Mav Chefs 2015: Chef Kazuo Akutsu, Kazu Restaurant, Montreal, Quebec
If you’ve ever wondered whether or not all Japanese food is sushi, wonder no further. Akutsu has proven that Japanese cuisine is so much more. His izakaya-style restaurant, Kazu, in the heart of Montreal was the first of many new family-style Japanese restaurants to pop up in Canada. Akutsu and his wife Yuko opened Kazu together to show us Canadians that Japanese cuisine has more dimension and excitement than raw fish in seaweed provides. From the limited seating (there are lineups out down the street even during a weekday) to the hand-written menus to the homemade ice cream and delicious iced green tea, Akutsu reveals the true nature of a Japanese family dinner, with his own unique twists.
What exactly is an izakaya?
Izakaya is a family restaurant offering small things, like tapas, for five or six dollars. When I go to restaurants with small portions, I find it difficult — two bites and you’re done. I like to serve big portions because guests can share, so we have big portions here.
What made you decide to open Kazu?
Because there were so many Japanese restaurants, but they were either just sushi or weren’t true Japanese cuisine. The other restaurants changed the food so it wasn’t Japanese anymore. We wanted to make traditional, family-style Japanese cuisine served in a comfortable setting.
Why have you kept the restaurant small, instead of expanding?
We are able to make quality food in a small setting. If we expanded, the food we prepared wouldn’t be the same. This place is good because we seat 30 people and have five people in the kitchen. It’s easy to serve people quickly; they don’t have to wait. If we expanded, there would be more people and no communication with the customers. Staying small allows us to keep the restaurant comfortable.
What inspires your new recipes?
Every day I wake up thinking about food and write it down on paper. Food and new recipes are always on my mind. We serve traditional-style Japanese cuisine, but I get creative with it. I worked at a French restaurant and an Italian one and add those styles into the mix — but the taste is pure Japanese.
It’s said that your broths and sauces are amazing — what makes them different?
They are traditional Japanese recipes, but I’ll add a little spice to them, maybe some chilli or other spices. Japanese cuisine doesn’t have spices, only wasabi. Sushi is the only spicy dish. So I like to incorporate spices to the traditional recipes, to make them better.
What is your most favourite moment at Kazu?
When we first opened, we didn’t have many visitors. But after one week, we had a lineup out the door. We were so happy.
It’s easy for restaurants like yours to get fresh fish. Can you still cook something good with frozen fish?
It’s not really that easy to get fresh fish in Montreal, especially in the winter. In the summer, we can go to the fish market, but in the winter, not really. When you have fresh fish, you would cook it one way, but when you have frozen fish, you’d cook it another way. If you can’t get fresh fish, you just need to use a different style of cooking, like marinating.
Can anyone learn to cook like you?
My cooking is made from the heart. People need to cook with their heart and the food they make will be delicious.
- 80 g flour
- 120 ml water
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 200 g cabbage, minced to 1cm
- 150 g small shrimp
- 2 medium eggs
- Okonomiyaki sauce (see recipe below)
- Mixed green salad
- Aonori (aka green laver)
- Dried bonito flakes
- Red pickled ginger
- Tempura flakes
In a bowl, mix flour, water and soy sauce. Add cabbage and stir 20 times. Then add eggs and shrimp, and stir 10 times.
Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Pour in the mixture and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until well browned. Flip and cook the other side for 5 to 6 minutes.
Remove from heat and put on a plate. Cover with mayonnaise and Okonomiyaki sauce; garnish with mixed green salad, aonori, bonito flakes, red ginger and tempura flakes — as much as you like!
Match: Serve with a light lager.
Mix together: 1 tsp ketchup, 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 tsp Tonkatsu sauce, 1/2 tsp soy sauce and 1/2 tsp honey. Use in recipe above or as a Japanese barbecue sauce (because that’s what it is).
Kazu Restaurant, 1862 Sainte-Catherine St W, Montreal