You may not have ever dined at Tojo’s Restaurant (1133 West Broadway), but chances are you know chef Hidekazu Tojo’s food: the sushi master is credited with creating the ubiquitous California Roll.
He’s renowned for much more than that, however, having introduced Vancouver to omakase, the term meaning “I’ll leave it to you”, where diners entrust the chef to create a multicourse tasting menu based on whatever fresh ingredients are on hand that day for a selection of hot and cold dishes. He’s also a Goodwill Ambassador for Japanese cuisine, an honour given to him by the Japanese government in 2016.
Chef Tojo is soon marking a milestone: in October, his eponymously named restaurant marks 30 years in business. That’s no small feat in a city like Vancouver, where competition in the restaurant industry is fierce and new, exciting establishments are opening all the time. To this day, he still works in the kitchen six days a week. If he’s not there, it’s because he’s on his annual trip Japan to keep up to date on the culinary trends of his home country, according to a release.
“In 1971, I realized that I needed to go beyond the boundaries of cuisine in Japan so I chose to come to North America,” Tojo said. “Vancouver offered me the perfect challenge as there were only a few Japanese restaurants available in the early 70s.
“To become any kind of chef, not just a sushi chef, or even for any kind of job, you must love what you do," he said. You must have a passion for it and that’s it. I always knew that cooking was what I wanted to do, but inventing new ways for enjoying and savouring food is what I do best and what I am most proud of.”
The chef worked at various Vancouver restaurants after arriving here in 1971 from his native Kagoshima via Osaka, opening Tojo’s Restaurant in 1988.
He went on to develop the world’s most popular sushi roll after realizing that many diners here weren’t used to eating raw seafood wrapped in seaweed. He created one with cooked crabmeat and avocado rolled “inside out” to hide the seaweed wrapper. He calls it the Tojo Roll at his restaurant, where it’s made with West Coast Dungeness crab, avocado, spinach, and egg, topped with sesame seeds.
Tojo’s Restaurant appears regularly as a finalist in the Georgia Straight’s Golden Plates awards, while the man himself has been named one of the top 10 best sushi chefs in the world by the Wall Street Journal. He has also appeared on the late Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, Martha Stewart’s Cooking and the Food Network’s Glutton for Punishment.
In celebration of its 30th anniversary, Tojo’s will launch “Anniversary Sushi”, a series of menu items that showcases local ingredients such as smoked sablefish, herring roe on kelp, and Tojo’s own pickled ginger. Available after October 7, dishes will be prepared battera-style, which is pressed sushi traditionally from Osaka, and Temari-style, traditionally from Kyoto.More