Around 6 in the afternoon, is the time of day that Matsuhisa Athens is preparing for dinner serving. The restaurant is in frantic mode. In fully coordinated and choreographed movements, the waiters place linen napkins and chopsticks on the tables, as the final necessary preparations for the smooth operation of the restaurant are taking place in the kitchen. Tony is there, inspecting, correcting, coordinating and supervising. I know that he oversees everything and has precious little time, so I press REC right away.
When did you start working with Nobu?
“It was in 2005, when Mr Ioannidis suggested that I join the Belvedere Matsuhisa team in Mykonos. Initially I declined, since at the time I was working as a chef for an important Greek family in Switzerland. However I thought about it again. After all I was only 24, I wanted and had to experience other things. On the same summer I met Nobu San himself in Mykonos, and he’s been my mentor ever since”.
He speaks about Nobu with great respect, a distinctive civility and humility inherent to Japanese people, and always calls him “Nobu San”, i.e Mister Nobu, like they do in Japan. Besides, Tony was born there. He comes from a Greek father, a Japanese mother and a love story that began in Tokyo’s Shibuya and travelled back to Ampelokipi in Athens. “When we came to Greece I was just 6 years old”, he says and of course I have to ask what made the greatest impression on him. “Two things”, he answers, “the first was that everybody walked in the house with their shoes on, but my mother put a stop to this in only two days, and the second is that cheese was everywhere. At school everybody ate cheese pie, which was not the case in Japan”. We keep talking about his childhood years in Athens during the 80’s, about how weird it felt to be “the only Japanese kid in Ampelokipi” and how he started cooking at home –strictly Japanese dishes– to assist his mother who worked long hours, and finally arrive to his current life with more than 10 years of experience in Nobu, which obviously begs the question:
What is the most important thing you have learned working alongside Nobu for such a long time?
“Nobu San is an extremely talented chef who changed global gastronomy, a pioneer. What he has mostly taught me is that everything –every single thing– we do, is for our customers. Our goal is to offer to those who choose our restaurant for their dinner, a real experience, thus we ought to go the extra mile for them”.
This autumn, Tony is meticulously preparing for a new addition, as a new member is expected to enrich the Nobu family in a few months. Preparations for Matsuhisa Limassol opening have already started, and undoubtedly it will be the talk of the season next spring. Tony emphatically says that he is excited to move to Cyprus so as to help set up the restaurant.
The menu in Matsuhisa Limassol will be different compared to the other Nobu restaurants?
“There are the Nobu San dishes, which are identical all over the world, his signature dishes. Apart from those, each chef has the opportunity to use local products to create new Νobu style flavors. We do the same in Greece with yialisteres (smooth clams) or eels from Arta. I intend to implement something similar in Cyprus as well. Alongside the signature recipes, which are not 'tampered' with, we will prepare local dishes. As soon as I land on Cyprus, I intend to visit the markets and leave no stone unturned –from delis to open markets– and prepare with my team the Cyprus’ special dishes”.
As we talk, I realize that everything in the restaurant is in place. Silently and efficiently, everything and everyone are at their posts. We renew our appointment for next spring, in Matsuhisa Limassol.