NOBUYUKI MATSUHISA looks surprisingly rested for a man who spends about 25 days a month on the road, keeping tabs on his world-famous restaurants. There are now 16 in total, sprinkled around Europe, Asia and North America. The 56-year-old father of two (he has been married for 33 years) was recently in Hong Kong on a whirlwind trip to close the deal on Nobu InterContinental Hong Kong, due to open in November. He stayed in the city for just two nights, the visit squeezed between trips to Japan - where he has a restaurant in Tokyo - and Australia - where he doesn't yet (although his visit suggests one may be opening there soon). Then he flies home to Los Angeles, then back to Tokyo, before New York, the Bahamas and Miami. He also has outlets in London, Milan, Mykonos in Greece and Dallas. All this jetting about comes with the territory. 'Maintaining consistency [at all the restaurants] is hard work but it's my job,' he says. 'Communication is important - that and a lot of flying.' To maintain the definitive Nobu style of cooking in the new restaurants, long-serving chefs from some of Matsuhisa's existing eateries are given the opportunity to take the reins. 'I send the chefs from LA, New York, Miami. They work with me for a long time, but one day, they're going to want to get out on their own. A chef is always working towards the next step. I like to keep them in the Nobu family and give them the opportunity.' He has yet to decide which chef will be given the opportunity to spearhead the Hong Kong branch, but he says 'there's a lot of interest'. His restaurants employ 2,000 staff and serve 1.5 million people each year, including such luminaries as Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow. Like some of his most famous patrons, he's so famous he's known worldwide by his first name, Nobu, and his association with the rich and famous has even landed him small parts in films (Martin Scorsese's Casino, Austin Powers in Goldmember and most recently, Memoirs of a Geisha). Matsuhisa has come a long way since his childhood in Saitama, Japan, where he discovered sushi at the age of 12. His older brother gave him his first taste, and it was love at first bite. 'Now sushi is very popular, but when I was a kid, it was the most exciting, expensive, delicious food,' he says. 'You opened the sliding door and everybody [would] say, 'Irasshai' [welcome]. I sat at the counter with my brother. They gave me toro and shrimp. I was so shocked. My first impression: 'OK, I've decided, I want to be a sushi chef'.' At the age of 18 he took a traditional apprenticeship in Tokyo, spending his first three years washing dishes, cleaning tables, serving tea and going nowhere near the sushi counter. It was difficult, he says, but necessary. 'The experience teaches patience, it makes you want to be the chef. People with no patience - it's easy to find a job and easy to throw away the job.' After completing his apprenticeship at the age of 24, Matsuhisa headed for South America, spending four years there - first in Lima, Peru, then in Buenos Aires. During this time he started to develop his distinctive style by working with ingredients such as garlic, chillies and fresh coriander, which are considered unusual in traditional Japanese cuisine. This represented a turning point in his career, which would eventually bring him worldwide acclaim, but he left South America penniless. Things didn't improve right away, either. His next stint - a partnership in a Japanese restaurant in Alaska - turned out to be a disaster. Less than two months after the grand opening, the restaurant was destroyed in a fire. 'After four years in South America I had no money,' he says. 'But when I got the offer from Anchorage, I took a loan from the bank to put money into the partnership. I had no insurance, so I lost money. It wasn't zero money - it was minus zero because of the big loan.' Matsuhisa retreated to Los Angeles and worked at other Japanese restaurants to pay off his debts. Then his luck changed. In 1987, he ventured out on his own and opened Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills. The restaurant was a success and drew the attention of film actor Robert De Niro, who asked him to open a restaurant in New York. In 1994 the new partners opened the first Nobu restaurant. It proved to be so popular that they took over the adjacent building and opened Nobu Next Door. There are now three Nobus in New York and three in London. 'They're cosmopolitan cities and the economy is so strong,' Matsuhisa says. 'They help each other. Nobu New York is always busy, but Nobu Next Door never takes reservations. So if someone can't get a table at Nobu New York, they just go next door - it's the same food.' Perhaps the biggest challenge he has faced so far has been bringing his food home. Four years after opening his first Nobu restaurant, he took his fledgling empire to the lion's den and opened a branch in Tokyo. It wasn't well received at first, he says. 'In the beginning, Japanese people didn't accept my food,' he says. 'When I opened in Tokyo, they said, 'This isn't Japanese food. This food comes from the US - New York and Los Angeles'. Now, all the restaurants are doing Nobu style. I don't want to say I created it, but it's good food. Everyone comes to the restaurant, even chefs and restaurant owners. They come to do 'research'. They come as a spy. I'm honoured. It makes me happy. My food has become more global. I'm very proud.' Matsuhisa's arrival in Hong Kong has been long-anticipated - and it certainly got the rumour mills working overtime. The word went round at one point that he would be opening a restaurant in the Four Seasons. He ended up picking the InterContinental, however, after staying there. 'The feeling is so nice,' he says. 'It has the best reputation and it's the best location in Hong Kong. We have a Nobu team, but we need local management to work with. They understand my philosophy and so we signed.' The tailor-made menu will be one of the most anticipated events in the city's epicureans' calendars. However, they're going to have to wait a little longer before they can experience it. The cooks need to be trained and that takes time. Meanwhile, diners will simply have to settle for Nobu's standard fare. 'We have to teach the [local cooks] the Nobu style. After the basic menu, we can start creating little by little. Each city has its different style. The cooks will show me the new dishes [they've created] and I'll say, 'Yes, do this' or 'No, don't do that'.' Of all the dishes he has created, his most famous is black cod with miso, cuttle-fish cut to resemble a tangle of noodles, and new style sushi. His favourite? Not surprisingly, it's a dish inspired by his formative years in Peru. 'It's called tiradito,' he says, referring to the standard menu mainstay. 'Sashimi [traditionally has] wasabi and soy sauce, but this doesn't. It's sashimi - sliced very thin - with sea salt, yuzu [Japanese citrus] mixed with lemon juice, coriander and rocoto - Peruvian chilli paste. You put some on each piece of fish - it can also be scallops or octopus. It's very unusual, but technically it's Japanese - how the fish is sliced and the beautiful presentation. It's very fresh and clean with a little sour and spice and salt flavours. I like it because it's balanced and fresh and not heavy.'