Artwork, storytelling, and quality food have combined for a one-of-a-kind supper club in Toronto’s east end. Goji Studio offers an unparalleled dining experience — going beyond the flavours of the food— in the heart of a ceramics studio and gallery.
Located on Gainsborough Road, Goji Studio is hidden behind an unassuming garage door. Inside, the space has been transformed by the studio owners chef Ken Yao and illustrator Ashley Tse. As life and business partners, they crafted every element in the studio, from the extended harvest table to the shelves showcasing their handmade creations. Joining the waitlist for k.Dinners may be a challenge, but guests can also explore, purchase studio items, or participate in various ceramics workshops.
“Goji Studio was definitely the way for us to take the time to be creative because this is our space and we can do anything we want in it,” says Yao.
The compact kitchen in the studio is a departure from Yao’s bustling culinary career, which spans notable kitchens in Toronto like Nota Bene and Scaramouche, as well as global experiences in places like Hong Kong’s Liberty Private Works and the three-Michelin-starred The Fat Duck in the UK.
Leaving the big kitchens behind, Yao started k.Dinners as a pop-up experience operating out of restaurants across the city. But, during the pandemic, Yao reached a “questionable state” and, following a major spinal cord surgery, he and Tse, who worked in tech prior to becoming an illustrator, wanted to explore their creative sides.
“I really wanted to do things with my hands,” he says. “Especially with food, it’s so tactile, everything that you do, in a romantic sense, you really feel what you’re working with and how you interact with the ingredients.”
Yao immediately “fell in love” with ceramics after a six-week course.
“This brought me so much joy, it reminded me of what it was like when I first started working with food,” Yao explains, noting that his newfound passion made a difference in his cooking, too. “I started shifting my priorities and my relationship to food changed through ceramics. It ignited this new love for discovering things.”
At Goji Studio, the dishes Yao uses are intentionally created to work in collaboration with the food rather than just be selected among the dozens of other options around, as typically happens in traditional restaurants.
“The vessel that I make becomes the idea and then I can put the food in it after, to use it as part of the experience and make people feel things, like temperature changes,” he explains. “I’m super excited about food again and it’s just constantly learning and discovering which is the reason I dove so deep into food and travelled the world to learn about it.”
An example of integrating the plates and dishware as part of the k.Dinners experience, Yao serves soup in a bowl that doesn’t sit flat on a table. While it might not sound very practical, the point is for the guest to hold the bowl, feeling its initial cool temperature, while the chef then pours the hot soup into it, instantly warming the holder’s hand.
“You play with these different, simple things, and you’re not even tasting anything yet but there’s all this interaction and docile stuff that the guests experience,” says Yao, adding that when the guests are finished with the soup, they pass the bowl right back to Tse who is the server for the dinners. “We’re passing you something you enjoy, it nourishes you, then you’re passing it directly back to us. There’s this full circle experience.”
The dinners, happening around five to six times monthly with seating for up to ten guests, feature a “multi-sensory” blind-tasting menu crafted by the chef, typically comprising 10 to 12 courses. Though the menu varies, there are consistent elements that reflect Yao’s Chinese heritage.
One such item is a special congee which he first made for his mother’s 65thbirthday.
“It’s very homey, very comforting and you don’t really get to see congee on tasting menus, so it actually stands out quite a bit because it’s just so different,” Yao explains.
The chef adds that many of the meal items he incorporates within the tastings have a story which he shares with his dinners.
When it’s not operating as a dinner space for k.Dinners, Goji Studio has open studio hours from Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Guests are welcome to view and purchase the many ceramics the couple have made over the months, in addition to some of Tse’s illustrations.
Goji Studio also hosts regular workshops and courses, including the three week hand-building course. In the first, the guest makes the ceramic dish; in the second, they decorate it; and in the third, they come dine for a meal using the pieces they have created.
“I don’t think anybody else is doing that in the city,” Yao says.
Goji Studio is located at 150 Gainsborough Road.