Sil­ver lin­ing to part­ner­ship walk­out: Grant’s back in the kitchen for now

Richmond Hill Post - - Contents - JOANNE KATES

Joanne Kates on the trou­ble at Quet­zal and its re­cent re­birth

My first real job was cook­ing at Three Small Rooms, then the ac­knowl­edged best resto in Toronto. I thought it was pretty cool, as jobs went: Un­til I went to visit my grand­mother, whose first words were: “We sent you to Welles­ley for this?”

Peo­ple who grew up in For­est Hill (or any­where else fancy) did not work in restau­rants then. Im­mi­grants worked in restau­rants. Not the off­spring of the well off. That has changed since I was young, but with the change has come an­other shift: Chefs don’t nec­es­sar­ily stay in the kitchen any more.

It’s be­come com­mon­place for a chef to open a small­ish restau­rant, make his name (yes, his, be­cause it’s mostly the male chefs who do this) and then open an­other restau­rant … and then an­other … and an­other. And then the chef isn’t a chef any more. He’s a busi­ness man­ager who’s teach­ing (he hopes) oth­ers to en­act his vi­sion. On a good day it works.

On a bad day it’s Jan­uary 2019 and you’re Grant van Gameren. You al­ready have eight restos. You sunk a re­ported $1.5 mil­lion into a beau­ti­ful reno and opened Quet­zal in Au­gust 2018, in part­ner­ship with chefs Julio Gua­jardo and Kate Chomyshyn. Less than six months later it went sour.

So sour that on Jan­uary 17, 2019, the Toronto Star pub­lished this: “We ended our roles as chefs/op­er­a­tors of Quet­zal be­cause we think the terms of our agree­ment were never met. We felt over­worked, un­der­paid, un­der­val­ued and dis­re­spected,” wrote Julio Gua­jardo and his wife, Kate Chomyshyn, re­fer­ring to van Gameren.

Quet­zal, which was then the hottest resto in town, closed.

Then Grant, likely up­set about that $1.5 mil out of pocket, went back into the kitchen and re­opened Quet­zal on March 5.

You might want to go there in a hurry be­fore he again ex­its the kitchen. Be­cause Quet­zal rocks.

I just came back from a week of se­ri­ous glut­tony in Puerto Val­larta, in­clud­ing a Oax­a­can cook­ing school day, and noth­ing I ate there com­pares to Grant’s ad­dic­tive Mex­i­can moves.

His ce­viches are works of art. My fave is the del­i­cate kan­pachi tira­dito. This is a su­perbly fresh raw white fish, its skin charred fast and crunchy (on the eight-me­tre-long open wood grill), sit­ting in a fab­u­lous cit­ric/spicy liq­uid of white soy, tomatillo juice, lime and ar­bol chili oil.

His masas are painstak­ing ar­ti­sanal corn breads that re­de­fine the genre.

When Grant makes an em­panada, it’s a thin crispy blue corn wrap­per hold­ing woodsmoked chicken with su­perdel­i­cate mole of al­monds, gua­jillo pep­per and a hint of cho­co­late. Spoon the salsa verde with tomatillo, ser­rano pep­pers and cu­cum­ber juice for sweet! Of course Grant does oc­to­pus, charred ten­der, with sauce of peanuts and wood-charred pasilla, an­cho and gua­jillo chilies.

But his mas­ter­work is the house­made chorizo. To score a half order, they make you choose red or green. Go green. It’s the ten­der­est, most del­i­cate chorizo I’ve ever had, jazzed with co­rian­der and chilies, served with two very fine sal­sas (red and green).

That’s the best Mex­i­can din­ner — by far — in this town to­day.

You don’t need any­thing else. Skip the (slightly tough) skirt steak. Don’t order the av­o­cado leaf ice cream with caramelize­d crick­ets and guava foam. Less in­ter­est­ing than it sounds.

But hurry over to Quet­zal. Be­cause nobody ex­pects Grant to stay in the kitchen for­ever. Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cor­don Bleu de Cui­sine in Paris. She has writ­ten ar­ti­cles for nu­mer­ous pub­li­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the New York Times, Ma­clean’s and Chate­laine.

Clockwise from left: Grant van Gameren in the Quet­zal kitchen; raw veg­eta­bles; Grant’s oc­to­pus

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