Owner: Barry Chaim
Executive Chef: Ryo Ozawa
Dining with Barry Chaim at EDO while Executive Chef Ryo Ozawa prepares the dishes is an exciting experience. The sequence of service, the analysis of ingredients and the intricacies of each dish introduced by these experts encourages me to discard my “oh, no, I can’t eat that” beliefs and absorb the beauty of Ryo’s special sei ryori creations. The hot new cuisine in Tokyo is Japanese style/French technique. At EDO, they’ve coined the phrase Nihonçoise—and the menu is brilliant. Barry carefully unwraps his chopsticks and bends one, illustrating that while bamboo is very strong, one chopstick can be broken. But two together, as a team, are unbreakable. And that, at EDO, is my point exactly.
Sara Waxman: How did you meet?
Barry Chaim: Ryo placed first among 13,000 in an all-Japan cooks competition sponsored by the Canadian embassy to promote Canadian foods in Japan. As a reward, the winning chefs came to Canada in 2002, and we met. A year later, when I went to Japan to look for sushi chefs, I learned that Ryo wanted to come to Canada but he was not a sushi chef. I said, if Ryo wants to come to Canada, I would find a way. Ryo came in 2004 and started as a line cook but my objective was always to have him as head chef. He has worked his way up in experience, strength and confidence and most importantly in building this team.
SW: Your roles at EDO are closely tied. Barry, where do you come in?
BC: I come in before, during and after. When Ryo arrived, he experienced culture shock. His biggest challenge was to build a team and not try to do it all by himself. It was tough for him to find people with the quality that could relate to his Japanese ethic that is unique for teamwork. I think one of the things he recognized and what made him want to work for me is that I understand and have respect for individuals and for me teamwork is also essential. No matter your place in the organization, skill, education, and what you can bring to the company from a business standpoint, in terms of respect, everybody is treated equal here. He lets me be who I am; I let him be who he is. We don’t try to change each other but we don’t hold anything back.
Ryo Ozawa: These seven years made a difference. Barry became president and I became Executive Chef. We sometimes have different opinions on how to make a strong team. But I just try to be fair with everybody, with everything, thinking and preparing, from the president’s point of view to the dishwasher’s point of view and executive chef ’s point of view, we have to know how we can share and cooperate together, that is most important.
SW: Do you cook, Barry? BC: I don’t cook at EDO but I do have the ability and experience to know what our customers want. This has been a learning experience for Ryo as well because not everything that’s Japanese will appeal to the western customer; they might not take to some of the dishes/styles easily. I push in certain directions, sometimes he’s resistant, sometimes we agree. But we both agree on where we want the restaurant to be. Ryo is trained as a sei ryori chef. That means western cooking. But it’s western cooking in Japanese ways. In Japan, there’s an association of 13,000 chefs who are sei ryori trained. So you go to Japan today and see contemporary Japanese and contemporary cooking at an Italian or French restaurant, it will be a Japanese version.
RO: Responsibility wise, I have nothing to do with running the business. But I am always trying to think of new opportunities and possibilities. For the dishes, we coordinate together. For example, EDO is doing a Kobe beef hotdog and a Kobe beef hamburger. That was Barry’s idea. When I heard hotdog, I thought, ‘no, I don’t want to do it. Hotdog and hamburger? I’m not that kind of cook.’ But, you know, he was right. Now we are doing them, they are getting popular. Barry understands the business, and I understand the cooking. A hotdog with Japanese curry and wasabi sauce. This is my job, to create. We communicate and cooperate and what the customer wants is the result.
SW: But your ideas for the future are together? BC: We have two restaurants now, and we’re negotiating for a third one. We’ve been at the Air Canada Centre since it opened, and we have our wholesale and catering business. I have invested a lot into this restaurant in the last couple of years. But every business is about the people. I think we are a truly good team, we understand our limits and our opportunities and we can go forward.
EDO Fine Japanese Dining
484 Eglinton Ave. W., Toronto