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Chef Nakagawa Earns One of Toronto’s First Michelin Stars at Aburi Hana

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By Sophie Brochu

Last month, Aburi Hana became one of the first restaurants in Canada to receive a Michelin star. With chef Ryusuke Nakagawa’s modern spin on Kyō-Kaiseki cuisine, Aburi Hana delicately balances tradition and innovation. See what the chef has to say about gastronomy, inspiration, and seasonality.

Congratulations on receiving your first Michelin star. How does it feel to be included in Toronto’s inaugural guide?

I feel honoured and thrilled to be recognized. The recognition is a great motivation for the entire Aburi Hana team and me to continue to elevate our standards whilst showcasing the beauty of Kaiseki cuisine to the world.

Autumn Fish. Credit: Leslie Seto.

What is Kaiseki cuisine?

Kaiseki cuisine is a traditional multi-course Japanese dining concept. I am trained as a Kyō-Kaiseki chef, which means Kaiseki cuisine with the techniques, tradition, and heritage of Kyoto, one of Japan’s oldest cities. My cooking style embodies a modern interpretation of Japan’s most revered tradition to create a distinctively contemporary experience. I incorporate local produce to reflect the changing seasons with a foundation of the finest Japanese ingredients from the land and sea. I also aim to introduce new flavours and textures to each guest using modern and ancient gastronomy techniques.

What is your biggest source of inspiration? 

What influences me the most when designing each course is the scenery that changes with the seasons. Traditional Japanese cuisine places great importance on unique aspects of each of the seasons. It can be monumental things like mountains and seascapes, but inspiration can also be derived from everyday scenery, such as colourful flowers lined up at a flower shop.

Autumn Shinogi. Credit: Leslie Seto.

What dish or ingredient are you most excited about right now?

Starting in October, Aburi Hana will be introducing a full-fledged autumn menu. As for Canadian ingredients, I am incorporating seasonal matsutake mushrooms, and for the first time on this menu, I am featuring Canadian lamb. In terms of Japanese ingredients, you can expect monkfish liver and salmon roe from Hokkaido, which are very limited imports.

“Inspiration can be derived from everyday scenery, such as colourful flowers lined up at a flower shop.”

What challenges have you had to face along your journey in becoming a Michelin-starred chef?

I think the most important thing for a chef is the foundational skills of cooking. Many Michelin chefs are able to create very unique dishes because of their solid foundation in cooking techniques. For me, learning the basics is repetitive and not particularly the most exciting, especially when you only have limited time and resources for training. Looking back, I’d say the hardest period of my journey was my training around the age of 18.

Autumn Takiawase. Credit: Leslie Seto.

What’s your go-to meal on a day off?

I am a Japanese chef, but I love to try other types of cuisine on my days off. There is a lot to be influenced and learned from, especially in Ontario, Canada. I also have a family (wife and daughter) so I love going to new restaurants with them.

As the season changes, what can guests look forward to at Aburi Hana?

At Aburi Hana, you can expect many elements to change from menu to menu. Not only the ingredients but also the temperature of the dish, the presentation, the type of dish, and the pairings. Everything is carefully developed to express the feeling of the season. Not only will the experience be delicious, but you will also get the opportunity to enjoy elements that can only be experienced during that season.

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