Sous chef Kevin Abanilla (L) and Denni Cha (R)
A month after opening to the public, Soseki — the high-end omakase concept in Winter Park — has lost one of its founding partners.
Denni Cha, who established the intimate 10-seat restaurant with Taglish Collective's Michael Collantes, has left the Fairbanks Avenue hot spot.
Cha cited personal reasons — a serious knee injury in need of medical attention, in particular — as well as his role of being a father.
"It was weighing heavily on my mental state," Cha tells me. "Trying to balance being a father with another very demanding responsibility didn't seem fair to my girls."
While saddened by the departure, Collantes was sympathetic and understanding to Cha's predicament, saying, "I'm just thankful for how far Denni got us."
Collantes, who also runs Taglish and Perla's Pizza, will focus all his energies on Soseki
for the time being. He'll have chef de cuisine Tadateru "CJ" Tokudaiji, who's worked with or staged at such notable eating houses as Guy Savoy, Alinea, Restaurant Alain Ducasse and Cafe Boulud, by his side as well as sous chef Kevin Abanilla. Ben Coutts continues to serve as Soseki's beverage director and sommelier.
Michael Collantes (L) and Tadateru "CJ" Tokudaiji (R)
"I think we're going to go a little crazier," Collantes says about the direction Soseki will take. "We'll play with techniques, go molecular, be more forward-thinking and European as far as plating, timing and rigidity of execution."
As far as Cha's future, one thing's certain: Sushi will not be a part of it.
"I'm not going to make sushi again," he says. "I get stuck under the umbrella of sushi, but I'm knowledgeable in other realms too. I honestly prefer cooking and I want to go back to my roots."
Cha, who's part Korean and part Native American, says he wants to showcase both cuisines — Korean fare not commonly seen as well as indigenous dishes. "The two actually meld really well together. A lot of campfire-esque dishes and earthy, briny flavors."
"It won't come soon," Cha says, "but I know it will if I'm patient."
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