooks, a burgeoning line of at-home items and, of course, a devoted coterie of fans who have watched him on “Iron Chef.”
To mark the occasion, Main Line Tonight spoke about everything from cuisine to the pandemic with the Japanese-born chef, who has made the U.S. his home base since 1985.
Main Line Tonight: What do you remember most about the Philadelphia restaurant’s opening?
Masaharu Morimoto: It has been an incredible journey opening Morimoto Philadelphia. I am so grateful for the support of our loyal guests that have come through the years. It was the restaurant that launched my career in the U.S., and I take great pride in that.
MLT: What did you take from Morimoto in Philadelphia to your other restaurants?
MM: Morimoto Philadelphia helped set the standard for Japanese fine dining and elevated sushi in the United States. At Morimoto, I was able to showcase my personal style of cooking in one of the country’s great food cities. It has been a tremendous two decades. From here, we have been able to apply key learnings into my many other restaurants, such as unique dishes and menu pairings. The city of Philadelphia has such great energy and pride that sets apart the 20 years of success Morimoto has had in this city.
MLT: How often do you come to Philadelphia?
MM: I try to visit all my restaurants as much as I can. Celebrating a happy and momentous occasion like our 20-year anniversary is one of my favorite visits.
MLT: What do you tell people who say that you inspired them to go into the restaurant business?
MM: I am honored to hear that. I always suggest putting your all into anything that you do. When you put your mind, body, and heart into something, it is very impactful. If you are truly passionate about something it is always worth it. If you never try, you could be missing out on something great.
MLT: How did you and your team adapt your restaurants to survive the pandemic?
MM: The pandemic showed the world how resilient we are. The restaurant community quickly banded together to support each other and showed a tremendous amount of creativity to keep serving our guests. I’m so proud to be a part of this industry. The pandemic reminded us of our strengths and taught our team how to quickly adapt our business model in order to best serve our guests. At our restaurants, we implemented online ordering, takeout, and delivery options, which for most of our restaurants were new additions. We are looking at plans for future openings to incorporate even more outdoor dining options, as people continue to seek open-air options.
MLT: Have your restaurants been affected by the labor shortage?
MM: Labor shortages have been tough on everyone. The pandemic has been especially hard on the restaurant industry, and we’re all working to get through it. We appreciate all of our hard-working staff and our loyal guests for continuing to dine with us and support us.
MLT: What’s next for you?
MM: We have so much happening over the next few years. Much of it is not confirmed so I can’t reveal too many details right now, but we will be announcing several more restaurants, which is very exciting for me. I’m also working on additional items for my at-home line of products. 2022 will be a very busy year for me which is how I like it!
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