Spaghetti Cafe Prairie opens after Takeshi Yamaura achieves Calgary dream
Oodles of noodles on the eclectic Asian-meets-Italian menu
Growing up in Kawasaki, Takeshi Yamaura became such a fan of Stampede wrestling he moved from Japan to live in Calgary.
"Bret Hart, Dynamite Kid, Davey Boy Smith — those guys are very popular in Japan," he says.
And before the big move he worked as a cook in spaghetti restaurants. That's right, spaghetti restaurants — in Japan.
"It's very common in Japan," Takeshi says. "You can find spaghetti houses in almost every shopping mall. They usually have 20 to 30 varieties of spaghetti."
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The spaghetti connection happened during the economic boom in Japan during the 1980s.
"Pasta became one of people's favourite because it looks fancy, but it's not pricey. Many Japanese chefs went to Italy to learn how to cook; they found they can use any ingredients for pasta, keeping it authentic."
When Takeshi arrived in Calgary in 2001 he worked in restaurants around town, as well as for Stampede Wrestling by clearing out the rings and doing other odd jobs.
He sought out a popular spaghetti restaurant, but was unimpressed.
"I was so shocked," he says. "The pasta was overcooked, the sauce has not much flavour."
A decade and a half later, he achieved his dream of owning an authentic spaghetti house in Calgary.
Takeshi opened Spaghetti Cafe Prairie just before Christmas in Montgomery, in a tiny strip mall beside a gas station, where he serves 15 kinds of spaghetti, including Japanese chicken (steamed chicken, green onion, sesame seeds and soy sauce) and shrimp spaghetti with loads of fresh cilantro.
Authentic-style spaghetti like mine has to be cooked to a perfect level in a frying pan with olive oil and garlic.- Takeshi Yamaura
"Think of it as a noodle bowl," he says.
That aptly describes the piles of slippery, tender-firm spaghetti lightly dressed in fresh ingredients that more resembles a noodle bowl than a heavy Italian pasta dish.
"Most people know of American style spaghetti, with tomato sauce, meat or Alfredo sauce on top of over-boiled, mushy spaghetti," Takeshi says.
"Authentic-style spaghetti, like mine, has to be cooked to a perfect level in a frying pan with olive oil and garlic."
Inside the café, there are drawings of Stu Hart and the British Bulldog hanging on the wall, hand-drawn by Diana Hart (the youngest daughter of Stampede Wrestling promoter Stu Hart) in 1993.
Members of the Hart family come by often, he says, to support his new venture.
He also accommodates a variety of Canadian palates with spaghetti and meatballs — still his biggest seller — which, like the others, is lightly but well-dressed and ringed with handmade meatballs.
"I also created some western-style spaghettis like chili spaghetti and prairie spaghetti, with bacon and eggs. But not many people try those."
Takeshi hopes (as I do) that Japanese-style spaghetti will catch on here like the Japadog did in Vancouver. In fact, there is another Japanese spaghetti café in Vancouver on Robson Street.
"I've always just been a line cook," he says humbly. "I'm not a businessman, but I wanted to do something new. No one else was doing it."