My DiRoNa

“Celebrating the art of culinary excellence”

This year marked the 20th anniversary of DiRoNa (Distinguished Restaurants of North America), established in Toronto as a non-profit professional organization dedicated to recognizing and promoting excellence in fine dining. Vice Chair Barry Chaim, owner of EDO and EDO Group of Companies in Toronto, presented the final day of the three day conference by highlighting Japanese cuisine, and the philosophy of “Oh-Kyaku-San: Guest and Customer are One.”

Following a lunch of artful samples of Japanese tradition prepared in the Royal York Upper Canada Room by Toronto’s top Japanese chefs including: The Toronto Chef Team at Benihana; Chef Yale Zhong, EDO; Chef Kimura, Gingko; Chef Hiro Yoshida, Hiro Sushi; Chef Daisuke Izutsu, Kaiseki Sakura; and Chef Motoaki Aoki, Mye, Oakville; the afternoon session began.

Weighing in at 140 lbs., a giant tuna was carried onto a demonstration table in the Royal York Ballroom as Iron Chef 2002, Kimio Nonaga, readied his sharp sashimi blades that could make Ginsu knives look like Tonka toys. In a case of mistaken identity, I was called up to the microphone to translate for the audience as Chef Nonaga prepared to cut open the fish.

Saved by the bell! In the last moment, the real Robert Kosoy, of Unity Trading Inc. came forward to translate for us as the tuna was sliced and presented with masterful finesse. I observed in amazement, and wiped my brow with a sigh of relief.

Following the tuna demonstration, Kosoy spoke to us about the famed and highly prized, Japanese beef: Wagyu. Wa (harmony; Japan) Gyu (Chinese character for cow) only began “official” import to Canada in 2008. There are five major breeds: Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Polled, Japanese Shorthorn, and Kumamoto Reds, all genetically predisposed to marbling—most of which is a very high percentage of oleaginous unsaturated fat with omega 3 and 6. While every cattle region in Japan has a different style of producing beef, they are all competitive in their care with 12 grades of Beef Marbling Standards—the highest grade being 5, with mid range at 3.

In Canada, Washugyu has been making waves. Originally from the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, it was too expensive to raise the cattle in Japan with ingredients imported from North America. The goal was then to raise the cattle in North America, closer to source and then import it back; designed as a product grown in North America at a lower cost for Japanese consumers. However, all of this changed when Japan banned imports of all U.S. beef following the discovery and subsequent panic of BSE.

Now, rather than export this very high quality beef to Japan, it is sold within North America. A cross breading of Japanese Wagyu Bull and Angus cow from Oregon, Washugyu has the best genetics, but also the Japanese know how. Genetics are obviously key, but the feeding program has to match it, so the feed is the same as in Japan, and the cattle environment is also stress free. Aged for 27-30 months on average–much longer than domestic style beef—90% is U.S. prime product.

At first bite: total sensational awareness of a sustained high quality texture and flavour. For beef lovers, it is wonderful. Second bite: an absolute need to know where in Toronto we can order this again.

In Toronto, you can find it at: EDO .
In New York, it can be purchased at: Washugyu Butcher Shop – 57 Great Jones St. (btwn Lafayette & Bowery), 212-260-2333.
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There are currently 800 restaurants throughout North America that have received the DiRoNa Distinction—in Canada alone, 360. Categories of distinction are “Timeless Traditional”, the crown jewels of fine dining; “Creative Contemporary”, the best of modern casual cuisine; and “Legendary Landmarks”, established regional ‘hot spots’. The three-day conference included educational sessions like navigating social media, emerging culinary trends, and thriving in a downward economy, as well as industry networking, and the celebration of culinary excellence that attracted luminaries from Donald Ziraldo to Barry Callebaut.

This year’s certificate of distinction was bestowed upon EDO, Toronto; Cioppino’s Restaurant, Vancouver; and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Mississauga. Made up of key media and independent inspectors, the DiRoNa designation recognizes restaurants that meet the high quality standards related to physical property, environment, décor, service, the variety, creativity, health and nutrition of the menu, wine selection, and the quality of cuisine.

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