The latest addition to David Chang’s Momofuku empire debuted in Toronto last week. Months after Momofuku’s Toronto restaurants Daisho and Shoto shuttered, Kojin takes over the entire third floor of the glass cube that houses all of Momofuku’s Canadian outposts — and puts Momofuku vet Paula Navarrete in the executive chef role for the first time.
Navarrete got her start at Momofuku as sous chef of Toronto’s Noodle Bar. At the new restaurant, she plans to showcase the full bounty of meat and produce available in Ontario, while incorporating elements of her Colombian heritage. “My goal for the restaurant is to make sure that we’re making really good food and we’re working with Toronto,” Navarrete says. “We really have something very special to share with everybody.”
Kojin is named for the Japanese god of the hearth, and the restaurant’s menu focuses on cooking with fire. Steaks cooked over a wood-fire grill make up an entire section of the menu, and meat features prominently throughout. Navarrete, who spent some time working as a butcher, is particularly excited about the daily sausage selection she developed with Kojin’s in-house butcher, Derek Easton.
During the six years she spent working at Momofuku in Toronto, Navarrete built relationships with farmers, and showcasing Ontario’s produce is also a priority for the chef. “I really admire what people grow here, and I really want to pay respect to the ingredients,” she says.
The flavors at Kojin are at times Canadian — a pork chop comes with pea greens and buckthorn berry — and at other times more clearly linked to the chef’s Colombian background, as in the sizzling prawns with spinach and guajillo.
They’re also squarely Momofuku. Although diners won’t find pork buns at Kojin, other hallmarks of the groundbreaking restaurant group are there. A few larger-format dishes for two or three people dot the menu, and there’s a bing-like flatbread, just as at Chang’s Los Angeles restaurant Majordomo — only at Kojin, it’s made of corn and has a distinctly Colombian bend. “It’s kind of a like a take on an arepa, which is something Colombians grew up eating, but also a take on an English muffin,” Navarrete explains. “It ended up being this thing that is really fluffy and crispy and still very much like a flatbread, but it became its own masterpiece.”
The focus on the hearth carries through to the restaurant’s new, open design. The wood-fire grill is located at the center of the approximately 90-seat dining room, and dark wood and plants have the effect of “bringing the outdoors in,” according to Navarrete.
Most important for the chef is that Kojin feels like a part of Ontario. Navarrete is proud of the fact that as many ingredients as possible — from the produce to the beef — come from within 100 kilometers from the restaurant. “We’re really utilizing everything Ontario has to offer and making sure we pay respect to that, and cooking with fire and really dialing it back to that awesome way of eating,” she says.
Kojin is now open for dinner five nights a week. Take a look around below.
• Kojin [Official]