By Marian Staresinic
Grant van Gameren’s rise towards becoming one of Canada’s most celebrated chefs began sizzling shortly after opening the Black Hoof in 2008. With personal memories of family dinners at the helm of his creative inspiration, he launched several ambitious and controversial menus at the Hoof, inviting guests from all over the world to revel in a culinary world they either missed or were missing out on.
Van Gameren’s plight for continuous advancement as a visionary directed him away from the Hoof, towards worldly travels, where he was heavily influenced by the convivial style of Spanish dining culture, eventually producing the desire to build the internationally-recognized Bar Isabel. His objective personality, authenticity as a man built on noble virtues, as well as relentless work ethic has garnered much success at Bar Isabel, proudly expressed as 2013 en Route magazine’s Best New Canadian Restaurant.
Van Gameren’s most recent display of a man destined to leave his mark in a city he loves, trusting others will travel to love it as well, is Bar Raval. His unmistakable duende is doing just that, allowing guests from all over the world an opportunity to lose themselves in a space which is just as much an art piece as it is a vessel for his timeless respect for the art of enjoying delicious food and drink.
Here’s what van Gameren had to say about how he got where he is now and how to maintain success.
First off, tell us how you first got involved in the food industry.
At around 16 years old, I started working at Pizza Pizza. That was my first job in a kitchen. I slowly worked my way to better restaurants. I didn’t ever want to be a chef. I never grew up around food, but I’m the type of person who does something and wants to do it better. I got a job at Canoe and I thought I knew everything about cooking. I quickly realized I knew nothing. It was then and there that I decided I was going to put my head down and dedicate all my efforts to becoming a chef. I never went to school, so it was more out of necessity.
What chef or chef(s) have been your biggest influence?
When I was getting into cooking I was doing a lot of Italian, so Mario Batali [was a big influence for me]. Back then, you saw him as the real deal/all-star chef but his food was simple. He made cooking look easy and fun, and he had an attitude and passion. There’s also Albert Adrià and Victor Arguinzoniz from Asador Etxebarri. That’s the kind of food I want to be cooking. Nowadays, I get inspired by the young chefs that work for me.
As a chef and restaurateur whose establishments have made top restaurant lists in publications such as enRoute Magazine and Canada’s 100 Best, what advice would you give to new chefs in this industry?
I always tell people several key points if I’m looking to hire them. I tell them that if you look around in the kitchen, 80 to 90 per cent of the people that you’re working with unfortunately are not going to become a chef. It’s unlike most trades where you can be a plumber or an electrician and work for four years, then you become a plumber or an electrician. You have to really decide this is something you want to achieve and go for it. I had to sacrifice a lot of things in my life to get where I am.
They also have to understand that it’s all about the customer and their experience. You have to leave your ego at the door. I think one of the reasons why myself and the restaurants are successful is that I approach cooking as a job and my job is to satisfy the guest and make sure they’re the top priority, not your ego or your food. That’s huge.
Work ethic is also everything. Anything can be taught but a strong work ethic is key to making it up the ranks. In this industry you have to show that you deserve it before you get it. Lastly, you have to put yourself in environments where you learn and that create opportunities. Sometimes that’s not always the number one restaurant in Canada, sometimes it’s better to surround yourself with a good group of individuals.
What’s one thing everyone should know about you?
I used to be a snake breeder. At one time I had 50 pythons and boas constrictors in a bachelor apartment.
About the author:
Marian Staresinic is the Vice President of Branding and Buzzing. She has been in the food business her whole career, beginning at Stratford Chefs School then as a restaurant and cooking school owner, celebrity chef talent manager, AGA Cooker Brand Manager, food editor and the founder of Windsor’s Slow Food chapter.
About Branding & Buzzing:
Branding and Buzzing is a modern food marketing agency that brings the buzz to their clients through engaging consumer conversations, social media and real-life experiences that are inspirational, memorable and most importantly, brand-driven. For more information, visit brandingandbuzzing.com.