Make Fancy Japanese Food at Home With the Nobu Hand Roll Box

Let me tell you how to make a perfect sushi hand roll. Start by holding a piece of seaweed, shiny side down, in your non-dominant hand. Take a wooden paddle with your other hand and put a schmear of sticky rice on the seaweed, creating a little channel in the center of the rice. Then, using tongs, add your various components in that channel, like a strip of yellowtail, a scoop of salmon roe, a squirt of wasabi, and a sprinkle of chopped scallion. Take the near corner of the seaweed and fold it over the rice a little more than halfway up, tucking it in gently but firmly, before rolling it into a perfect little cone. Who am I to tell you how to make sushi? Well, I was only taught how to do it by Nobu Matsuhisa himself, during the unveiling of the Nobu Hand Roll Box at Nobu 57 on Tuesday night, and I’m pretty sure he knows a thing or two about sushi. In fact, he’s going to be honored with a lifetime achievement award at the 2013 South Beach Wine & Food Festival this Saturday at the Loews Miami Beach resort. So, yeah, after making one sushi hand roll, I’m kind of an expert.

The Nobu Hand Roll Box is a pretty neat innovation. It’s a way to enjoy the Nobu sushi experience at home, presumably when you have a dozen or so foodie friends over. And, as Nobu-san told us, while making perfect sushi is tricky, making a great sushi hand roll is actually kind of easy, if you have the right tools. And all the tools are in the stackable, black cloth-swaddled box, from tuna and shrimp to shiso and asparagus. And yes, the man himself demonstrated exactly how it should be done on Tuesday night, and we in the press gaggle lined up, one by one, to train under the master.

Interested? Of course you are. The Nobu Hand Roll Box is available nationwide, wherever there are Nobu restaurants. It costs $550 for the box, if you pick it up and drop it off yourself, and $750 if you can’t be bothered. It’s an extra $350 for in-house instruction by a sushi chef, but I’ll do it for half that.

As for Nobu Matsuhisa being honored at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, the tribute will take place this Saturday, February 23, 2013 at the Loews at 1601 Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. The event, including a fancy dinner prepared by an all-star roster of chefs, will run from 7:00 to 11:00 p.m. and costs $500 per person.

[Related: BlackBook Guides Listing for Nobu 57; Tasting Sake with the Daily Show’s Wyatt Cenac at Nobu 57BlackBook New York Guide; Download the BlackBook City Guides app for iPhone and Android; Subscribe to the free BlackBook Happenings email newsletters for New York, LA, and Miami.]

Industry Insiders: Stephen Seo, Adman of Action

Once a New York adman, Stephen Seo was so inspired by the bespoke tailoring of London’s Savile Row that he decided to study the process on his own. Now based New York, Seo works with Scottish wool and Italian silk, meeting with clients to discuss design options, select fabrics, and take measurements. A typical suit starts at $1,800, rather reasonable, we think, for the estimated 50 hours Seo and his team invests in each garment. Seo is looking to the ready-to-wear market for future seasons, though he maintains that each garment will keep a personal touch. See his creations on Entourage this season.

On finding his calling: I was working at an ad agency and traveled back and forth to London. One trip, I got a suit made on Savile Row. My body never really fit in suits off the rack. I had a nice denim suit made. When I got back to New York, my clients and friends kept saying, “Where did you get that suit?” I decided to start making them, and that’s how it started off as a hobby. Then I decided to leave the industry and open up my own store. It’s just my passion. I like glamorous things.

On the process of making a suit: Now, we’ll get a call from a client through friends and referrals. Before that I had a store in Princeton for about two and half years. I closed September 2009. I work in my studio and then I travel to different places. Basically, we make an appointment, they come in and then if they’re new clients I like to get to know them. We talk about what type of profession they have, and what type of wardrobe they need to build. Then we take measurements. Picking fabric, design, cut, is all done together. About three weeks later, we’ll cut the fitting molds. No buttons, no zippers, very rough molds that we try on them. And then we do a lot of pinning and adjusting with sleeve length, jacket length, waistline, and shoulder to create the perfect silhouette.

General misconceptions about men’s fashion: Big guys always think they don’t deserve a nice lean cut because they have bellies, shoulders, and large chest. So they always tend to go for the very boxy American suit. Once they’re here, we accentuate the waistline to make it very sexy. Men have curves, so we like to accentuate those and highlight the right parts. I cut the jacket length based on his proportions. Most of time when you go off the rack, the jacket length is the same. But once you put on my finished garment, you look like you’re a model. I try to give everyone the confidence that they’re six feet tall. I understand the frustration of not having everything fit perfectly. That happened to me all the time.

On the ready-to-wear line: It will still have a very limited-edition concept. Each one will have all the serial numbers and certificate. It’s like when you adopt a puppy, you want to know where it came from. It’s all very high-end lifestyle.

Number one client request: I get a lot of wedding consultations. People come in here to get a tuxedo. I always say, ‘Tuxedos are very high-end and very formal.’ If you’re going to only wear it once or twice, why would you spend time and effort, why don’t we make a tuxedo suit? I cut it a certain way, so that they can wear it as a suit. They can go to work.

Least favorite trends in men’s fashion: There’re many details that I look at on the street. People still wear three button jackets. It makes your upper torso really long. If you eliminate two or one, it’s simple. It makes you feel that you have the right proportion. On all of my designs, the pocket flaps are slanted. This simple trick looks slimmer and taller. It’s comes from my own experience but the same time its become my signature. People love it.

On future hopefuls: I met Mickey Rourke a few times, and we kind of kept in touch. One day I’d like to change his look. But that’s a risk because he has his own, distinct style, and he does have very high-end, bespoke, tailored clothing. My ultimate goal is to dress the new 007.

Go-to’s: For sushi, I go to Morimoto. I also go to Nobu 57. I like Capital Grille and Delmonico’s. If I go for a quick drink after work, I go to Trinity Place. I use to hang out a lot at SoHo House. I like Greenhouse as well.

Industry Insiders: Josh Katz, Vibe Creator

Josh Katz is the co-owner and founder of EL Media Group, a premier custom music provider and audio/video installation company. Along with his partner Ernie Lake, Katz works with hospitality and nightlife venues worldwide customizing music programming to create a client-specific atmosphere and soundscape.The transition was close to seamless for Katz, a music business veteran, and EL Media Group is expanding rapidly—almost solely by word of mouth. More on the concept after the jump.

Background: I’ve worked with literally thousands of bands. I did sales and marketing for BMG; I worked at Jive Records and helped launch Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys. I always had a passion for music from my childhood growing up in Roslyn, New York. I was seeing music non-stop. Then I went to college in Ithaca and I promoted shows there all the time.

First concert: It was Asia when I was 10 years old.

On the foundation of EL Media Group: I met my partner Ernie Lake about 13 years ago. When I was working at Jive Records, I was marketing Backstreet Boys and all that teen pop. Ernie was doing remixes at the label. About six or seven years later, we hooked up and started doing new compilation record CDs. At this point, we’ve done over 300 of them. We sell CDs in close to 50,000 hotel rooms: the Hard Rock Las Vegas, The St. Regis, Tao, Hotel Gansevoort and Thompson Hotels.

On the scope of their operations: The CDs are how we started, but that matriculated and came back into everything we did. The people we made CDs for came back to us and said, “How do we get this music to play in our lobby or our restaurant or our rooftop?” A light bulb went on and we started doing programming. I went out and started finding the best DJs everywhere and getting them to work on programming for us. Through word of mouth, it just took off. We defined the company at the same time that the whole meatpacking district was coming about and we started doing music for everyone there. We reached a point in ’06, ’07 when we were turning away business. We were just so busy. One of the biggest things is that I’ve spent a significant amount of time on is scouring the city and Miami and Vegas finding the best DJs—recruiting them to work for us and setting up music for various hotels and restaurants. That lead to the next progression, which was putting in sound systems. The people we were doing music for would call us and say, “Oh listen. My speakers aren’t working or this or that.” Before we knew it, we were outsourcing all of that. It became so much outsourcing that we went and bought an AV company. That’s where we are today. We do a background music service. Some of the biggest clothing chains have called and said, “You know what you’re doing for them? We want it.” They realize the importance of it.

On replacing DJs: [This concept] replaces a DJ. In the past, it’s been Muzak or just shitty music in the background. We’ve been the pioneers of putting great music into retail stores, restaurants, and hotel lobbies and making music a part of the overall experience where its not just background anymore. We call it music styling because it’s part of the overall venue. We try to stay involved in the whole design aspect.

On the process of creating the vibe: Right now, I’m working with a casino in Vegas and it’s all about the overall concept of the venue. When you walk in the door, what are you going to feel? What’s the feeling you want? It comes down to your senses. What’s it going to look like? What’s it going to smell like? What’s it going to sound like? That’s a big part of it. We try to get in on the early stages of the people putting the design together and we try to understand the overall brand and what they’re trying to achieve. Then, we create music playlists to create a mood. We do the music on a streaming system, and it’s different for breakfast, lunch, and dinner time, depending on the needs of that venue. Then, the CDs we create incorporate the music from the lobby and extend it into the room so guests can take it home.

Recent projects: We’re working with Five Napkin Burger, doing a place in Long Island City for them. And Food Park at the new Eventi Hotel. We just did Prime Co. on the Upper West Side, the new Gansevoort on Park Avenue and STK Midtown.

Go-to places: I’ve been really into Provocateur. I always love Nobu 57. I just love the whole vibe and the food in there. I enjoy Avenue. I definitely like Bagatelle. I really like Philippe and The Palm in the Hamptons.

Industry Insiders: Stephen Attoe and Robert Caravaggi, Swift Decision Makers

When the ladies who lunched at Mortimer’s learned that their landmark of choice was closing, they swooned right into the waiting arms of two young Mortimer’s chefs who set out on their own and knew how to make their favorites perfectly. Just a few blocks downtown at Swifty’s, Robert Caravaggi and Stephen Attoe’s serve up everything from a mouth-watering childhood meatloaf at $25 a slice, to a soufflé so light it levitates. The foodie mecca is named after a dog rescued by the teams former boss, Mortimer’s owner Glenn Birnbaum.

Describe a day in your job. Robert Caravaggi: I’m the front of the house and he’s the back of the house guy. We collaborate on everything, whatever we do, whatever policies we have, we always collaborate. We’re the John and Paul of the restaurant business.

You two worked at Mortimer’s forever. Stephen Attoe: I worked there from 1982 until they closed. RC: I was there in 1981, and the story’s the same.

And how did you make the move to Swifty’s? RC: We were at Mortimer’s for a long, long time. When it closed after Glenn Birnbaum unexpectedly passed away, the customers panicked, and we said, ‘We’re going to open something,’ and opened Swifty’s on October 1, 1999. We were trying to be the anti-Mortimer’s, because they always had a reputation of being rude and snotty, so we tried to be exactly the opposite. We greet our customers personally; we’re courteous to them, always. Courtesy is just good manners.

How did you get your start? RC: My family was in the restaurant business. My father owned a few like Quo Vadis in London, so while I went to school, I did everything there. It was a four star restaurant with classic cuisine. I had that traditional background like Stephen, with a lot of experience in French and Italian. Mortimer’s was different and at a certain point, Glen Birnbaum brought me from Quo Vadis, where I started as a bar boy. Stephen and I met at Mortimer’s and worked together for years. It’s been quite an adventure. SA: I was born in England and went to culinary school at 15 at Westminster Culinary School. I finished my apprenticeship at the Connaught Hotel, and from there I came here and traveled a bit. My wife and I had the Four in Hand Country Inn for a couple of years in Vermont. When we sold it, I accepted the chef’s job at Mortimer’s.

Where are your go-to places? SA: I don’t go out; I work. But I sometimes go to Mezzaluna for good pasta and pizza. Via Quadronno is on 73rd just off Madison and the light there is great in the afternoon, between lunch and dinner. RC: I love Japanese food, so I like Nobu 57. I have a good friend who owns Cellini on 54th Street, and in this neighborhood when I run out of work, late, for comfort food to T Bar. They have a modern steak house and it’s right around the corner. I also like The Palm. Stephen and I know the Executive Chef, Neal Myers, very well.

Who do you look up to? RC: I admire Keith McNally for Pastis and his restaurants in general, they’re very authentic. I knew Jean Georges when he was working at Le Regence at Plaza Athénée. He’s quite impressive and what I admire about him especially is that you’ll also find him behind the line in his various establishments. He’s somebody you can look up to. He keeps his chops like all great chefs. When they stop doing that, they lose touch with the core of this business.

What’s the core of your business? SA: The core is the kitchen, but Robert and I are here all the time and we keep in touch with the staff, the customers, and we’re very connected with both groups of people; we’re not married to each other, but we’re married to the business. RC: Were considering expansion and the thing we fear most is being separated from our flagship for too long and how that would affect our customers, the service and everything that goes on? I’d love to know how those guys with lots of restaurants hold their standards.

Anything that annoys you? SA: The way the city government is meddling in small businesses and the way they handle them is negative. Small business is an open wallet for the government, penalizing them for petty violations that are often questionable — from trash pick-up to health violations to fire marshal inspections. They’re all designed to raise capital for the government. It puts pressure on every business. The LLC license, liquor license, all of that can be streamlined. The grading system is fine, there should be a guide to health, but the government is increasing inspections to twice a year which is just another tax-small-businesses reason to go to the well so often before businesses start to fail. RC: They put a lot of pressure on you, but that’s New York, so you’ve got to have thick skin.

Something that people don’t know about you? RC: I’m also a musician. I write pop songs, but I used to have a rock band in the ’80s. It was a hobby, but a fun one. SA: I’m a gardener, a hunter and a marathoner.

Industry Insiders: Justin Wyborn, Nobu Poster Boy

Nobu West Hollywood’s man in charge, Justin Wyborn, speaks proudly of the “sense of family” within the Nobu empire. The Aussie-born GM is undoubtedly a poster boy for the company’s family-friendly sentiment. Wyborn has worked at Nobu London, Miami, and the flagship New York City Nobu 57 location. He also opened Nobu Melbourne, Hawaii, and San Diego in addition to his current West Hollywood post.

How did you get involved with Nobu? In 1996, I took a year off university to complete a one-year cadetship at the Savoy Hotel in London. Halfway through the cadetship, I heard about Nobu opening at the new Metropolitan Hotel in London, and a year earlier I had read an article about Nobu New York and loved the concept, so I convinced my university to break my cadetship, which enabled me to work at the new London outpost.

You recently opened the West Hollywood branch. What goes into opening a new location? L.A. has definitely been my favorite and most challenging opening so far. There are so many different people and cultures in the city, and they all come with their own set of idiosyncrasies. I was lucky enough to spend just over two months here before we opened, and I took that time to visit other restaurants and get a feel for what Angelinos were after. But it’s been a year and a half since we opened here, and I’m still trying to find L.A.’s formula.

What’s the most challenging part of your job? We came into L.A. 20 years after Matsuhisa opened his first restaurant, so we’ve been constantly pushing ourselves to think outside of our norm. It’s no longer only about great food and great service, it’s also about entertaining and creating a full night out. Working in L.A., and having to deal with the current economic environment, my job has also included creating events that push the restaurant outside of its normal boundaries of food and service. I now have extracurricular events at the restaurant for just about every night of the week. For instance, every Wednesday I work with Ashlee Margolis and her A-list to create a weekly “tastemakers” dinner.

What’s the most important thing you think people should know about the Nobu brand as it continues to expand? Our mantra is still the same as when Nobu first opened in Tribeca. All of the owners — including Nobu himself and Richie Notar and Meir Teper — are still extremely hands-on with all of the restaurants. They’ve encouraged a strong sense of family within the company and with each restaurant. This sense of family and our passion for our product allows our brand to remain one of the strongest in the world. 


Of all the cities you’ve worked in, which do you think has the best culinary/nightlife scene? London is my favorite for nightlife. It’s a city with great traditions that really thinks outside the box, and it has some really unique clubs and bars that allow you to forget about the gray, cold weather outside. L.A. has great restaurants, and something to offer for everyone, but you just have to find it. Being an Australian, I’m proud to say that Melbourne has some great affordable restaurants. I still think that the best Italian is found in Melbourne — simple and fresh. That’s all you need. New York is all of the above in one city, and I always look forward to going back. Especially for the late-night bars and restaurants.

Any positive trends you’ve noticed in the industry recently? We’re starting to see some unique places open in L.A. that are taking a chance. Street, for instance, has a great concept — street food from around the world. It’s a fantastic idea.

Any negative trends? There are too many people in L.A that are quick to chop down anyone who tries something different or takes a chance. It seems that many people are unable to take a risk and push themselves or their establishments unless they see others making a successful move first. This level of unoriginality and the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” tend to create a negative feel within our industry here.

Who do you admire in the industry? Besides Nobu himself and Richie Notar — Luis De Casas, the director of Nobu openings, has been a great influence in the development of my career. He’s helped me look beyond the basics of a restaurant.

What are your favorite places for dining out in LA and NY? In L.A., The Bazaar, Jose Andres’ place, is great; the city needed it. I went to Fraiche in Culver City last week, which has great, simple, and clean dishes. They do their simple menu very well. In New York, I like Atelier, Joël Robuchon’s place at the Four Seasons. I’ve sat at the kitchen counter many times to eat, and it’s amazing. My favorite late-night place is a small yakitori restaurant called Totto for simple, grilled Japanese.

You work around Japanese cuisine all day, so what’s your idea of comfort food? I rarely cook, but I love the lazy-day-off breakfast and lunch places. My favorite is Square One in East Hollywood. It’s such a random location, but my girlfriend and I tend to find ourselves there for a late meals all the time.

Industry Insiders: Alan Philips & Josh Shames of Sky Group

Alan Philips and Josh Shames are founders of SKY Group and Deluxe Experience. Their clients include One Group (STK), Gerber Group (Whiskey Bar), Morgans Hotel Group (Hudson, Royalton, The Shore Club), Borgata Hotel, Brier Group (Highbar) … the list goes on.

What are your favorite places in the world? Alan Philips: Sushi of Gari. They have the freshest fish, simply and creatively prepared, in understated surroundings. I don’t think that there is anywhere you can experience something as delicious and unexpected as the salmon tomato onion sushi. Bagatelle has incredible energy and music, very New York. I recently had the pleasure of staying and experiencing the newest Morgans Hotel in Miami, Mondrian Miami. Marcel Wanders has designed a spectacular hotel that captures the surprise and whimsy that you first felt when entering the Delano 20 years ago. Josh Shames: The Box is an amazing New York experience, and I’ve never felt the energy from a nightclub that I have felt at Palladium in Acapulco, Mexico. 2000-plus people, with floor-to-ceiling glass walls over looking the Acapulco bay. As for restaurants, the China Club in Hong Kong or Il Latini in Florence, Italy, are the two of my favorite dining experiences. If I had a last meal, then it would be Don Pepe’s in Ozone Park.

Who do you admire in your industry? AP: Ian Schrager has continued to innovate for decades and maintain an individual point of view. The amount of time, energy, and commitment to your vision it takes to do what he has done is incredible. Imagine having Studio 54, Morgans Hotel Group, Palladium, Gramercy Park, and now this partnership with Marriot on your resume. Nobu Matsuhisa — he did not just create a restaurant, he created a whole other cuisine. Then he opened tons of locations that never sacrifice the quality of product. And just when you thought he was done, he kept creating new and intoxicating dishes that never cease to amaze. JS: Its cliché, but you have to mention Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager as they changed New York nightlife and the hospitality industry forever. No matter what has been done since, it has all been an extension of what they accomplished years before.

What are some positive trends that you’ve seen recently in your industry? AP: I like that people have been offering more inclusive experiences. Jamie Mulholland and his team did it this year at Surf Lodge. The vision and customer experience is all-encompassing from beginning to end. The restaurant, the bar, the hotel — it all goes together and is fabulous. I believe that customers want more for their hospitality dollar, and in this economic environment, they won’t mind spending money, but the quality and excitement better be there. I don’t think there will be tolerance for products that are sub-par. Additionally, I am excited about things moving away from bottle service. I like table minimums, and I believe that this will force operators to be more creative. Great ideas come out of necessity. JS: For a while, people thought that if they opened a nightclub or lounge and put a door person outside behind ropes, their place would be filled and generate revenue. I believe people have wised up since then. Operators, owners, and investors are starting to be more creative with their venues and concepts than they were five years ago

What is something that people might not know about you? AP: I love to cook. When the family gets together, my job is to cook. JS: I am left-handed and I go to every Broadway show.

What are your staples? AP: Books are Wolf of Wall Street, Good to Great, and Outliers. Artist is Da Vinci. City is New York to live and Miami to visit. JS: Destinations are Florence, Italy, and Aruba to relax. Politicians are Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

What are you doing tonight? AP: Going to Nobu 57; I’ve been obsessed with Dover sole tempura since I got back from Miami. Then Ella to hear Brooklyn Dawn spin. JS: I never make plans that far in advance.

What is your guiltiest pleasure? AP: DVR. My girlfriend and I watch way too many shows. Lost, Sopranos, 24, Big Love, Californication, Gossip Girl, Weeds, Brothers and Sisters. Okay, this is getting embarrassing. JS: My Blackberry.

Drink of choice? AP: Patron Silver on the rocks with two limes. JS: Iced coffee in the mornings, diet raspberry Snapple during the day, and anything with ice in it at night.

Person you’re dying to party with? AP: My mom. JS: Myself. I’m always so concerned with everyone else’s experience, I forget what its like to have a good time.

What’s next in ’09? We’re developing a new web-based project called Deluxe Experiences that will launch in early 2009. I have been working on it for a year, and we are really looking forward to seeing it come to life. We are also managing an artist Brooklyn Dawn — she is a super-talented female DJ whose energy, skills, and sound are something totally different in the downtown scene. Everything she does is so genuine and exciting. Also, began a new area of our business focused on servicing our lifestyle clients and synergizing them with our hospitality clients. 2009 is going to be a very interesting year in the hospitality business, as people are definitely going to have to find new ways to make money.

Elle Decor Editor Margaret Russell on Hosting ‘Top Design’

After a two-season stint as a judge on Bravo’s Top Design and nearly 10 years as editor-in-chief at Elle Decor, Margaret Russell tells us that great style can be learned, real-world experience is priceless, and Anne Slowey’s Stylista gets a thumbs up. You’ve been an editor for a long time, but has the Bravo blog been your first real blogging experience? Yes, I did it for season one also, and it’s very different writing for a blog. I think it’s interesting that it’s so casual, and that so many more people comment. They feel like it’s a personal message to them, and they sort of pick apart everything you say. I love reading design and style blogs, so we tend to be happier, nicer and more positive than some of the angry bloggers who watch reality TV shows.

In interior design, as in any creative field, it’s necessary to always have fresh eyes. Do you ever get stuck in a rut? I never get blocked when it comes to design stuff because there’s so much inspiration out there. For anybody in the creative field, especially in magazine work, there’s inspiration all around, whether it’s something you read, something you see in the theater, or even when a friend mentions something. I’m very curious, and if somebody says something to me that I don’t know enough about, I’ll go research it.

Can design be learned, or is it an innate talent? I think that taste can be learned. A lot of it is getting exposure, understanding things, and feeling comfortable with style and design. Your individual style can really develop the more you expose yourself to certain things. I think that with great innate style, talent and taste, some people have it, and some people don’t. There are people who don’t have to struggle with it. It’s just second nature, but there are also plenty of people out there who have a strong desire to learn and want to know more about design, and they can do it as well.

Were you always passionate about design, or did you grow into it? I studied to be a lawyer, and somehow ended up in this, and I’m really happy that I did, because it’s something that I live and breathe. It’s such a fascinating career. Especially with what we do at the magazine, it’s not just interior design, its just living well. It’s art and culture. We focus on the decorative arts, but also fine arts, and history of design. There are so many different aspects to it, you just can’t be bored. Have you learned anything from judging Top Design that’s helped you at the magazine? I think what I learned from the show and watching these contestants work so hard is that you need to be able to speak to people. Unfortunately, often on those shows, they show when you’re talking about the bad stuff and not about the good things. Everybody needs positive reinforcement. Do you think you would have been able to function as well as the contestants did under the time constraints? I’ve joked that I would have been sent home after the first challenge. I think that they were not only really creative people, but they also had great ambition and drive to be able to do what they did. They got no sleep whatsoever, and when we were taping in LA the weather was about 30 degrees one day, and the next week it was 105 degrees. The circumstances were really difficult, and I don’t know how they did it, but the stakes were high. It was $100,000 dollars and a spread in Elle Decor and to be honest, none of them would have been an easy shot to get something into the magazine because the competition is so fierce out there.

How long have you worked at Elle Decor? Almost twenty years. April is going to be our 20th anniversary.

So at this point how do you weigh in on the age-old battle of real world experience vs. higher education? I think that if you’re going to be a lawyer or doctor, there’s a real reason why you need a graduate degree to further your career. But in terms of magazine work, if you have a strong liberal arts background and you learn how to use your mind, to be analytical, and to express yourself, that prepares you for anything in life. I learned to be a good editor from other editors. I think that most of what I learned was on the job from other people, from mentors, and from experience. You just learn by doing, and by making mistakes. For me, that’s the best education, although I do come from a family where everyone has an advanced degree, except for me! Creative people have the ability to flow between different jobs. If you were to leave Elle Decor, where do you think you would end up? Well, given the economy, I’ll probably be working until I’m around 120! My dream job if I weren’t an editor, I’d love to be landscaper. I want to be in my jeans, in the garden. I love gardening, because it’s so project-oriented and that’s like therapy to me. I’m really happy at Elle Decor, so I haven’t really thought beyond that, but one thing I think I’ll end up doing regardless, is taking what I’ve learned business-wise, and applying it to non-profits.

Magazines and editors have been getting a lot of TV time lately. What do you think about shows like CW 11’s Stylista? The promos for it were so scary, and I thought, what has Anne Slowey gotten herself into? But I think it’s fabulous. The people on the show are getting such an education in what it’s really like to work at a magazine. I love the fact that they’ll do The Devil Wears Prada scenes where you have to tell Anne who all her guests are at a party, but then they have to go back and do a layout about it. I think that’s the really good aspect of what they’re doing on the show. It’s a bit overly dramatic — I don’t know anyone who would get away with having their assistant planning a birthday party for their niece, but I think that some of the other things are very helpful. Even going and buying a thank-you gift for Amy Sacco; assistants do have to do things like that and you need people who have good judgment and good taste to help you get your job done. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the show. I think its a lot of fun.

So you think all the press that magazines are getting from these shows is good exposure? I think it is. I really wanted to work at a magazine when I was younger, and I think that it gives you an idea of what it is. Sometimes it makes sense — like Elle Decor’s participation on Top Design makes a lot of sense and it’s absolutely fine – I’m not being asked to do something that’s a stretch for me, it’s what I do, and it’s what I’m supposed to be an expert at. But I don’t think it’s good for a magazine to be involved in anything that diminishes the brand in anyway. Anything that gets more attention to magazines, or gets people interested in working at them or reading them is a good thing.

What establishments in New York do you think are really well designed? I’m a total creature of habit, so it’s never been that important to me to be at the most happening place. If I’m having dinner or meeting friends, I want to be somewhere that’s really beautiful, cozy, or not too loud, and I tend to go to a lot of the same places all the time: I love what Kelly Wearstler did at BC at Bergdorf Goodman, I love Swifty’s on the Upper East Side and Nobu 57. I like things that are really dramatic, really welcoming, or just beautiful – for example, Jean Georges is just one of the most beautiful restaurants, it’s so elegant.

Do you switch up the design at home a lot? I do, I do, even if it’s just changing bedding, or adding small things. I believe in little changes. I don’t understand people who live with everything exactly the same way year after year.

You have two books out already. What is the upcoming one about? The new book is going to be The Best of Elle Decor. It’s going to be an idea book on our favorite rooms from the past twenty years, and it will come out next fall.

Good Night Mr. Lewis: Nobu’s Richie Notar, from Busboy to Dubai

imageI sat with Richie Notar in his fabulous and famous restaurant Nobu 57, and as we talked, it felt like I was just catching up with an old friend from the neighborhood. The amazingly accessible Richie gave me an hour just before he set off to open more Nobu franchises in exotic places far away from his Queens roots. His partnership with Robert De Niro and his relationships with Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager may have kick-started his career, but success on this level is the result of someone who has given his heart, mind, and very soul in the pursuit of greatness. Working his way up from dishwasher — and not ashamed to say it — Richie is what this town is about; his hard work produced an empire. I am reminded of Caesars riding in triumphal chariots while a slave whispered mortality in their ears. Richie doesn’t need anyone to remind him from where he came from; he keeps his past real close, and despite triumphal success, remains humble and down to earth.

Steve Rubell once told me not to be “Steven,” he said to be “Steve.” He said “Steven” is too formal, and it puts people off. Is that the same story with Richie Notar? You know what? It kind of is. When it’s formal, it reminds you of when you were in trouble as a kid. And you kind of want to believe — whether it’s true or not — that if someone is saying Richie or Steve, there’s more of a familiarity with it.

So you’re accessible, people can talk to you? Yes, we’re in the hospitality business. Why not?

I worked for Steve Rubell, you worked for Steve Rubell, we have this in common. It’s funny, the movie 54 … Harvey Weinstein (who knew about my background) says to me, “Do me a favor, I want you to view this movie,” and I think this is going to be fantastic. So I’m sitting like a little kid in a screening room in Tribeca watching it, and I wasn’t liking it at all. It portrayed Steve to be a buffoon, with money sticking out, etc. And I thought, “This isn’t cool.” So how am I going to tell Harvey? I ended up telling him, “Well it’s great that you got the film there, the music is timeless and great.” I was kind of giving him backhanded compliments, and we left it at that. Steve was a brilliant man. It’s true. Steve had this lovability about him. He’s a little guy, he’s cuddly, and he’s everyone’s buddy. He’d even say it if he was being heavy with you: “Well, you know I can’t, buddy.” We had this love/hate relationship, because I was a brat, I was 15 or 16 and I drove for him. I worked at Enchanted Gardens, their first club in Queens, driving a beat-up old powder-blue Lincoln Continental with dents all over it. I probably couldn’t even really see over the wheel, but he just wasn’t interested in driving, and they liked having young people around.

Now, here you are, you’re a great success, you’re a partner in Nobu, which has 17 locations worldwide, and you’re opening more. And you carry with them the hospitality lessons you learned from Ian and Steve; at what point did Ian Schrager stop looking at you as the busboy or the driver Richie, and more as the business Richie? That’s a very interesting question, because a wise man a long time ago said, “You’ll always be thought about how you were when you walked into the equation.” But there was a time about three years ago when he came to Nobu in Tribeca, and he stopped me in the middle of it, saying, “I want to tell you I’m very proud of you.” It was almost like your dad finally recognizing your accomplishments. “I want to just tell you I’m very proud of you, look what you’ve done, I can’t say enough, buddy.” He used the “buddy” term, even though he knows my name!

It was a safety net. But it was also a reminder of those days, because he would say ‘buddy’ to everyone, but there was a different tone. There was “buddy” and then “buddy.” You would get it.

I know what you mean … But there was a certain way you would say “buddy,” and he used the “buddy” in a way that was just a memory, you know? And funny enough, about a year later, he started calling me for advice and asking me what I do at Nobu, or “I have a concept that I need in the Gramercy Park,” and I knew at that point, to answer your question, that I was a made man! I was respected.

I knew that I had arrived with them when one day Steve told me that he wanted me at the door. And that to me, because I knew that Steve has always been at the door, that was big. Yeah, he was so protective.

Yes, so protective. And he put me out there. And for me to be at the door at the club that he was running, it was almost like a passing of the torch. But really, I couldn’t walk in his shoes, and I don’t know if anybody else ever will. There’s only one of everyone, but you can pass the knowledge, and only a select few can absorb it.

Back then, art was a much more important part of nightlife. Ian Schrager has done that over at the Gramercy Park Hotel, and it’s brilliant to sit there, amongst those paintings. I mean, how can you be pretentious when you’re looking at great art like this? It humbles you. That’s a subtlety that’s missed on many people. He’s not out-spending, he’s out-tasting, and that’s important.

You made a statement in the New York Times, which I love: “Money doesn’t buy fun like it used to.” I thought it was brilliant. You know, there was a time that I had just come back to New York. I was in Paris, and I love going to a place like that where whether you’re 5, 6, 15, or 80 years old, it’s just fun. And it’s more of an event, you don’t get a bunch of people on their phones, trying to be the next billionaire, and it just struck me — no one’s really having fun! So the Times asked me about nightlife, and what’s going on, so maybe I was a little more passionate about my remark then.

And you made another statement saying, “Nightlife is filled with poseurs and inebriated youths.” I might’ve been referring to the Meatpacking District a little bit.

I think it’s club life in general. I think it’s a very very telling statement that in our era, the artist, the person who had arrived creatively was the VIP. Nowadays, it’s the broker with a black Amex. You get it. I was reminiscing about what Steve would say was “tossed salad.” Too many straights, get some gays, too many gays, get some straights, too many guys, get some girls. And with this mix, eclectic mix, once you’re in the club, it didn’t matter if you had a pot to pee in or not, you were in for a reason. No one cared, because you were in there and you were christened that you’re either cool or in the arts or there’s a reason you’ve been invited to this party.

When I taught doormen the business, I always said, “You can always judge a book by its cover.” Now there are a very few exceptions — cops and robbers are professionals at hiding who they are — but for the most part, the public is screaming who they are, in their clothes, the way they carry themselves, the grooming. This was an important part of nightlife, and it no longer is. Nowadays it’s just uniforms, cheap clothes or expensive clothes that are just uniforms. You can’t buy taste.

Now, I want to go into the Nobu experience. We’re sitting in Nobu on 57th Street. This is a highly styled David Rockwell-designed place, every inch, every detail is covered, and he’s a brilliant man, one of the best designers out there. This place has gotten critical acclaim for design. The design is part of an experience; Warner Leroy was one of the originators, and he was on this block with the Russian Tea Room and of course Maxwell Plum, in this neighborhood; he taught us about the experience of nightlife. Tell me how you balance food, design, attitude, and service in your restaurant. My philosophy is you can put a great, grand design, and that’s fine. For ten minutes, you look at the design, and then you go onto why you’re there, eating with friends and so forth, and you don’t want to outshine that. I’m trying to sell an experience. You could fill your stomach anywhere, so why’re people going out? It’s for another reason, whether it’s to entertain, whether it’s to impress someone, whether you’re showing someone off, so I didn’t want to get caught up too much in this remarkable design because I didn’t want it to outshine what we were doing. Being up on 57th Street, I knew there was a little bit of a challenge because I didn’t want to be stereotypical or touristy. So how could we bring a little downtown cool uptown? I wanted to marry that downtown experience — which made us kind of famous — and bring it up here, and let people know they’d be safe and know that it’s not like a lot of people perceive. I knew there was a stigma, but I wanted to chip away at that a little bit.

It’s happening more and more; Greg Brier, who has the Brier Group, did Amalia and Aspen Social uptown. Even Danny A. went into the Plaza! That’s groundbreaking.

At one point, I was doing promotions and being very much involved in the running of four nightclubs — Limelight, Tunnel, Palladium, and USA — and I had a hard time cloning myself, just in New York City. You have 17 locations, you’ve got London, Hong Kong, Dubai, you’re everywhere, you’ve stretched far. You and I have the same problem; how does Richie delegate, and who is that person that you delegate to? Who are these people? You know Steve, it’s probably the hardest thing. First of all, it’s not a cookie-cutter operation … each one’s a little bit different. But there’s an experience and a familiarity people want when they come into Nobu, and that’s really worked in our favor. So I’m very proud of the fact that anyone who’s running a restaurant for me started as a waiter, or a host, or a reservationist.

Is that because of your past, having to work your way up? Yeah, I started out as a dishwasher. The first time I was in Enchanted Garden, I was 15 minutes into the job, 15 years old, I’m loading the racks, it’s a quiet night, and this little guy walks in, and he’s like, “What’re you doing?” and I said, “I’m washing dishes,” and he goes “No, no, no,” and I’m like, “Did I not put the glass in right?” And he goes “You’ve got a nice smile, buddy, (that was my first “buddy,” by the way), you should be out with the people. Bus, do something.” And it was Steve, and he plucked me out of the kitchen. And I realized that you have to do all of those things in order to be a good manager. And I’m very proud because they think I’m doing them a favor, which a little bit I am, but they’re actually doing me a favor because I’m keeping the consistency. So if you’ve been dining in New York and you go to Miami and you see a guy that used to be a waiter here and now he’s a manager, you go, “Wow, he knows me, he knows what I like,” and all of a sudden your experience is going to be better because that ties into an experience somewhere else. So all around the world, that’s how I try to keep the consistency.

Tune in tomorrow for more Richie Notar action.
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