Windup Bird Cafe: A new hub for culinary activism

Windupbird Cafe

Windup Bird Cafe recently moved onto College Street at Borden near Kensington Market where another cafe/bookstore with wifi had previously been for a brief period. Named after the classic Japanese novel Wind-up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami, the cafe hosts programs aimed at food literacy, literary/culinary arts and social activism, as well as a vibrant range of programming with a focus on children’s activities. This isn’t crayons and colouring books, though. This is food literacy.

It seems that Windup Bird Cafe’s owner Sang Kim has the need to keep busy. His Yakitori Bar and Seoul Food Co., opened in Baldwin Village less than a year and a half ago. Yakatori Bar was the first full-service restaurant in Toronto with Japanese-inspired skewered meats and vegetables at the core of its menu. This speaks to Kim’s innovative spirit. In addition to owning restaurants, Kim is an award winning fiction writer and playwright. Read his bio at the TEDxYouth@Toronto website. You’ll see what I’m talking about.

And now, along with Chef Yumiko Kobayash, Sang Kim has opened Windup Bird Cafe, a corner restaurant with exposed brick, wood floors and mild yellow walls that give off a positive, relaxing vibe. With that corner lot comes a wall of windows faces Borden Street and lets sun in. It’s a nice, open setting that works for programs such as Kid-chen Confidential and literary program Cook/Book.

In the kitchen, Chef Kobayash leads an all-female kitchen staff.  Chef Kobayashi feeds vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free folks and meat eaters, so groups of friends with various food lifestyles can agree on one place to eat with few exceptions. Excellent food, no compromising. Chef Kobayash also wanted a place where she could feed her nine year-old daughter, so you could take your kids there.

The not-so-secret ingredient is love.

I recently got a preview of some of these programs along with some really great food. I’ll tell you about the programming first, then we’ll get into the excellent food.

“Kid-chen Confidential”

Windup Bird Cafe’s Kid-chen Confidential is a cooking class series in which older kids teach younger kids how to cook healthy food. At the launch, 16 year old food blogger Leah Honiball (I love that a “Honiball” is into food because it sounds like “honeyball”) of blog Proteen Queen taught Kobayash’s daughter Kiki how to make Ganmodoki– fried tofu burgers. Honiball is a girl after my own heart. We share the same food interests. Honiball is WAY more self assured than I was at her age, half the age I am now. When she told me that her blog’s focus was food and wellness, I bit my tongue and fought the urge to relate, “when I was your age…”, with one voice in my inner dialogue insisting, “Don’t say it. Don’t say it.” (Reading the bio on her website and reading that she exercising 6x/week recalled that statement.)

This demo was one of the highlights of the evening, from the charm of malfunctioning food choppers (it started to work but there was almost some improvising), to the interaction between teacher and student. Ganmodoki for all had been prepared in the kitchen and, like the girls, the tofu burgers were a delight. You know how tofu takes on the flavours that accompany them? The wonderful BBQ sauce flavour dominated. These would be a hit with many meat eaters who aren’t in the mood for meat. (Oh, stop staring at your screen in shock. It happens.)


Windup Bird Cafe’s Ganmodoki. And look at the pretty plates!

Recipe here.


Another literary program, Cook/Book’s tag line is “Eat, Read, Cook, Learn”. The logo has a knife in place of the slash. In each event in this monthly series, a local author will make their favourite dish and build a 3 course meal around it. This one featured author Joyce Wayne, writer of The Cook’s Temptation, who demonstrated the mango cheesecake that we were served for dessert.

Cook/Book at Windup Bird Cafe

Logo from Brit Theis graphic designer website

The food

In addition to the ganmodoki and cheesecake, here’s what else we ate:

Seafood ceviche

Described on Windup Bird Cafe’s website as, “black tiger shrimp, Hokkaido scallops, mussels, squid, salmon, seaweed medley”, it was as delicious as it was pretty:

Windupbird Cafe Ceviche

Windup Bird Cafe Ceviche


Braised lamb with watercress, apple slaw and a mustard glaze. It was served in a mason jar that demanded to have our noses shoved in it. The smell… the meaty, umami smell. So delicious that as I type this a couple of weeks later I’m salivating at the memory. The meat had a good amount of fat on it (I like a good fat on my meat) and the bone served as the perfect handle.

My Instagram caption & tweet: “I wish you could all smell this meat (lamb).”


Avocado Tofu Gratin

Described as “avocado & tofu baked in a sesame miso sauce, fried onion”. Some people loved it. I wasn’t a fan of the taste, but that’s completely subjective and I could appreciate the execution and beauty. If you think you’d like it, order it.

Avocado Tofu Gratin

The drinks

Jessica from Walter Caesar was making Umami Caesars in both spicy and non spicy variety. This is what I tweeted about it:

Beautiful spicy @waltercaesar at @WindUpBirdCafe #EatLearnWBC event. Must also try the mix my usual way- rye or gin.

Walter Caesar

Walter Caesar

Robert from Churchill Cellars was pouring Pinnacle ice cider. The cider, he shared, is made from 16 types of apples. 16 types! That’s not a typo. I heard Rob tell people on multiple occasions, “I bet you can’t name 16 varieties”.  I can’t. I know about 2 people who could. I’ll be buying a bottle.

Windup Bird Cafe details

Contact Information

382 College Street Toronto, ON M5T 1S7
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


MONDAY: Closed
SAT: 10AM-10PM (Brunch & Diner)
SUN: 10AM-3PM (Brunch)

Wind Up Bird Cafe seats 50 + 50 on the patio when it opens.

Windup Bird Cafe on Urbanspoon

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  1. Windup Bird Cafe's Ganmodoki - Japanese Fried Tofu Burger - Andrea the Gastronaut - April 9, 2014

    […] yesterday’s post, here’s the recipe for the Ganmodki that was demonstrated at Kid-Chen Confidential at Windup […]

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