Ogden – you better get your stomachs ready! Restaurant Week starts today, April 7 and runs through April 17. This is the time of year that our local restaurants get to showcase their specialties. As a thank you to the community, the meals come at a very special price: Lunch includes a 2-course meal for $10, and Dinner provides a 3-course meal for $17.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Chef Tony at Tona Restaurant to learn why Tona is excited to participate in Ogden Restaurant Week as well as what his food passions are. It’s a special treat this year for Tona to be participating in Ogden Restaurant week because last week, on March 29th they celebrated their 12th anniversary, and they are excited to continue to share the love of contemporary Japanese cuisine with Ogden.
For the interview, I asked Chef Tony five questions that covered his love and passion for food. Here are his answers:
Question 1: What is one food that draws/connects you to a special memory?
Chef Tony: I see my mom as always growing vegetables in her garden. It’s her passion. So what’s a vegetable about? Why grow it? But then it was the type of fruits and vegetables she was growing in an organic way. Not just broccoli, it’s not just carrots or tomato. So she was growing kohlrabi which is in the kale family. And lately, I’ve been thinking about how she had been growing coyote squash. I also remember her growing figs in this Utah environment. Okay, we can do it. Chayote squash was another veggie that is hard to grow because it takes a long season to nurture into a fruit. So it was the garden and the vegetables that really connected me.
The inspiration from my Mom’s garden, makes me want to incorporate more vegetables into our dishes at Tona. Recent veggies I like to work with are sunchokes, okra, fennel, and eggplant. Eggplant is a hit. Lots of people do not like eggplant whether it is texture – too soft or taste to bland. Eggplant has been one of our hit dishes for the last three to four years.
To follow up, I asked – do you grow your own garden?
Chef Tony: I tried to do a little bit outside, but that’s another level of learning. It needs time to understand the soil, the type of vegetable, and what you are growing it for. The movement now is about more organics and to eat healthy. We just started last year a tiny greenhouse in our basement.
Question 2: What is your favorite food to prepare/eat and why?
Japanese and Chinese are the two most favorite foods I like to prepare. But if someone else is preparing, I can go Italian, French, American food. I will still enjoy it. In general, I like any Japanese or any Chinese food. There is more to Japanese than sushi. Chinese has dim sum, but there is even more to enjoy.
Why do I like to prepare Chinese and Japanese food? Japanese food is healthy. It is more intricate and requires a lot more details. It requires more training and more time. You get to use the freshest ingredients in Japanese Cuisine.
For Chinese, I like it all. I don’t favor one dish over another. I like to experiment on different dishes instead of cooking the same old one. As far as Tona, we try to create new dishes on a daily basis. So when a customer comes in, I rather you order something new than order the California roll. I want you to order the daily special. The chef’s special of the day. I like to keep on inventing new dishes. It keeps me motivated.
At Tona, we are inventive and make contemporary Japanese cuisine. We do contemporary food. Of course, we like to incorporate local vegetables. We want to include more local ingredients into not only fish; we like to mix it up and think outside of the box. The green globe which brings avocado, which was not original to sushi, and is an example of how we like to be inventive.
Question 3: When you aren’t dining at this restaurant, where do you grab a bite to eat?
We’ve got a lot of good restaurants down here on 25th Street. It has changed over the years. I don’t want to go for the same old dish or the same restaurant all the time. I want to move around and get inspired to accept what they serve me, and I get educated. I bring back the inventiveness to my dishes here. This new dish we are offering is Thai inspired. So it’s a combination of Japenese and Thai, and that’s the inventiveness is. It has a tom yum coconut broth. I tasted the flavor, and I can make it work and incorporate it into Japanese cuisine.
Question 4: Where is your favorite place to source local ingredients? What is your favorite local ingredient?
The three local gardens we use are CCI Garden, Zoe’s Garden, and Arrowhead Urban farms.
CCI Garden represents Canine Companions for Independence that provides free service dogs to those who qualify. The Dog Lady, Linda Weiskopf, runs the CCI Garden in North Ogden. And we’ve been supporting her for 4 to 5 years. All these proceeds go to the dog organization. The stuff we get from the garden is eggplant. She has a hard time selling eggplant, and I was the one who would take most from her. Also, she provides heirloom tomatoes.
Zoe’s Garden is on the specialty side. They are located in Layton near Hill Air Force Base. David Chen runs the garden. He grows sunchokes or Jerusalem artichokes. It has a similar texture to pear and when it is cooked it has the softness like a potato. They look like ginger root. Also, I get fennel and figs from Zoe’s Garden. Okra and special veggies like Romanesco. It looks like cauliflower but much more pretty. It looks like green pyramids. Also, get special peppers like a Japanese pepper. Of course, fruit like peaches, apples, and berries.
Arrowhead Urban Farms is located on the Ogden bench and ran by Jon Contos. He comes to the farmer’s market, and I met him at the farmer’s market, and he had all kinds of micro-greens. He would grow pea shoots, arugula, basil, broccoli, and radish microgreens. He’s expanding.
My favorite local ingredients are sun chokes and eggplants.
Question 5: Tell us about your signature dishes you’ve put together for restaurant week
All of the dishes that are featured are signature dishes that we created here.
Green globe – spicy tuna, snow crab salad, wrapped with avocado and topped with tobiko caviar. On the bottom is citrus soy
New style Ahi poke – bigeye tuna, wasabi cheese, sliced jalapeno, Fuji apple, ponzu, sea salt, extra virgin olive oil, and comes with micro-greens from the local sources like basil and celery microgreens.
Crunchy tuna roll – sriracha tuna, Fuji apple, avocado, lime, and basil. Coated in green tempura bites made out of spinach. This is how I get you to eat your spinach. Also has miso mustard sauce. The sauce is traditional the roll is contemporary and inventive.
Seared walu – It’s grilled escolar with tom yum: coconut broth, shaved fennel, sweet pepper, and sun-dried grapes.
Salmon croquette – salmon, potato, panko crust, mild Japanese curry. It’s a silky Japanese style curry. House pickled local vegetables from last fall like beets and radishes. Arugula micro-green and garnished with sweet peppers.
Following the interview, I was able to try these signature dishes. The fresh ingredients and inventiveness could be tasted in each bite. I’m excited to visit Tona next week to enjoy these dishes again. I hope you join me; I promise you won’t be disappointed! The full Tona restaurant week menu is located on Visit Ogden.