Katsuji Tanabe, Mexi-Kosher maven, competes on ‘Top Chef’
“I’m a Mexican-Japanese who owns a kosher restaurant.”
Welcome to L.A.
Katsuji Tanabi is our neighborhood chef, founder of the ‘lil Mexican Kosher joint, aptly named Mexi-Kosher, located in the Pico-Robertson area. He’s won Food Network’s “Chopped” and now he’s competing in Bravo’s “Top Chef.” Don’t have time to watch the hour-long episodes? Follow his gastronomical journey here, in recaps!
EPISODE 1: Sudden Death
Guest Judge: Richard Blais, Top Chef Season 8 All Stars Winner
“Hi, my name is Katsuji Tanabe and I sell tacos in Beverly Hills.”
QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE: Timed Techniques
Katsuji’s Technique: Shucking oysters
It’s day one and it’s not pretty. After brief introductions, host Padma Lakshmi gets down to business and, bam!, announces a sudden death quickfire. Contestants are divided into four teams of four.
It’s a timed mission and Katsuji’s team is in the lead. Until it’s his turn to perform. Each person is designated a different task. His, you ask? Shucking oysters.
As you might imagine, the kosher chef can’t shuck. Banging the oysters against the table, Katsuji realizes oysters aren’t his forte.
Still, in the nick of time, he eventually shucks enough and, though not first, his team doesn’t finish last. Saved from elimination!
ELIMINATION CHALLENGE: Cook a spin-off of the first dish you ever made.
Katsuji’s Dish: “Petroleum” shrimp, saffron couscous, serrano aioli and squid ink fondue
Katsuji incorporated way too many elements. A basic “shrimp quesadilla” manifested into a squid-ink-gruyere-cheese-chicharron-hard-boiled-egg overload. Because of his boldness, he’s among three contestants on the chopping block. But he prevails and doesn’t go home!
EPISODE 2: Boston’s Bravest and Finest
Guest Judge: Todd English, Boston Restaurateur
QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE: Surf and Turf
Katsuji’s Dish: Poached sweetbreads, sunny side up quail egg, uni and caviar with hot pepper jelly
There’s no elimination in this quickfire, but the winner gets $5,000.
“I’m not even thinking about $5,000. I just want to prove to the other chefs that I have good days and I have bad days. But right now is the most amazing day,” says Katsuji.
Although the day starts with some mishaps, Katie the klutz, a fellow contestant and culinary instructor, collides with Katsuji when he’s holding a blender’s worth of boiling liquid. The scalding sauce burns him and F-bombs go flying. After that blunder, Katsuji resumes his game-face and serves up a pretty impressive dish.
A contender to win the $5,000, he loses by a hair.
ELIMINATION CHALLENGE: Cook for the commissioners of Boston’s fire and police departments
Group Dish: Pea coconut puree with sauteed halibut, pickled rhubarb and grilled fennel slaw
Through random selection, Katsuji ends up in a group with klutzy Katie (of course) and haughty Mei, sous chef at Michael Voltaggio’s “ink” (LA’s “it” restaurant), who won the elimination challenge last episode.
High and mighty, Mei doesn’t trust any input that isn’t her own. She’s a culinary back-seat driver. When Katsuji says he’ll make the puree sauce, Mei holds up a fight. End of the challenge, Katsuji serves up a beautiful sauce made from peas and avocado. Mei apologizes…sort of.
Although top contenders, his group didn’t win the challenge.
EPISODE 3: The Curse of the Bambino
Guest Judge: Ming Tsai, celebrity chef of fusion cuisine
QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE: Boston Tea Party challenge
Katsuji’s Dish: Toasted brown rice tea broth with brown rice crusted tuna
The contestants have to fuse tea into a dish, so Katsuji selects a toasted brown rice tea blend and, celebrating his roots, concocts a Japanese-inspired dish. Although it receives acclaim from the judges, ultimately, it doesn’t win the challenge.
ELIMINATION CHALLENGE: Fenway Park Concession Food
Katsuji’s Dish: Bread pudding with mushrooms, bacon and deep fried pork belly
Inspired by baseball stadium grub, contestants are expected to take typical Fenway snacks and transform them into fine dining dishes. Katsuji decides to take a swing (get it??) with fried bread. He’s the only contestant to select that gutsy ingredient (the majority of contestants opt for popcorn or pretzels).
The pudding doesn’t go down well with the judges.
While waiting for results, the chefs wait in the kitchen. And that’s when things heat up. Aaron is this season’s putz. Aaron says to Katsuji, “Bread pudding is what five year olds cook, you’re a Top Chef.” Yadda yadda yadda, things heat up in the kitchen, Katsuji says, “You ever talk to me like that again…” and Aaron, unphased says he wants to shove bread pudding in Katsuji’s mouth.
Again on the chopping block for his traif pork belly and bread pudding, the judges tell Kastuji he needs to be a better editor.
EPISODE 4: Chefs Walk Into a Bar…
QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE: Upscale Bar Food
Katsuji’s Dish:Mahi mahi and tuna ceviche tostada with roasted tomato and jalapeno salsa
In yo’ face! Katsuji won. The challenge takes place at the Boston bar Cheers and actor George Wendt (Norm!) guest judges. Katsuji earns immunity from elimination.
ELIMINATION CHALLENGE: Three Course Italian Meal
Katsuji’s Dish: Spring pea and goat cheese ravioli with pecorino, green chili and mint
Teams have to write and create a three-course menu. Katsuji’s in a team with Aaron (the bread pudding shover) and Gregory, Season 12’s star child (who practically wins every competition). As to be expected, Aaron and Katsuji butt heads, but they keep it to a minimum.
While cooking his ravioli dish, Katsuji gets a special gluten-free request. A deer in headlights, he deconstructs his ravioli rather than substituting the pasta for a gluten-free option. Turns out, the celiac is actress Emmy Rossum. Judges are unhappy with his ravioli, but who cares! Katsuji has immunity.