Masaharu Morimoto Inspires the Top Chef Finalists on Their Culinary Journey, Exclusive Interview

Chef Masaharu Morimoto with Top Chef Season 21 final hour on board Holland America Line Eurodam
Chef Masaharu Morimoto with Top Chef Season 21 final hour on board Holland America Line Eurodam / Bravo

In the penultimate episodes of Top Chef Season 21, the four finalists set sail on Holland America Line’s Eurodam and, the cruise line’s Global Fresh Fish Ambassador, Chef Masaharu Morimoto prepared a special meal just for those chefs. While that dinner was one moment in time, the meal captured what makes Chef Morimoto an impactful culinary icon for both people in the culinary industry and diners who appreciate the connectiveness that food offers.

Over its 21 seasons, Top Chef is the only food television show that can list a plethora of Michelin Star, James Beard Award, and other culinary award-winning chefs appearing on its episodes. As the cheftestants navigate the challenges, the well-known chefs, who might be preparing them dinner or judging their food, can render them speechless. Those moments prove that the Top Chef world is more than just another competition. It is a reflection of what it means to be a chef, to be called into the hospitality industry, and to understand how food connects people.

As seen in Top Chef Season 21 episode 13, the final four chefs were prepared a special dinner by Chef Masaharu Morimoto. The meal was a glimpse into his standalone restaurant that is available on Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam as well as some signature dishes that are featured on board other pop-up restaurants within the HAL fleet.

While the episode showed Chef Morimoto’s signature Tuna Pizza and expertly prepared sushi, the finite amount of screen time only gave a glimpse into the impact the meal had on the chefs. What viewers did not see was Dan moved to tears, Savannah rendered speechless, and the awe and pure joy that the chefs experienced in the moment.

Although some people might feel that these words are speculation, they are in fact reality. I had the opportunity to be part of this dining moment on board HAL’s Eurodam. As a food writer who personally has had emotional moments at the table, it stood as a reminder how powerful food can be. And, chefs might appreciate that sentiment even more deeply.

Chef Masaharu Morimoto on board Holland America Line Eurodam during Top Chef Season 21
Chef Masaharu Morimoto on board Holland America Line Eurodam during Top Chef Season 21 / Bravo

Through his appearance on Top Chef, Chef Masaharu Morimoto graciously sat for an interview. When asked about how moved the Top Chef finalists were during that dinner, Chef Morimoto shared these thoughts about his impact on them.

“Having chefs be moved and influenced by my culinary legacy is incredibly humbling and meaningful to me. My work as a chef goes beyond simply cooking food; it's about creating experiences and leaving a lasting impact on others. It motivates me to continue pushing boundaries and inspiring the next generation of chefs to embrace creativity and innovation in their own culinary journeys.”

While the Top Chef moment on board Holland America Line was seen by viewers, a Morimoto dining experience is not limited to just the television screen. Through both his stand alone restaurant and pop-up restaurant offerings, many guests have the opportunity to taste these dishes. Chef Morimoto will not be standing at the pass expediting the food on board, but it is his flavors and concepts.

When asked about his signature dishes featured on board Holland America Line ships, Chef Morimoto said, “The inspiration stems from my appreciation for the sea and my desire to provide passengers with an unforgettable dining experience. The ocean has so many diverse flavors and textures, and I want to bring that spirit to the dining scene. Using the highest and freshest quality of ingredients, I aimed to create dishes that showcase the quality of these ingredients while infusing them with Japanese culinary traditions. Some dishes, like the Sushi Plate, serve as a good entry point for those less familiar with my style, while others offer a bolder exploration of flavors. I've also brought back fond memories of flavors and techniques I've used before but with fresh seafood, the taste is at a different level.”

Halibut XO, Chef Morimoto's dish on Holland America Line
Halibut XO, Chef Morimoto's dish on Holland America Line / Holland America Line

The fresh seafood is a key component to the impeccable flavor on the plate. As Holland America Line’s Fresh Fish Ambassador, Chef Morimoto appreciates that the ingredients can spark a conversation both before and after eating that meal.

As Chef Morimoto said, “It's a great opportunity for guests to explore and appreciate the culinary offerings of each destination we visit. I want guests to leave our dining experience with an appreciation for the quality of fresh fish from our ocean. I want guests to be able to savor the flavors, but also have an understanding of the story behind each dish and the significance of the ingredients that we used. In the end, I just hope all guests leave with respect for the ocean and its resources, encouraging them to make different choices when they dine moving forward.”

Whether it is choosing a dish that they have never tried or learning about different types of fish, food can be the bridge to encouraging a bigger conversation. Many chefs use their food to educate, not just satisfy a hunger. Chef Morimoto accomplishes that with this fish program.

When asked about using underappreciated fish in dishes, Chef Morimoto said, “I am passionate about using underappreciated fish in my dishes and pushing the boundaries of traditional sushi rules. By including these fish in my menus, it's a way to reduce waste in the food industry. I hope to encourage diners to appreciate the dishes’ unique flavors and support any choices of seafood offered.”

Chef Masaharu Morimoto with Top Chef Season 21 final hour on board Holland America Line Eurodam
Chef Masaharu Morimoto with Top Chef Season 21 final hour on board Holland America Line Eurodam / Bravo

While many people will have the opportunity to enjoy a meal at Chef Morimoto’s restaurant on board Holland America Line or at one of his many restaurants across the globe, others simply watch him on food television. From his wicked sense of humor to his poignant Japanese words of wisdom, Chef Morimoto is like a culinary sage that keeps everyone at rapt attention.

People are drawn to the celebrated chef and his presence on screen captivates. When asked about the influence that food television has, Chef Morimoto said,

“I believe food television has played a huge role in broadening appreciation for food and fueling the ongoing conversation about its importance in our lives. It has the power to bring people together and start meaningful conversations about cultural traditions, culinary techniques, and ingredients from around the world. Viewers can gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for food and its connections to different cultures, encouraging them to embark on their own culinary adventures, experiment with flavors, and explore new cuisines. As I am lucky to have my own show, Morimoto Sushi Master on the Roku Channel, I hope to show the world even more!”

During his Top Chef Season 21 meal, Chef Masaharu Morimoto wrote on the chef’s menu in Japanese a phrase that translates to “only one time chance.” For those people who have had a chance to spend time with Chef Morimoto or eat one of his meals, that time might be fleeting but the impact that the experience offered resonates forever.

Top Chef Season 21 airs on Bravo, Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Episodes can be streamed on Peacock.

Chef Masaharu Morimoto is the Holland America Line Fresh Fish Ambassador. His stand-alone restaurant is featured on board Nieuw Amsterdam and other ships in the fleet have pop-up restaurants. Additionally, signature Morimoto dishes are featured in the fleet’s main dining room.