David Chang’s food em­pire adds a fiery new twist with Ko­jin

NOW Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - Story & photos by NATALIA MANZOCCO

Momofuku Ko­jin (190 Univer­sity, at Ade­laide, 647-253-6227, ko­jin. has re­placed Momofuku Daisho and Shoto on the top floor of Momofuku’s restau­rant com­plex within the Shangri-La Ho­tel.

The New York-based food em­pire is syn­ony­mous with chef-owner-turned-me­dia-per­son­al­ity David Chang and his ir­rev­er­ent brand of Asian fu­sion. But at Ko­jin, some­one else is front and cen­tre: Toronto chef Paula Navar­rete, who worked her way up from sous chef at Noo­dle Bar to be­come the chef at Daisho.

“Dave has been noth­ing but my big­gest sup­porter,” Navar­rete says. When the de­ci­sion was made to shut­ter the tast­ing-menu-ori­ented Shoto and large­for­mat Daisho – mostly, she says, out of a de­sire to keep things fresh – she and Chang de­cided to col­lab­o­rate on a new con­cept. “We wanted to do some­thing to­gether, and he re­ally pushed me to think out­side the box and re­ally

em­brace every­thing about Toronto and my back­ground. We talked about food, guest ex­pe­ri­ence, ser­vice style, how to cre­ate a restau­rant that has a story.”

Navar­rete’s menu, in a way, is her own his­tory, com­bined into three main threads: The food of Colom­bia, the coun­try of her birth; the in­flu­ence of Toronto, where she’s spent years work­ing in kitchens (in­clud­ing learn­ing butch­ery at Sana­gan’s); and her time work­ing at Momofuku. “Every­thing comes from a Toronto stand­point of bring­ing dif­fer­ent ideas to­gether,” she says.

The re­sult is some­thing de­cid­edly dif­fer­ent from many of the ex­ist­ing Momo kitchens. Though you’ll still find touches of kim­chi and XO sauce, the South Amer­i­can in­flu­ence drives the menu, as does the wood-burn­ing oven that’s the cor­ner­stone of the kitchen. (Ko­jin is the Ja­panese god of the hearth.)

“I’ve been sur­rounded by grill cook­ing for a very long time – not even cook­ing in the in­dus­try, but at home,”

Navar­rete says. Her fam­ily took fre­quent road trips when she was young, and BBQ cook­ing was a fre­quent oc­cur­rence.

She also pulls in­spi­ra­tion from lo­cal On­tario pro­duc­ers, adding that she’s worked with 100km Foods since the restau­rant’s open­ing. “They do a great job of let­ting you meet the farm­ers, re­ally get­ting to know them,” she says.

The menu changes fre­quently as items come in and out of sea­son; Navar­rete is lament­ing the end of tomato sea­son but is pumped for chili pep­pers sea­son to start. “We just start mod­i­fy­ing things as items come avail­able, she says. “I lit­er­ally wait on the phone or look at my texts un­til some­one says, ‘You can get corn now!’”

And, Navar­rete adds, that wood-burn­ing stove is an ex­cel­lent way to show­case a high-qual­ity in­gre­di­ent.

“It’s a re­ally orig­i­nal way of cook­ing – not as in cool, but as in, that’s the way ev­ery­one used to cook,” she says. “It feels warm – it feels like home.” | @na­tal­ia­man­zocco

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