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He hit his first kitchen while studying engineering at Purdue University, and never left. Instead of applying his studies, Gunawan worked his way up with influential chefs such as Chris Nugent (formerly of Les Nomades in Chicago) and Angus An of Vancouver’s Maenam before taking the helm at South Granville’s West restaurant three years ago. In August he opened Wildebeest, the much-lauded whole-animal cookery in Gastown, only to set his sights on a new room for the new year: the kitchen at Che Baba is dialled into veggies, and Gunawan loves showcasing beautiful heirloom radishes.
HOW TO SHOP
Radishes grow year round—winter varieties are milder; summer and spring varieties are notably more peppery. Gunawan prefers getting his directly from farmers at markets such as the Winter Farmers Market at Nat Bailey Stadium. “I appreciate knowing the people who grow my food, and having a very direct relationship with them,” he says. Aside from the common red-and-white Easter radishes and the Japanese daikon, he favours unique varieties like Shunkyo, Cheriette, Jade, and Watermelon. Gunawan has even created a market for defunct heritage varieties like Black Spanish radishes and conical cabbage. “We’re bringing back artisan practices that are more sustainable and more beneficial to the world.” For radishes, “Look for firm flesh with leaves attached if possible—yellow or wilted leaves mean radishes were harvested four or five days ago.” The bulbs will stay fresh in the fridge for a week or two.
HOW TO COOK
If you think the only way to prepare radishes is to shave them thinly and toss them on a salad, think again. Radishes are excellent steamed, braised, or roasted. For the contrast between peppery, sweet, sour, and bitter flavour profiles, Gunawan favours the oven—“I like to roast them with some sugar, lemon juice, and a splash of sweet wine such as Pineau des Charentes or Muscat”—then he serves them with pork, chicken, or, a real standout, fish.