Foodservice > Chef's Table
Chef Gene Kato is executive chef/partner of Japonais Restaurant in Chicago, IL. Since Japonais’ 2003 opening, Chef Kato has taken the Chicago dining scene by storm by marrying modern day Japanese cuisine with European elegance.
His recipe for clay-pot Seafood Toban Yaki, an elegant melange of impeccably fresh seafood and vegetables, lightly cooked with sake, lemon and naturally brewed Kikkoman Soy Sauce, demonstrates the value Chef Kato places on using the highest quality ingredients. He respects the fact that several hundred years of tradition and expertise are behind each bottle of Kikkoman Soy Sauce – “If it’s good enough for the Japanese imperial family,” says Kato, “it’s good enough for me.” Soy sauce also plays an important role in another dish at Japonais, kakuni or pork belly with clams. The pork belly is simmered in sake to tenderize it, then soy sauce is added in stages for aroma and flavor.
Born in Japan but raised in North Carolina, Kato grew up in a household in which food was always the center of interest. His mother made traditional Japanese dishes like tsukemono (pickles), gyoza (dumplings) and udon nabe (noodle hot pot). “My mother had me cooking at a very young age, and eventually over time that passion for cooking became stronger, leading me to choose this career,” he explains. With his Japanese background, familiarity with soy sauce was a given – in fact, Kato can’t remember a time when it was not a part of his culinary universe.
Chef Kato’s culinary training is a blend of East and West – he received his associate degree in culinary arts at Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina and then spent a year honing his knowledge of Japanese cuisine in kitchens throughout Japan. Upon his return to the U.S., Chef Kato was Chef de Cuisine at Upstream Restaurant (Charleston, SC) and Chef de Cuisine at Mimosa Grill (Charlotte, NC) before relocating to Chicago.
While honing his craft in Japan, Kato was inspired by the universal devotion to perfection that he encountered in the restaurants there. In addition to perfectionism, passion and focus are the two ingredients he considers most vital to his current success: “Passion helps me elevate my food to a higher level and focus helps me refine my technique.” Kato finds it challenging to adapt an ancient cuisine like the Japanese to the younger, spicier American palate. Finding the balance of clean dishes with enough flavor for Americans to enjoy is difficult, he says, but judging by his success at Japonais, Kato appears to have found the winning formula.