Chef Who Won Food Network’s “Chopped” to Cook at Federation’s BBQ and Brandy Uniquely Jewish Event

dish-082014-top-chef-alvaroIt’s time for BBQ and Brandy as the Jewish Federation of Louisville’s Uniquely Jewish Event Series present a cooking event with Chef Katsuji Tanabe, owner of the Los Angeles-based MexiKosher restaurant on Sunday, October 19, at 6 p.m. at Copper & Kings American Brandy Distillery, 1121 E. Washington St.

Tanabe is the winner of the Food Network’s Chopped and will be a contestant on the upcoming Top Chef Season 12 on Bravo. Born to a Japanese father and a Mexican mother, Tanabe is not Jewish, but was always intrigued by the challenge of cooking kosher. At his restaurant, he blends a unique style of Mexican food without dairy to keep it kosher.

At this event, you’re invited to enjoy an evening of kosher-style food cooked by Chef Tanabe and some delicious new brandy drinks. A Vaad-approved option is available for those who request it by October 14. The cost for the evening is $44 per person or $32 for those ages 29 and under.

“Copper & Kings is a new distillery in Louisville and it’s one of the most exciting places,” said Co-Chair Linda Schuster. “The building itself is fabulous. The renovations are beautiful, making it a hip, fun new place to have an event. From the rooftop, which has solar panels, you can look out over the city, and downstairs, there’s a brand new outdoor kitchen.

“Brandy is delicious,” she continued. “We’ll be able to taste new drinks in this exciting, energetic place.”

Schuster is excited about the chef, too. Tanabe “is going to show us his new twist on how to make Kosher food delicious,” she said. “He’s a very energetic, young chef with a very interesting background.”

Born in San Francisco to a Japanese mechanic engineer and a Mexican dentist, the family moved to Mexico City for Tanabe’s father’s work when he was just 3. There he lived a life of luxury, protected by bodyguards and often flying to American cities to shop.

Even as a teen, Tanabe loved to cook. His father, however, felt that cooking was not a real career. “I would sneak behind his back and go to restaurants, working for free as a dishwasher,” he writes in his official biography. “That was the only way I could be around my dream, so I worked from the bottom up.

At age 17, his life turned upside down when his parents went through a nasty divorce. His father got all the money and his mother returned to California, penniless. Tanabe stayed with his father for a while, but when his father became angry and bitter, he cut off his son’s funds.

At 18, Tanabe joined his mother in Los Angeles, at her request. To make matters worse, the airline lost all his belongings. Tanabe had to build a new life from scratch with “only the clothes on my back and 75 cents in my pocket,” he wrote.

He began working in restaurants and hotels, sometimes for only the experience instead of pay. “I was in it for the passion of cooking,” he said.

Finally, with a loan on his mother’s credit and his own hard work, he attended the Culinary Institute. His girlfriend helped with his homework, “making sure the grammar was correct and the essays sounded intelligible,” and made it through on just three or four hours of sleep a night between work and school.

“I became a chef,” Tanabe said, “because it was the dream of my life and I always get what I want. Being a chef is like being a rock star. Everyone is watching you and everyone wants a piece of you. And of course, food is the love of my life. It brings people together and makes them happy and that makes me happy.

“This event is for people of all ages,” Schuster said. “It will be a fun event.”

Schuster, Shellie Branson and Linda Spielberg are co-chairs of this event.

Reserve your place today if you want to eat and drink kosher style as you enjoy an evening of barbecue and brandy with Katsuji Tanabe, one of America’s Top Chefs. Contact Kristy Benefield at or 238-2739 or go to

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