2017 Foodies of the Year: Joël Watanabe
When everyone was telling him to play it safe, Joël Watanabe decided to gamble with an Italian-Japanese hybrid restaurant.
Owner/Chef, Kissa Tanto, Vancouver
At first blush it sounds like the worst elevator pitch ever. A chef who made his name with an updated take on Shanghainese/Taiwanese food (Bao Bei) decides that for his new venture he wants to fuse—wait for it—Italian and Japanese cuisine, give it a nonsensical name, locate it in a still-transitional part of town and charge downtown prices. Um, hard pass. But it’s a testament to Joël Watanabe’s vision that when everyone was probably telling him to do Bao Bei 2.0, he and partner Tannis Ling went the passionate route, transforming a derelict second-floor room on East Pender into an elegant take on jazz-age cool and creating a menu that walks an exacting tightrope between two cuisines that heretofore were not thought to be natural partners. If there’s anyone else on the planet combining Snake River Farms Wagyu, pearl onion petals, salt, charred scallion sauce, Parmesan, arima sansho, fresh herbs and gnocco fritto, it’d be a miracle. But under Watanabe’s eye it all seems like the most logical idea ever, and the praise—and the attendant crowds—started the moment the doors opened and haven’t stopped since.
JOËL WATANABE’S RECIPE