Con­trol freak to tal­ent scout

Grant van Gameren on run­ning eight restau­rants and a coun­try house

Midtown Post - - Food - by Karen Stevens

Ten years ago, Grant van Gameren was just start­ing out at the iconic Black Hoof. Now — with his re­mark­able abil­ity to choose and ex­e­cute pro­jects that fit right into the culi­nary Zeit­geist — he’s a suc­cess­ful restau­rater with a hand in run­ning eight restau­rants, a cater­ing busi­ness and a new prop­erty in Prince Ed­ward County (PEC).

Over­all, van Gameren cred­its his suc­cess to his tal­ented part­ners.

“My growth strat­egy is to grow the most tal­ented, ded­i­cated peo­ple that have worked for me and to help cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for them,” he ex­plains.

He’s also very hum­ble about the part he’s played.

“I’m just a very small per­cent­age of why these restau­rants are suc­cess­ful or great,” he says. “There’s al­most 350 staff in the restau­rants I own. Every­one works hard at what they do.”

Re­mem­ber­ing his first restau­rant, the Black Hoof, “I was more of a con­trol freak,” he re­calls.

How­ever he learned through ex­pe­ri­ence that “in or­der for peo­ple to grow, the peo­ple above them need to step to the side and let them do their thing and be a part of it and trust them,” he says.

These days he spends a lot of time at the of­fice work­ing on things be­hind the scenes such as mar­ket­ing and plans for growth. “I do a lot of the new and next year’s pro­jects,” he ex­plains.

His lat­est restau­rant, Quetzal, is a part­ner­ship be­tween co-ex­ec­u­tive chefs Julio Gua­jardo and Kate Chomyshyn and mixol­o­gist Owen Walker. “They are just so tal­ented. And I wanted to play my part on show­cas­ing their tal­ents,” he says.

Van Gameren met the chefs through his wife, Sunny Stone. He flew to Mon­treal to try out a tast­ing menu they put to­gether for him in their apart­ment. “I was blown away,” he says. “They opened my eyes to Mex­i­can cul­ture and Mex­i­can food, and then they in­tro­duced me to mez­cal, and I ended up fall­ing in love with it.”

Quetzal has taken three years to open be­cause of road­blocks in the restau­rant’s con­struc­tion.

When they re­al­ized that the de­sign was go­ing to take far longer than an­tic­i­pated, they opened El Rey. Un­like most of his other part­ners, van Gameren had never worked with Chomyshyn and Gua­jardo be­fore, and they found that it was a nice in­tro­duc­tion to work­ing to­gether. Now, with the open­ing of Quetzal, “we are at a point where they can do ex­actly the kind of food they wanted to do from the be­gin­ning,” he says.

As a meat eater, van Gameren says he doesn’t of­ten ex­pe­ri­ence the kind of big bold flavours he loves when he eats at plant-based restau­rants, so he was a bit hes­i­tant when he first started to work on Ros­alinda, his ve­gan Mex­i­can restau­rant with part­ners Max Rimaldi and Jamie Cook. So, to de­velop the menu he called upon the dream team from El Rey. It was ex­cit­ing for the team to rise up to the chal­lenge of cre­at­ing a ve­gan menu.

“I re­ally wanted to cre­ate a restau­rant that was rooted in Mex­i­can cui­sine, but just didn’t hap­pen to have any meat,” He says. And then he adds, “But if you didn’t know, you weren’t re­ally miss­ing it.”

Cressy House, van Gameren’s new lux­ury prop­erty rental in PEC, was an im­por­tant project for van Gameren this sum­mer. He found it while search­ing for a small rus­tic cot­tage in the area. Even though the prop­erty was much big­ger (it sleeps up to 14) and more ex­pen­sive than what he had orig­i­nally imag­ined, he fell in love. So, to off­set the cost, he de­cided to of­fer ac­com­mo­da­tion, pri­vate din­ners and wine tast­ings.

“I tend to turn a lot of per­sonal hob­bies or in­ter­ests into busi­nesses,” he ex­plains. “It’s a clas­sic GVG thing. I’ve been do­ing it since I was young.”

Ac­com­mo­da­tion at Cressy through­out the sum­mer has been con­sis­tently booked. Al­though van Gameren has the op­tion to use it for staff get­aways and as a place to un­wind, he’s also been rent­ing it out for events such as com­pany re­treats and bach­e­lorette week­ends.

Guests can re­quest a tast­ing menu, which van Gameren typ­i­cally cooks over an open fire. Meals usu­ally cen­tre around seafood or meats such as sausages and steak. Guests are wel­come to bring their own wine, but they can also let van Gameren cu­rate the pair­ings.

Van Gameren loves that, at this ven­ture, he has the abil­ity to con­nect with a small group of peo­ple over an evening or a cou­ple of a days. Plus he loves cook­ing out­side. “It’s ther­a­peu­tic for me,” he says. With so many restau­rants on the go, do any have a spe­cial place in his heart?

“I pre­fer to just say that they are all my favourites, ” he says. But then goes on to ad­mit that Harry’s Burg­ers in Park­dale “might be a lit­tle favourite.” He loves the burg­ers and the his­tory of the diner and says, “It’s just such a com­fort­able place.”

Van Gameren has lived in the neigh­bour­hood for many years: “It holds a spe­cial place in my heart.”

Al­though he can’t spec­u­late about which of his pro­jects will be the next to open, he men­tions that he’s in­trigued by PEC.

“I’m ac­tively search­ing for other stuff to do up there.”

Look­ing for­ward, van Gameren says he only wants to work on pro­jects that he loves, with peo­ple that in­spire him.

“I never want to do any­thing just for the money or just be­cause the op­por­tu­nity is there,” he says. “I can only do ideas that are in­spir­ing to me, and I hope that the city en­joys it. I’ll keep do­ing it un­til I’m too old or Toronto says stop.”

Clock­wise from left: Grant van Gameren, Cressy House in PEC, the poblano and fava cro­quette bowl at Ros­alinda

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