I just got off the phone with an old friend – chef Makoto Ono, who won the first-ever Canadian Culinary Championship back in 2006. We held it in Whistler, B.C., beautifully looked after by the Hilton hotel, and Makoto came through against some very tough competition, including Mark McEwan, representing Toronto, Robert Clark, representing Vancouver, and Michael Blackie, representing Ottawa-Gatineau. With enormous charm and humility, Makoto, representing Winnipeg and the restaurant where he worked (a small bistro-cum-food store called Gluttons) and brilliantly assisted by his pastry chef Chantalle Noschese, aced the three-day competition.
The rest is history. Chantalle became pastry chef at Canoe in Toronto before going back to Winnipeg (the call of the prairies). Makoto was head-hunted to China where he opened a huge and dazzling restaurant in Beijing, called Makoto, which was our principal rendezvous during the 2008 Olympics. When the games were finished he left for Hong Kong, opening a tiny, precious spot called Liberty Private Works, where he cooked an omakase meal for a handful of very select gourmets every night. He also partnered in a big sports bar for the same backers and basically became the talk of the town.
Makoto comes from restaurant roots. His father, Sadao, opened Winnipeg’s renowned Japanese restaurant, Edohei, and Makoto grew up there. He returned early this year to take over the reins while his father battled cancer (the prognosis is positive). Meanwhile Liberty Private Works needed someone to take over and chose Vicky Cheng, a young man who used to work at Canoe, Auberge du Pommier and for Daniel Boulud in New York. If you’re in Hong Kong any time soon, I would recommend a visit.
As for Makoto… His victory in the Winnipeg 2006 Gold Medal Plates was historic for many reasons, not least because it was the first and last time we staged a GMP event in that city. Until this year. We’re going back in the fall, which fills me with happiness. That gives us nine cities across the country, from St. John’s to Vancouver, all prepared to play the GMP game, raising money for Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes. And with the 2012 London games on the horizon, anything we can do becomes very important. Makoto is going to be a part of the event, serving as an honorary judge on the jury of experts who will determine the gold, silver and bronze medallists, and also preparing delectable canapés for the couple-of-hundred VIPs at the preliminary reception.
What the future holds for Makoto is a mystery. His girlfriend is a pastry chef from Vancouver, currently working in Hong Kong where she stars at an all-dessert restaurant (a three-course dessert prix-fixe, like Chickalicious in New York). The idea of doing somewhere together has been broached, he tells me, but who knows where? Vancouver? Why not Toronto, sez I? Meanwhile, we should all go to Winnipeg and ask Makoto to cook for us, omakase style, in his father’s restaurant. I can guarantee it will astonish and seduce the most jaded buds.
Edohei is at 355 Ellice Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba. 204 943-0427. www.edohei.mb.ca.