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Celebrated chef Masaharu Morimoto on a mission to figure out Toronto diners

07/02/2015 02:44 EDT | Updated 07/02/2016 05:59 EDT
Masaharu Morimoto has conquered Iron Chef America numerous times but a greater challenge, he says, may be opening a restaurant in Toronto.

That's why, Morimoto says, he's at the Taste of Toronto festival this weekend; to figure out what Torontonians like to eat.

"Toronto market is a tough market," said the chef from Hiroshima, Japan. "This is a big challenge for me."

His restaurant is slated to open in April 2016.

So far, he doesn't know much about the city's restaurant scene. "Of course I love the Chinatown here," he says when asked what he knows about Toronto. He also mentioned his friend and prominent Toronto restaurateur Susur Lee, a former Iron Chef contestant.

But other than that, the city is a blank slate for the famous chef.

Morimoto is a trained sushi chef as well as in the Japanese haute cuisine called Kaiseki. He had a popular restaurant in Hiroshima in the 1980s when he quit to tour the United States.

He picked up on several American culinary traditions and pioneered a unique style of fusion cooking, and an even more unique way of presenting his dishes. Several of his famed plates include an entire fish, off which the diner eats.

Morimoto says his cooking became popular for the same reason the television show Iron Chef America became popular: "People like to eat, that's why."

He says coming to Toronto is a good way to introduce his concept of cooking to more people.

"My philosophy or cooking style is that I have no rules," he explains. "Well, I have one rule...no rules is my only rule!"

His critically adored restaurants, currently in New York City, Napa, Mumbai, Philadelphia and other select locations, are Japanese cooking styles blended with local fare. He says he is open to including Canadian dishes, like poutine, on his Toronto menu. "If you like it, I will include it," he says with a smile.

Taste of Toronto is in its second year of celebrating local restaurants.

Meghan O'Hanlon, event director for Taste of Toronto, says this year will include "a smorgasbord of all kinds of things to try," from tastings of wine, cheese, olive oil and maple syrup, to cooking classes, demonstrations and chef Q and A's.

In all, 100 vendors are participating in the food festival, which begins July 2 and goes till July 5.

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