Katsuji Tanabe Brings Fresh Take on Italian at Flour & Barrel

Celeb chef Katsuji Tanabe dishes on upcoming projects.

Katsuji Tanabe (of Top Chef and Chopped fame) is blessing Raleighites with his culinary prowess once again—and the city is already eating it up. The celeb chef—whose résumé includes Cary restaurant a’Verde Cocina & Tequila Library, in addition to other LM Restaurants concepts—helped create the menu for Flour & Barrel, the newly opened rustic Italian concept in the former Little City Brewing space.

“It’s a very cool project,” says Tanabe, who was brought on by local restaurant guru Anthony Rapillo. When it came to the chef’s vision, “the No. 1 thing I told Anthony was, ‘Hey, we need to make our own pasta from scratch,’” he shares. But not just any old pasta: Rather than churning out “traditional spaghetti or linguine,” Tanabe reveals, “we’re going to be making rooster combs and radiatori—different styles of pasta you don’t see that often here in Raleigh.” 

Indeed, Flour & Barrel will flaunt Italian fare—Tanabe-style. “I’m not Italian, everybody knows,” says the culinary powerhouse. “What I’m doing, it’s my take on Italian food. If you ask me to come to your house and cook some Italian, well, I’m going to cook it, but I’m still going to use my flavor profile.” In fact, Tanabe wouldn’t even go as far as calling Flour & Barrel an “Italian” restaurant: “We are a place serving pasta—really good pasta,” he emphasizes. 

To wit, Tanabe shares that 90% of the restaurant’s menu is cooked in a giant pizza oven, giving it that perfectly imperfect “rustic” flair. “We’re going to be roasting fish and chicken in there, and braising meatballs,” he explains. And don’t sleep on the cocktails: Tanabe took advantage of the craft brewery on-site to concoct several creative sips combining beer with spirits like gin and amaro.

Beyond his restaurant work, Tanabe is in the early stages of writing a cookbook. “It’s separated by moments in my life—like when you’re happy, when you want to entertain people… when you’re going through depression,” he explains. By showing “how different times in my life have affected my cooking style,” Tanabe hopes to create something that’s equal parts fun and relatable.

And, as if he wasn’t busy enough already, the celeb chef has a number of projects in the works in Chicago—from a partnership with iconic bakery Bittersweet to the Windy City debut of his fast-casual Mexican kosher eatery Mexikosher (also on the horizon: a Chinese kosher joint in Chi-town). He’s even got his sights set on Atlanta, which he’s currently eyeing as a potential destination to reopen High Horse, his first Downtown Raleigh venture that shuttered in 2020. 

Despite all his jet-setting, Tanabe says Raleigh is home. “My wife and kids told me already, ‘We’re never moving out of Raleigh,’” he shares. “Moving [here] was probably one of the best things we’ve ever done.” … And we couldn’t agree more. 

Tanabe answers our burning Qs. 

Best local dish or resto you’ve tried lately? 
Boulted Bread. That bread is just the best bread I’ve ever had. We are lucky to have such a good bakery in Raleigh. The awful part is on Sundays, usually I wake up late and when I get to the bakery they’re almost out of everything. 

Go-to summer cocktail?
We have amazing watermelons, so I like to juice and cold-press them. … Imagine a whiskey sour, but with a sour watermelon. So, you put watermelon juice, American whiskey, sweet and sour, and a little egg white; shake it; and put it in a martini glass.

Favorite place to be when you’re not working?
Believe it or not—cooking. Living in NC, especially in Raleigh, we have an amazing backyard. Living in LA, I didn’t have anything like that. I have seven different grills. I like to smoke; I like to braise—I like to do it all. We do a lot of nontraditional BBQ, so we’ll do a lot of Asian-inspired dishes. … We try to go quite often to the farmers market to see what’s available locally and then just go wild. My kids, my wife, we love doing that. 

Dream chef collab?
I was able to cook with Brother Luck, Brooke Williamson, Casey Thompson—all these people I see on TV and admire. So that’s a dream I’ve actually accomplished. … And the best thing is, cooking with friends you actually get to learn—you learn real techniques. All these guys on Top Chef are just amazing people to cook with. 

One thing still on your bucket list?
I want to open a very elegant Japanese restaurant. … I’m working on it.

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About the Author

Angela Brown
Angela Brown is the author of our Business & Economy section.