It’s no news that chef Katsuji Tanabe has a love affair with the South. “The South has such a rich food culture and history; I really fell in love with it during Top Chef Charleston,” he says. So much, in fact, the Top Chef alum, cookbook author, and restaurateur recently moved across the country from Los Angeles to Raleigh, North Carolina, to better provide for his family and to take part in the city’s rapidly flourishing food scene.
“I’ve always been after the American Dream and right now that means making our home here in Raleigh and creating a destination for the kind of fun dining I love to create.” Tanabe’s latest endeavor is a Top Chef-inspired restaurant opening in downtown Raleigh (208 Wolfe St.) late 2019. The chef hopes to be a larger part of the revitalization of historic City Market and the surrounding Moore Square area.
Tanabe will add to the city’s eclectic food scene with worldly Mexican, Japanese, and American flavors influenced by his heritage. While a name has not yet been disclosed, Tanabe revealed in an interview with Indy Week a wood-fired grill will be the star of the show and to expect “rustic cooking with bold flavors” with lots of herbs, spices and chilies. “You will see some of my favorite childhood dishes like my grandmother’s cornbread and ceviche,” he told the newspaper, plus an emphasis on local North Carolina provisions such as country ham and North Carolina shrimp.
“Everyday, I’m working with local flavors and our wood-fired grills to develop dishes that represent my cooking now that I’m here in North Carolina,” says Tanabe. I’m also adding bee hives to our rooftop so we’ll have our honey to use in our dishes and cocktail program.”
While getting adjusted, Tanabe has been enjoying the area’s culinary scene. Popsicles at La Deliciosa, Thursday pizza night at Benchwarmers Bagels (inside Transfer Co. Food Hall), cocktails at Fox Liquor Bar, peel and eat shrimp at Locals Oyster Bar, La Farm Bakery’s sought after sourdough, Honeygirl Meadery, and country hams “comparable to great prosciutto” have been a few of the chef’s favorite finds so far. “Some of these things may find their way onto our opening menu,” he adds.
As for what’s next? “I didn’t move here to open just one restaurant,” he says. “I’m definitely looking throughout the Triangle but taking baby steps. My focus for now is this first restaurant which is really going to be a flagship restaurant for me.”