Kitchen Pro Files: Nobu Manila's New Head Sushi Chef Keiichi Hirukawa

There's a new chef in town, and he is bringing the Filipino flavors into Nobu Manila's world-class Japanese and Peruvian cuisine!

Chef Keiichi Hirukawa, the new Head Sushi Chef of Nobu Manila, has already made his mark on Nobu Los Cabos in Mexico by incorporating the popular Mexican ingredients into Nobu's style of cuisine, crafting dishes that can cater to both the local and international palates.

This time around, Chef Keiichi is bringing his signature style into Nobu Manila.

It seemed that the food scene has been running in his veins, having a chef for a father and an uncle who manages restaurants. Despite this, Chef Keiichi had his humble beginnings helping as a dishwasher to a head chef while training to become one himself.

Soon, he worked as a sushi chef or head chef in different Japanese restaurants in the US, including Kiyoshi's Japanese Restaurant and Kanpai Sushi and Sake Bar in Florida, Wokcano in California, Cho Cho San, The Izakaya, and just two years ago, in Nobu Malibu before finally joining Nobu Manila here in the Philippines.

World-famous chef and restaurateur of the globally-renowned Nobu brand, Chef Nobu Matsuhisa's philosophy to "use as much local ingredients as possible" is safe with the innovative hands of Chef Keiichi who has already created some Filipino cuisine-inspired sushis.

Yellow Tail Kare-Kare with Karashisumiso Bagoong

These include the Yellow Tail Kare-Kare with Karashisumiso Bagoong which is a platter of yellowtail sashimis with peanut-infused sauce tossed in Japanese yellow mustard miso sauce with housemade bagoong. Meanwhile, the Salmon with Gata Sauce and Omazu offers salmon sashimis with Nobu-style coconut purée gata sauce with sweet rice vinegar. Both are now available in Nobu Manila's Omakase Menu for August.

Salmon with Gata Sauce and Omazu

Nobu Manila also showcased three sushi creations of Chef Keiichi that include the Tuna Sisig, Emperor Kingfish Adobo, and Belt Fish with Chimichurri.

Emperor Adobo, Tuna Sisig, and Bet Fish with Chimichurri

With his vision to create Nobu dishes only available in Manila, get to know more about Chef Keiichi in the Q&A below:

Question: What made you realize that you wanted to become a chef?

Chef Keiichi: When I started as a dishwasher, at that time I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But then one of the sushi chefs said he needed help so I went to help. At the end of the night he fed me with sushi and paid me and taught me. At that moment, I knew what I wanted to do. I get to eat for free then learn. Some people go to college and they have to pay them, but instead they pay me and then I get to learn the skill. So at that point I knew that I wanted to become a sushi chef.

Who were the people or what were the things that highly influenced your food and cuisine?

Who influenced me? I’ve always liked eating.

So it’s really the food. You really liked sushi.

Yes. At that moment, soon as they paid me, soon as they taught me, I knew what I wanted to become at senior year highschool.

How long have you been making sushi?

Since I was 18. I’ll be 45 so 27 years.

For you, how is making or preparing sushi different from making other kinds of food out there?

Sushi, I mean, sushi alone, it has a lot of stuff. Different types of fish, different types of cutting fish, different sauces, rice, rolling, and hand rolling. Anything you could make for sushi, there’s a big book for it. Sushi is like that, it’s deep.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve had in your career?

The learning stage is frustrating. Like you cannot do the same way the teacher does. He does it so easy. But at that time, I can quite understand how come he can do it like that. Especially with fish. They don’t let you touch fish because fish is expensive so I had to buy my own and practice. But it’s not like I’m rich, so I was only prepped. So when I started it, those were the times that was kind of difficult. They can show me and teach me but I still have to feel it, I have to do it on my own. And for me to do that, means spending all my money on the fish, just to learn the hard way.

What kind of sushi is your favorite?

Tuna. I love anything tuna. Bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna.

Do you have a favorite ingredient to use in the kitchen?

Tuna.

When you’re not cooking, what are you often busy with?

Right now, if I'm not doing anything, since I’m still new here in the Philippines, a lot of my co-workers, whether it is a server, kitchen guys, or the people from COD, they ask me to go out with them. So on my time off thats what I do. Just getting to know the people I work with. They invite me too.

You’re incorporating the local cuisine to your sushi. When did you start doing this and why?

When I went to Los Cabos. I went to Los Cabos when a Nobu Los Cabos opened in Mexico, and I faced the same situation. It’s not the same as the United States. Not like the stuff I can get in the US. So I have to adapt to the local stuff so that I can get [ingredients] that are still fresh, still tasty, and I'd just go play with it. So I got the local ones, like salsa ingredients and local vegetables and started incorporating it to the dishes.

So you’ve incorporated to your sushi Filipino favorites like sisig and kare-kare. What are you eyeing next?

Vegetables and fruits. Whatever stuff I haven’t heard of before. Whatever interests me as far as the tropical fruits and vegetables around here go. I would like to use those.

Where did you try the Adobo and the Karekare here in the Philippines before you interpreted it?

The [staff] taught me. They invited me to their house. You know, like party and stuff.

Are you going to try out more Filipino dishes?

Yes. A lot more.

Grilled Umami Chicken with Tomato Salad

If you have the opportunity to invite any personality to a dinner, who would it be and what would you serve them?

For me, I don’t need to impress anybody but my mom, my girlfriend, or my friends. For me, as long as they like it, it’s a good encouragement for me. My mom likes fish, so you know, maybe I’ll catch a fish and then serve it to her. Or even make sushi with her. Something like that. Everything will always be family, so three people I guess I will invite will be my mom, my bestfriend, and maybe my girlfriend.

If you could only eat one kind of food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Either fatty tuna or steak. The steak I can eat for the rest of my life everyday. Fish, I could also eat for the rest of my life, especially tuna like I said before.

Do you have any advice to aspiring chefs who want to work on a restaurant or to own one?

Learn while you can, have fun. The most important thing is that you like it. I’m very proud of myself because I can say I love my job. A lot of people I talk to, they’re like "I’m tired, I don’t wanna go to work" and all that, but I actually love working as a chef. So my advice will be, have fun.

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Nobu Restaurant is located at Level 1 of Nobu Hotel Manila at City of Dreams Manila, Asean Avenue corner Roxas Boulevard, Entertainment City, Parañaque. For more information, visit www.nobuhotelmanila.com or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

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