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Nobu Matsuhisa vs. Gordon Ramsay

Plans are afoot for Nobu Hotel in Abu Dhabi, the latest in a long romance between top chefs and the UAE. Will Nobu Matsuhisa overtake Gordon Ramsay in the Emirates?

 
History
 

62-year-old Nobuyuki Matsuhisa worked at a Tokyo restaurant after graduating high school. There, he befriended with a Peruvian entrepreneur of Japanese descent, who encouraged him to open a restaurant in Peru, which he did at age 24. He couldn’t find many Japanese ingredients so he had to improvise. And that’s when he developed his unique style, blending Japanese dishes with South American ingredients. He opened a place in LA where he met Robert De Niro, with whom he opened Nobu in New York, which is now rolling out globally.

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Scottish by birth, 45-year-old Gordon Ramsay was brought up in England from age five. An injury prematurely put an end to “a promising career in football” so he got a hospitality management certificate. His first years in the kitchen were spent training under culinary luminaries in London and France. In 1993, Gordon became chef of the newly opened Aubergine and in 1998, at the age of 31, Gordon set up his first wholly owned restaurant, Gordon Ramsay, in Chelsea. So he kind fell into the job, which has now taken him places. Not terribly dramatic. Meh.

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Nobu has two different groups of restaurants. The Matsuhisa Restaurants are privately owned by the Matsuhisa family, while the Nobu Restaurants are co-owned by Nobu, Robert De Niro, Meir Teper and managing partner Richie Notar. Nobu also co-owns Nobu Hospitality with Robert De Niro and Meir Teper. His Matsuhisa and Nobu restaurants total to 29 globally, from Mexico to Australia, with one in Dubai’s Atlantis hotel. He also has the ‘Silk Road and The Sushi Bar’ on the cruise ship Crystal Symphony. While a winning formula is good to replicate, it seems Nobu is stuck with this one good thing. Innovation it is not.

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In 1998, at the age of 31, Gordon set up his first wholly owned restaurant, Gordon Ramsay. Over the next five years Gordon and his team launched some of London’s most high profile restaurants including Pétrus and The Savoy Grill. 2003 saw the launch of his first international restaurant, Verre, in Dubai. Gordon Ramsay Holdings now operate a number of restaurants across the globe. With all these new restaurants, Gordon’s got a lot on his plate. And we think that’s just the way he likes it.

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Nobu has an interesting friendship with Robert De Niro (in fact how many times have the legendary actor stolen the limelight from the master chef?). Besides the celebrity pull at his restaurants, the relationship has also landed Nobu a role in the 1995 Martin Scosese film Casino as a wealthy businessman who was a guest at De Niro's casino. He’s also had small roles in Austin Powers: Goldmember and Memoirs of a Geisha, where he played a kimono artist.

But it seems Nobu prefers being in the back of house than in front of the camera, unlike, Kipp thinks, his counterpart.

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It doesn’t matter if you’re not familiar with any of his restaurants, we’re pretty sure you’ve heard of Gordon Ramsey and the number of shows that has made him the face of celebrity chef-dom. Starting from Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and The F Word, Gordon has even brought his TV concepts to the USA with Hell’s Kitchen and Masterchef in America.

Gordon is no shy chef. He’s made a whole enterprise out of his ball-busting, no-mercy character and has brought chefs on par with rockstar status. And you’ve got to appreciate that. Kipp certainly does.

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Cuisine
 

What can we say? Nobu’s cuisine is fusion by its definition: South America meets Asia. And he’s perfected it even more over time, developing signature dishes that only Nobu can deliver. But of course we’re talking about restaurant empires here. And for Kipp, master of one just doesn’t cut it.

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There have been critics to Gordon’s cuisine, like American chef Mario Batali who described his food as “dull and outdated”. Of course now Batali says it was all made up. Gordon has had his share of hiccups like accusations of using pre-prepared food sold with more than 500% mark-ups. His reply? An unapologetic statement that it was standard practice, finishing with “What on earth was the fuss about?” His Holding Company has enabled him to deliver a variety of different cuisines that cater to different palates. And for that we give Gordon a mark.

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Okay, so CNN Money says Nobu runs a multi-million dollar business. That includes the Nobu Dinnerware merchandise, of course. But Kipp is finding it impossible to search for Nobu’s current or previous net worth. So if you have that figure, be sure to send it over. For this one, we can’t give you proper points if we don’t have a number to compare. Ramsay may have a fortune in shows and books, but because Nobu’s been under the radar, it’s impossible to tell who’s got more.

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Gordon is worth $118 million, according The Sunday Times Rich List. His larger than life personality has definitely given him a bank account to match. But there has been some contention to this amount, especially with the credit crunch and news of RBS securing ‘unilateral notice’ against Gordon’s $4.9 million seven-bedroom home in London as security against the company’s debts.

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Awards
 

In June 2009, Matsuhisa was presented with an award from the Japan Society for his achievements in food culture. Nobu restaurants in Las Vegas (where he is executive chef), London and Berkeley Street London have each received a Michelin One Star.

Looks like his awards streak is gaining momentum but not enough to catch up to young Ramsay.

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Gordon is one of only four chefs in the UK to maintain three Michelin Stars for his restaurants. His flagship restaurant, Gordon Ramsay, was voted top restaurant in resto guide Harden’s for eight years. Apart from his restaurants, Gordon has also picked up numerous awards for himself. He was appointed OBE (Order of the British Empire) in the 2006 honours list "for services to the hospitality industry." In 2006, he was named as the most influential person in the UK hospitality industry in the annual Caterersearch 100 list, overtaking Jamie Oliver, who had been top of the list in 2005.

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