By Jacqueline Runice

Of the hundreds of hopeful chefs that have chopped their way through Top Chef’s 14 seasons, Katsuji Tanabe has been among the handful of memorable cooking characters, Born and raised in Mexico, the son of a Japanese father and a Mexican mother made his mark in Los Angeles with the first authentic Kosher Mexican restaurant in the country. Culinary worlds collided in 2017 with Chicago being named Restaurant City of the Year by Bon Appetit and Tanabe opening Barrio featuring creative Mexican fare with Japanese flourishes. Despite his schedule that boils over regularly, Tanabe still has to nourish the fam, especially his two daughters, Barbara and Miranda. While other kids are choking down cold cereal, these girls get to start the day with easy but nonetheless flavorful breakfast meals.

Katsuji Tanabe 
65 W. Kinzie St.
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 940-9900

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Americans need to evolve past scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast.  Tanabe says, “Essentially, kids in the morning are not big eaters. I was the exception, I loved green enchiladas for breakfast. However, I make sure my kids are provided with a hearty meal before heading out the door. There is one dish they love in the morning, which is Kaffir. I add some berries and extra granola and they devour the dish. Below are the recipes for each of my kids’ favorites including the green enchiladas that I loved to eat as a child and still do.”

Green Enchiladas For Breakfast


  • 1 jalapeño 
  • 2 cups chopped tomatillo 
  • 2 cloves garlic 
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion 
  • 1 bunch cilantro 
  • 1 cup chicken broth 
  • Corn tortillas 
  • Oil for frying
  • White fresh cheese for filling 
  • Sour cream 
  • Sliced fresh onions 


  1. In a pot combine tomatillos, garlic, onions, jalapeno, cilantro and chicken broth and cook for 15 minutes.
  2. Bend and beat the tortillas, just to the point of them being “tomato soft.” 
  3. Then, stuff them with cheese and cover with the sauce.
  4. Add more fresh onions and sour cream. 

For lunch, the Top Chef chef says his ninas love rice and Spam (so why not pop it out of the fridge and serve it for breakfast)? “Yes, they love Spam,” he says, “Spam Musubi to be exact.

Spam Musubi 


  • 1 cup rice/sushi rice 
  • 10 cups water 
  • 1 can spam 
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce 
  • 3/4 cup sugar 
  • 6 nori sheet (seaweed)
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  1. Wash the rice four times until the water comes out clear (you need to have a rice with almost no starch).
  2. Add the water and cover with a lid, bring to a boil, lower the temperature to the lowest setting for 15-minutes, then cut the rice with a butter knife and let it cool. 
  3. Combine sugar and soy in a small pot, bring both ingredients to a boil and let it cool.
  4. Slice the Spam in 1/4 inch pieces and pan fry them until almost crisp.
  5. Glaze with the sweet soy.
  6. Then, make some rice cakes inside of the Spam can.
  7. Put the spam on top of the rice, wrap with nori and plastic wrap for lunch or even breakfast on the go.

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Tanabe says, “I also like to feed my daughters a Chicken and Rice recipe I developed.” It sounds heavenly anytime of the day. 

Chicken And Rice 


  • 2  boneless, skinless, marinated chicken thighs


  • 1/2 cup soy 
  • 1/2 cup mirin 
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce 
  • 1/2 cup sugar


  1. Use the same rice procedure as you did for the Musubi for this chicken dish. 
  2. For the marinade – Combine all the mariande ingredients, minus the chicken, and bring to a boil. 
  3. Cool it down and marinate the chicken for at least four hours.
  4. Then pan fry it, chop and lay it over the rice.
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