At Home at Dojo Ramen: Regina Restaurant offers a taste of the owner’s heritage. News Jani
At Home at Dojo Ramen: The Regina Restaurant offers a taste of the owner’s heritage.
This story was originally published on December 1st, 2021.
Ramen is one of my favorite dishes. When I heard that Dale McKay and his business partner Christopher Chu were opening a ramen shop in Regina, I was very excited.
In season three of the Netflix series The boss’s table, a Japanese ramen expert, described the dish as “like bread for the French,” noting that there are 80,000 ramen shops in his country. Ramen is something Japanese people eat every day. This is the food of the people.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that Cho credits the existence of the dojo to the people of Regina. Opening a restaurant during the pandemic wasn’t easy, he says.
Personnel planning was a challenge. Many waiters and bartenders left the industry altogether. “Restaurants everywhere have problems,” he said.
“In places like New York, how can you survive? The effort. The rent is too high. Food prices are too high. The competition. And we’re complaining that we’re living in an epidemic, and we’re in Saskatoon or Regina,” she said. “But it all goes back to the people of this province. The support we’re getting from these people is amazing. Without them we would not exist.”
The packed dining room at Dojo Ramen is a testament not only to the quality of the food and drink on offer, but also to Cho and MacKay’s reputation. Together they operate three restaurants in Saskatoon and two in Regina under the Grassroots Restaurant Group brand. Chu described it as a sense of pride at home.
“When you’re in Saskatchewan, it’s all like roots to you. [started these businesses] I don’t think we would have gotten the recognition we have in any other province or city.”
After opening five restaurants in eight years, Cho and MacKay have found their groove. Both complement each other. MacKay creates the menu and Cho – a master mixologist – prepares the cocktails and bar menus.
His two restaurants (Sticks and Stones in Saskatoon and Dojo Ramen) have allowed Cho, who is Korean-Canadian, to put a little on his plate. The kimchi they use is their family recipe. It ferments for three months before it is ready to be served.
“When we opened Sticks and Stones, we took my parents in. They were in Korea at the time, but we flew over to teach them how to make traditional kimchi. I just said to my mother, ‘That’s it.’ Cook what you eat. He used to cook for me when I was growing up,’” Chu recalls.
“They were so nervous about coming to Saskatchewan and cooking for Dale and our other chefs. I heard her say, “No, let’s do that, let’s add that…” I said, “No. Do it like you did growing up. This is how they should taste.”
His parents cooked a feast for 16 and taught everyone how to make traditional kimchi and traditional “banchan,” Korean side dishes.
“The chefs and chefs learned a lot from my parents, and my parents learned a lot from them. It worked great.”
Cho offered me Kimchi Fried Rice from Dojo.
“It’s something I grew up with,” he explains.
The rice is fried in bacon fat and gochugaro (Korean red pepper flakes) and topped with scallions, nori, a fried egg and some homemade hot sauce.
During our conversation, Cho takes me from his birthplace in São Paulo, Brazil, to his childhood in rural Ontario (where he has lived since he was four years old, speaking Korean at home and English on the street), to numerous hotels and restaurants. In which he has honed his skills.
Now, at his own Korean-Japanese restaurant in Regina, he serves cuisine as rich and varied as its history.
“These are the flavors I grew up with and wanted to share with other people. People often think of fried rice as a simple dish, but once you’ve eaten it, it’s so much more than meets the eye. It’s complicated. It’s absolutely delicious.”