The trick with this concept (Seoul Food and Yakitori Bar) is that we need a chef who is very familiar with both Korean and Japanese cuisine. Easy, you think, since most Japanese restaurants are owned by Koreans or Chinese, and most Korean restaurants carry Japanese dishes. Well, it’s not so easy when you are seeking someone who has both a deep respect for tradition and a playful imagination. Furthermore, two restaurants with two very different styles of food means that you need a chef who can utilize all stations extremely well. Some chefs are great at grilling a perfect steak, but fail dismally with soups; others just manage to not char a chicken wing in the deep-fryer, but excel at sauteeing on burners.
On the menu, I thought obsessively about recreating classic dishes (and therefore capable of passing the test of time in our fickle dining scene), that could still resonate with today’s multi-faceted taste demands. After individual tastings of a slow-cooked meat dish, a grilled fish, a deep-fried chicken, and a vegetable stirfry with four potential executive chefs- two Korean, one Japanese and one Malaysian- I went with the Japanese chef. I had considered one of the Korean chefs as a potential candidate, but discovered that his barrier to entry was, not his skills behind the line, but his too-limited English. I knew it would have been very difficult for him to lead a team that wasn’t entirely Korean-speaking. As for the Japanese chef I chose, I had worked with him on a few restaurant projects in the past, like at the Drake Hotel and KI Modern Japanese, Canada’s most ambitious modern Japanese concept, where he was their first executive chef and creator of their menu. I trusted his familiarity with all stations and the way he could finish a dish to suit today’s Toronto palate, as varied as it is.
Shin Aoyama came to Canada in 1990 from Kagoshima, Japan. While in Japan, he studied kaiseki for 10 years- a multi-course culinary offering that balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food using a variety of different cooking techniques- under some of the top chefs in Kyushu. Kaiseki often included an appetizer, sashimi, a simmered dish, a grilled dish and a steamed course all at the discretion of the chef. After arriving in Vancouver, he was immediately hired as the head sushi chef at the world-renowned Tojo, where he worked for two years. He then moved to Toronto and worked at a number of restaurants in Koreatown, before moving to the famous Japanese landmarks like Masa and EDO. After KI Modern Japanese, he went to work as a culinary consultant in over 16 restaurants, specializing in both Korean and Japanese cuisines.
Shin’s approach to the menu is to offer deceptively simple dishes that place the highest emphasis on ingredients and eye-pleasing detail. At Seoul Food, he will deliver distinct textures and nuanced flavours. At Yakitori Bar, he will be getting a bit down-and-dirty, yielding to the taste for down-home tavern fare in Toronto with deep but wildly interesting combinations.
Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce our Executive Chef.
(I think he knows he has only fourteen days to produce a menu…)