The Sport That Masaharu Morimoto Nearly Went Pro In

Long before he was an Iron Chef, Masaharu Morimoto was a competitor of a different sort: an exceptional baseball player with his sights set on the pros. You'll remember Morimoto most recently from his 2017 appearance on "Iron Chef Gauntlet," but the famous chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author began making television appearances in the late 1990s, competing first on the original "Iron Chef" in Japan and on "Iron Chef America" thereafter (via Food Network).

Morimoto first caught the attention of producers while cooking at New York's famous Nobu, where his style with Japanese roots incorporated the foods and cooking styles of the world, from Chinese spices to Italian ingredients and sophisticated French presentations. Morimoto thinks of his style as "global 21st century" cooking. 

In addition to being a well-known cooking show competitor, Morimoto was simultaneously opening a slew of his own restaurants across the world from New York and Philadelphia to Mumbai, Las Vegas, Maui, Dubai, and more (via Iron Chef Morimoto).

An injury led Morimoto to cooking

In an interview with Outlook India, Morimoto said he had two dreams as a child in Hiroshima, Japan: becoming a baseball player and a chef. But all of Morimoto's achievements, including his Michelin star, James Beard Award, and countless other commendations might have been lost to fate if not for an injury that dashed a young Morimoto's dreams of baseball. 

A talented and hard-working high school catcher, Morimoto said he took baseball very seriously, and was about to be signed by his major league hometown Hiroshima Cubs when a shoulder injury permanently benched him. To this day, Morimoto has a reminder of his injury: as he showed CNN, he can still make his injured shoulder "pop" when he moves it.

Morimoto bravely gave up on his first dream and "went straight to the next," he told Outlook India. Dropping his catcher's mitt and picking up his knife, Morimoto began studying sushi (via Barron's) and opened his first restaurant at 24. Five years later, in 1994, he moved to the U.S. for his Nobu job, where he was quickly promoted to executive chef and helped Nobu grow into the genre-defining sushi restaurant it became.

But what about baseball? We'll never know how far Morimoto could have gone, but if his game was as good as his cooking, the world would probably be raving about not about the celebrity chef, but Hall-of-Fame catcher Masaharu Morimoto.