HIDEKAZU TOJO, OWNER CHEF

Beginning in Japan
Hidekazu Tojo grew up in post-war Japan beneath the stunningly beautiful volcanic mountain named Sakurajima in Kagoshima, at the southernmost tip of Japan. As a young man he traveled to Osaka where he apprenticed at the famed Ohnoya restaurant, one of Japan’s leading ryotei, a very high end, very traditional restaurant. During years of 16-hour days at the Ohnoya Tojo mastered an encyclopaedic repertoire of some 2000 traditional Japanese recipes that he can draw on from memory even today. Here he also developed the disciplines of selecting the finest and freshest fish and produce. Recognizing that his own passion for inventiveness was leading him beyond the then-strict boundaries of cuisine in Japan, Tojo chose to come to North America in 1971, where he felt that a multicultural population without preconceptions would be more receptive to his ideas. He found his perfect audience in Vancouver.
Creating a New Cuisine

Vancouver in the early 1970s had only four Japanese restaurants, and at one of them, Maneki, Tojo’s first original dishes were aimed at creating a meeting place for North American tastes and Japanese techniques. Traditional tuna sashimi became Tojo Tuna (maguro ae) using local albacore tuna (unfamiliar to Japan), and his still-secret marinade which solved the problem of westerners’ unfamiliarity with sashimi dipping sauces. Served today in dishes made of green bamboo, it remains a favorite forty years later.  For those who felt uneasy eating raw fish wrapped in dried seaweed, there was cooked crabmeat and avocado, rolled “inside out” to hide the seaweed wrapper. Thus was born what is now universally known as the “California Roll” - not for its land of origin, but for the avocado. Today this is the staple sushi for millions of North Americans who have no idea that it originated with Tojo, in Canada. Fresh local ingredients unknown or very rare in Japan found pride of place in the dishes he served his customers: Gindara (Alaska black cod, aka sablefish), baked local oysters, local albacore tuna, asparagus, and famously: salmon (always wild, never farmed). Tojo’s barbecued salmon-skin roll, first created in 1974, was originally a response to the difficulty of obtaining eel (anago) on this side of the Pacific. It turned out to be one of those substitutes that is arguably better than the original. It can today be found in virtually every Japanese restaurant on the West Coast, under the name of “BC roll”Tojo was also the first to introduce smoked salmon in Japanese cuisine.

As the head chef of the tiny Jinya restaurant Tojo-san presided over Japanese food’s phenomenal growth in popularity in the 1980s. As more and more diners appeared with some familiarity with the now-standard sushi repertoire, Tojo began to surprise them (and delight those less eager to eat raw fish) with a wider range of cooked dishes, and with traditional dishes that even Japanese visitors recognize as rare and special.

Tojo's Restaurant

On October 6, 1988 Tojo opened Tojo’s Restaurant on the second floor of 777 West Broadway in a quirky space with a homemade feel where he quietly garnered an international reputation. In January of 2007 he moved four blocks west to 1133 W. Broadway into much larger and finer surroundings that nevertheless retain Tojo’s air of creativity and informality.  Here he welcomes the stars of Hollywood North, visiting executives of Japanese corporations, pilgrims who have read reviews of his restaurant in publications from around the world, and, as always, an expanding loyal community of Vancouver regulars. He treats each with respectful equanimity mixed with infectious laughter, assuming that each shares his appreciation of freshness and originality. It is here that Tojo has begun to train a new generation of chefs, sharing the discipline of his own training and the insights of a lifetime devoted to unceasing invention. Today a tightly-knit team of gifted chefs from around the world assist him behind the sushi counter and in the kitchen. Each one could run a restaurant of their own, but they stay together, under the watchful eye of the master, competing  with one another to concoct new cooked dishes, new sushi and special desserts that bear their own stamp while living up to Tojo’s standards. The winners are our favorite customers: the ones eager to try whatever  this day has inspired.

Awards
Where to Dine, 2011-2013
Vancouver Magazine, Best Upscale Japanese, 2013
DiRoNa achievement of Distinction in Dining, 2012
Vancouver Magazine’s restaurant award, Best Formal Japanese, 2011-2012
Canadian Food & Wine Affair People’s Choice Award, 2010, 2012
MTV Japan 2010
TV Tokyo, Japan Allstars, 2012
NBC Today Show, Olympic 2010
Wall Street Journal, Selected 10 Sushi Chef in the World, New York, 2009
Financial Times, England, 2009
Vancouver Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award, 2009
City of Vancouver Mayor’s Award for Culinary Arts, 2009
Vancouver Magazine’s Best Japanese Award, 1988 – 2013
Zagat Rated Extraordinary, 2007- 2012
British Columbia Restaurants Hall of Fame, 2006
Quotes
“Tojo is a force behind the counter, shouting rapid-fire orders in Japanese, slicing fish with aplomb and sipping what may well sake from his bamboo cup.”
The Washington Post, July 2009 
“Tojo’s is Japanese but so suffused with Vancouver’s multi-ethinic sensibility…”
Financial Times, Sept 2009 
“Chef Hidekazu Tojo is known for his high-energy, celebrity-courting style.”
The Wall Street Journal, 2008
“Again: The perennial winner, Canada’s king of sushi has polished his crown even more…”
Tim Pawsey, “Most Memorable Meals” Essential Vancouver, 2008/2009
“Tojo’s is where you should surrender yourself to unsurpassed culinary skills, and be rewarded with great favourites such as Canada’s famous sable fish”
Lawrence Grobel, “Tojo: Vancouver’s Zen Master of Sushi’ World Luxury Collections, Winter 2008

“WIth Tojo, expect the unexpected and expect it to be brilliant.”
Vancouver Sun, Feb 2009
“At the centre of it all is the beaming and energetic Tojo, who performs his magic with the precision of a surgeon and the faitest Vegas swagger.”
1000 Places to See Before You Die, 2007
“Some foodies say they’d die for a plate of Hidekazu Tojo’s exquisite sashimi…”
Naked Eye, Spring 2008
“Many notiable celebrities, including the Rolling Stones and Harrison Ford, are ardent Tojo fans.”
Nuvo, Spring 2008
“Tojo’s is where you should surrender yourself to unsurpassed culinary skills, and be rewarded with great favourites such as Canada’s famous sable fish.” 
World Luxury Collection, Winter 2008
“This Tojo is a true sushi master.” 
World: The Luxury Lifestyle Magazine, New Zealand Edition, 2006
“It’s no wonder every celebrity, food editor and politician who passed through town by chef/properietor Hidekazu Tojo’s terrific, award-winning spot”
Vancouver Fashion, March 2003
“Tojo’s, a Japanese Restaurant where dining is grander and more enticing than a geisha’s dance”
The Washington Post, 1998
Select TV Appearances
Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmerman, Sept 2013
Simply Ming PBS with Ming Tsai, Sept 2013
Glutton for Punishment TV on Food Network, March 2008 – Chef Tojo took Bob Blumer to Japan and taught him how to prepare a deadly blowfish
No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain  Travel Channel, January 2008
Martha Stewart Cooking Show, 2004
Select Print Media Appearances
The TRUMP International Hotel & Tower Celebration Party, Dec 2013
Lufthansa, Woman’s World, Lokal genial, 2013
“Rolling Through Vancouver’s Olympic – Size Sushi Scene”, Remy Scalza, Washington Post, July 26 2009
“Trust Them”, Wall Street Journal, Oct 31, 2008
“1000 Places to See Before You Die”, Patricia Schultz, 2003, 2007
“The Search for Sushi”, Carl Chu, 2006
“Make Room, Nobu”, Naked Eye Magazine, Sarah Keenlyside, 2008