Alex Oliveira/Startraks
June 27, 2010 04:30 PM

Iron Chef competitor Masaharu Morimoto’s career nearly came crashing down last fall. The Japanese sushi chef was getting out of a hot tub in a New Jersey spa when he slipped on a wet floor and landed backwards on his right wrist.

“I knew right away that I had broken it,” Morimoto, 55, told PEOPLE. “I thought, ‘What if I can’t go back to the kitchen?’ My wrist is very important to me – it’s my world, my job, my life.”

In addition to his weekly gig on Food Network’s Iron Chef America: The Series, Morimoto, who made a name for himself creating Miso Cod for Nobu, owns five restaurants (heard of NYC’s Morimoto?) in the United States and India and plans to open two more this summer.

Within a day of the accident, Dr. Andrew Weiland of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City operated on Morimoto and inserted a very thin titanium plate in his right wrist. “He had one of the more severe fractures I’ve seen,” says Weiland. “He’s a big guy, so the impact was pretty great.”

For six months, Morimoto worked with a physical therapist doing hand exercises – practicing with a rubber knife – to increase Morimoto s range of motion. He s now able to chop and slice fish, yet still has mild swelling in his wrist.

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