Nobu Melbourne welcomed American chef Heather Zheng as its new chef de cuisine in July. Zheng is no stranger to Nobu’s unique Peruvian-influenced Japanese cuisine having previously spent three years at Nobu Las Vegas.
MiNDFOOD: You only recently arrived in Melbourne – how do you like it so far?
It reminds me of San Francisco where I grew up and have a lot of fond memories. I definitely like the weather here. A lot of people think it’s a little too cold but I think it’s just perfect.
Will you be changing the menu at Nobu?
Yes, next month. I plan to bring in seasonal products and utilise what’s here, what’s good, what’s local, what people like. Definitely put in the Nobu flavour, Nobu style with my own little twists. I’ve been with Nobu for three years in Las Vegas so I definitely have the Nobu training behind me. I left there and did a bit of French in between so I have a French background as well. I see Nobu food through my eyes.
What do think makes the cuisine at Nobu so distinctive?
I think it’s the flair and the style – it’s the wow factor. It’s not the three-course meal where you have your entrée, main and dessert. We’ll make your menu for you, we’ll give you the experience that you want. We’ll give you the flavour profile you want. We go from light to heavy, simple to complex. We’ll go from acidity to savoury to sweet and we’ll bring it back to mild. Just giving the customer the experience of dining here, I think that’s what stands out compared to other restaurants.
Nobu cuisine isn’t strictly Japanese is it? It’s got Peruvian influences.
Nobu-san started in Peru as a sushi chef and he picked up a lot of Peruvian influences such as cilantro and anti-cucho and a lot of local Peruvian sauces that he has brought into his cuisine.
What would you say Nobu’s signature dish is?
He’s got the miso cod – everybody has to have one apparently! The tiradito which is cilantro, ricotto, lime juice with sea salt and of course his yellow tail jalapeno is very simple which uses soy, cilantro and jalapeno. All of his sauces are his own creation. He’s got many of them: ceviches, wasabi pepper, anti-cuchos.
If you were cooking dinner for your friends what would you want to cook them?
I would do casual food. Probably a simple grilled cheese sandwich with roasted tomato soup and crème fraiche, maybe crab cakes, a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Very simple things: homemade soups, stews, party food from home.
If you could have anyone in the world cook for you, who would that be?
It’s funny because I was just reading the book My Last Supper and that was one of the questions they ask the chefs. I think probably Nobu-san!
Have you had him cook for you?
No. I met him in Tokyo but I would not dare to ask him. I would say Nobu-san or I’m happy if anybody would take the pleasure to cook for me. I’m very easy going.
Nobu Melbourne is at Crown Melbourne; noburestaurants.com