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Japan's culinary king takes on the world

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(CNN) -- The name Nobu is synonymous with fashionable dining rooms and expensive menus, and celebrities flock to eat and be seen at one of the world's hippest restaurant chains.

From New York to London, Beverly Hills to Milan, turn up to any of Nobu Matsuhisa's 17 restaurants around the globe, and you're likely to see an A-lister or two indulging in his low-fat, fresh fish dishes.

There's even a theory in Hollywood that the secret to winning an Oscar is to eat at a Nobu restaurant beforehand.

And with business partners such as Robert De Niro, Giorgio Armani and Kenny G, the man dubbed as the world's greatest sushi chef is himself considered something of a celebrity.

He's even had parts in hit movies "Casino," "Austin Powers in Goldmember" and "Memoirs of a Geisha."

But until he opened flagship Matsuhisa restaurant in Beverly Hills 20 years ago, Nobu's track record in the restaurant business was anything but successful.

Born in Saitama, Japan, on the outskirts of Tokyo, Nobu, 58, credits his mother's cooking and his first visit to a sushi bar with his older brother for steering him into a career in the kitchen.

After training as an apprentice sushi chef in Japan, a passion for travel took him to South America, first to Peru and then to Argentina, where after not always being able to source authentic Japanese ingredients he dabbled with the concept of fusion, using local flavours.

This period of trial and error gave birth to a number of his current recipes and sauces, mixing Japanese tradition with a Western twist.

Business ventures in both countries were short-lived and after returning to Japan for a brief stint, he headed to the Alaskan capital of Anchorage in the United States, working eight months to set up a restaurant -- only for it to burn to the ground the weekend it opened.

Nobu, by this stage a father of two daughters, lost everything in the fire and says during the months afterwards was so distraught he considered suicide.

Eventually, the family moved to the west coast of the United States, with Nobu working for eight years to repay his debts.

In 1987, his hard work paid off and Matsuhisa opened. It is still going strongly today, as is the rest of his growing empire of 17 Nobu eateries.

Nobu has prepared private dinners for American presidents, made the food for Oscar parties and even appeared in clothing commercials.

Managing his global empire means spending nine months of every year on the road, and the remaining three at his home in Beverly Hills with wife Yoko.

Some say his brand of cooking is addictive, but for Nobu, the secret is more simple -- he says the reason his cuisine is so successful is because he cooks from the heart, something some of the world's toughest food critics agree with.

Arguably the world's most famous sushi chef, Nobu food does not come cheap.



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