As part of my honourable duties as an ambassador for 4th Street, I am obliged to share my absolute favourite spots to eat and drink on the street. Such a tough job – but someone’s gotta do it. Which brings me to Shokunin, a new #localjapanese concept by Chef and Owner Darren MacLean (formerly of DowntownFood) that opened up earlier this year in the base of the Hopewell Group building on 4th Street. After being introduced to the menu in early April, I’ve returned a few more times to taste and try just about everything. Darren calls it local Japanese because although the entire concept of the restaurant is authentic Japanese cuisine, most or all of the ingredients used are found locally.
Besides the incredible menu and delicious share plates, the one thing that really set Shokunin apart for me was the attention to detail. And I don’t just mean the fact that they bring out a hot towel before your meal (luxurious!) or that they use real wasabi root (so damn good) instead of the powdered stuff. Those are things that certainly enhance the Shokunin experience - but it is the art, the lighting, the music, the ambiance - all of those details coming together to create an exciting dining experience. The one thing that really caught my eye (as someone who loves fine design) was the beautiful ceramic dishes and bowls that appeared with the equally gorgeous plated food.
The name ‘Shokunin’ means artisan or craftsman so for Darren it was only natural to use local artisans to create the place settings for the restaurant. The artist in particular that Darren hired for Shokunin is Vin Arora, of Arora Pottery, who actually specializes in restaurant ware (he creates dishes for the famous Vij’s in Vancouver). I sat down for a chat with him to talk about bringing in handcrafted ceramics for his menu and to photograph some of the delectable bites that live on these plates. And yes, I ate the Hamachi pictured – I also drank that cocktail. It was delicious, of course.
➔ Why did you decide to hire a ceramics artist to create plates for Shokunin?
I am obsessed with using Alberta’s resources and ingredients for my restaurants – and I wanted to bring that element in for all aspects – not just the food. I am promoting sustainability by promoting local artists, using local clay and glazes – not only is the food coming from Albertan soil but the clay for the plates you’re eating off does too! We melded the Albertan and Japanese cultures with these plates – the techniques are actually traditional Japanese methods for creating pottery.
➔ Why was having beautiful plates important for you?
I’m not overly concerned with crazy plating. I think that food that is beautiful needs only to be shown for what is is. You don’t necessarily need to over-manipulate the finished product. However, I do want our food to look good - so I wanted to create something that is aesthetically pleasing and unique that sets us apart. All of the plates are one-of-a-kind using different glazes from all over Alberta. Since we do so many small shares plates on our menu, you might get a stack of dishes that are all the same but the glazing or texture is different. It adds a bit of interest to your experience.
We designed these custom plates because we wanted to the natural, organic look for our menu. Nowadays, people put so much focus on what the food looks like (or should look like). We wanted to show the food for what is without overdoing the styling. Let the whole plate speak for itself.
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Shokunin and Chef Darren MacLean is hosting an amazing one-of-a-kind collaboration dinner on Thursday June 16th featuring Guest Chef Karaki Masafumi of Nagano Japan as well as welcoming Akira Kondo, maker and owner of Mikotsuru Sake.
Cooking with Albertan and Canadian ingredients this 8 Course Collaborative Kaiseki dinner is an amazing immersion into the Shokunin experience. Kaiseki (懐石?) or kaiseki-ryōri (懐石料理) is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner. The term also refers to the collection of skills and techniques that allow the preparation of such meals. Kaiseki is the highest form of Japanese Culinary Arts and is focused on seasonality and local foods. In keeping the menu will highlight Canadian ingredients as well as Japanese AAAAA Wagyu. It is going to be incredible!
Thursday June 16, 2021 7:00-10:00pm
Shokunin – 2016 4 St SW