“I can experiment in culinary school and not worry about my grades, or I can experiment at work and get fired,” begins this young chef, humorously recounting his years of youthful rebellion, from his atypical upbringing as a child in the heart of Mexico through culinary school in The United States. The son of a Japanese father and a Mexican mother, those early years were spent at the apron of the family’s many in-home chefs, creating his first meal at the age of six – Paella! He discovered himself relocated to Los Angeles at the age of eighteen, alongside his newly single mother, with both thrust into an entirely new world that now required employment. Banking on the skills learned at the side of those trusted family employees of his past, Tanabe embarked upon a culinary career that would discover a wealth of twists and turns.
While a student at Le Cordon Bleu, Katsuji discovered that his real education was occurring via off-site internships in several of LA’s more prestigious restaurants. “I decided it was time to leave culinary school when I got into serious trouble for making a pretzel in the shape of Mickey Mouse, although it turned out to be the best possible decision,” he stated. Line cook stints soon followed at the celebrated, four star Bastide Restaurant and Loew’s Beverly Hills. Soon thereafter, Tanabe was promoted to Sous Chef positions at Beverly Hill’s Mastro’s Steakhouse, and Hollywood’s A-List Sterling Steak House. Through a unique twist of fate, Tanabe was approached to lead the kitchen of LA’s Kosher Steak House, Shilo’s, in the heart of the Los Angeles Kosher Corridor. Rather than becoming restricted by the laws ruling all kosher establishments, Tanabe discovered that creativity and cooking skills could transform a cuisine that he viewed as lost in time. “The first week, I created a menu item – A Bacon Cheeseburger! – that sounded as though I had ignored the laws that I had agreed to abide by, when in fact, I had created an entirely new dish that strictly observed all laws. The next day, I discovered myself surrounded by the kosher inspectors, asking me to recreate the burger, as well as my new “Bacon Wrapped Scallops.” When the inspectors reported that they observed no violations, I was suddenly the only chef in Los Angeles bringing fresh ideas and creativity to kosher dining. I was just substituting inventiveness for the prohibited food items. And suddenly, we were packed every night.” Following five years of creating new and inspired dishes at Shilo’s, opportunity once again came knocking on his door.
A restaurant space became available just across the street (the space, incidentally, boasts a stone wall, mined and transported from the quarry of The Western Wall. Value? Approximately $80,000.00!), and the building’s owner was a Tanabe fan. Now, however, rather than adopting the title of Executive Chef, Tanabe was now the Chef, Partner, and Owner. And he was determined to cook the food that he knew best – the beloved food of his youth, Mexican. And it would be Kosher; in fact, the very first Kosher Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles. Again, certain food staples of local Mexican cuisine would not be allowed – Shrimp, Pork, Dairy – and, once again, Tanabe’s creativity leaped into action. Creating menus that include “carnitas” made from brisket braised in duck fat, and soy-based “sour cream,” Tanabe set out to construct menus that spoke to his childhood memories, as well respecting the strict laws of his very large loyal following in the Los Angeles Kosher community. “We tried to open quietly, but the first week we sold out of food every single day and were forced to close early,” begins Tanabe. Although busy from day one, Tanabe remains a chef and he remains restless. Menus change weekly, specials change daily, he now offers fourteen house made salsas with more on the way. Tanabe has discovered a world of diners that have never experienced even one bite of his childhood cuisine, and finds himself explaining basic dishes dozens of times each day (You will find Wikipedia definitions of Mole on the MexiKosher Facebook page!) and, he adds proudly, “We’ll usually see them again the very next day. We already have a very loyal customer base. I’m cooking the food that I love, that I eat, and that I grew up with… just with a little twist. I don’t think of MexiKosher as a Kosher restaurant. I think of MexiKosher as a great little restaurant that just happens to be kosher.”
MEXIKOSHER | 8832 W. Pico Blvd | Los Angeles | CA | 90035
310.271.0900 | www.mexikosher.com