Former Black Hoof chef Grant van Gameren has revealed to The Grid that he is set to open a new restaurant called Crown Cooks on College Street in January.
The 31-year-old chef is currently overseeing the construction crew’s demolition work inside the building, which was previously home to Grappa Ristorante (797 College St. at Shaw) for the past 20 years.
It’s pretty much a guarantee that the forthcoming restaurant will attract crowds—after all, people lined up for hours to dine at The Black Hoof, the acclaimed charcuterie restaurant he co-owned when it opened four years ago. Since he left The Black Hoof in summer 2011, he’s spent time as the executive chef at Dundas West’s Enoteca Sociale, learning how to run a business from proprietor Max Rimaldi (who’s also a partner at Crown Cooks) and devising not only the best way to open a restaurant, but how to keep it going as long as Grappa.
“I think there’s something to say about taking over a restaurant that was still successful,” says van Gameren, who moved into the space at the end of August, shortly after the old Italian restaurant relocated to Etobicoke. “I came here recently on a Saturday night when it was still Grappa and it was full. It’s about good Zen or whatever. That clientele probably won’t be the new clientele, but if you’re doing good food, people will go to it.”
In addition to the lessons he learned at Enoteca Sociale (which included budgeting, profit margins, and how to run a more efficient kitchen), van Gameren also spent eight weeks eating his way across Europe for inspiration. The ingredient-driven menu at Crown Cooks will be tapas-style, along with four to six larger sharing plates. There will be offal, vegetable dishes, and his brand of cured meats.
Starting at 11 p.m. each night, the 70 to 75-seat restaurant will serve up a late-night menu of pickles, preserves, tartar, and maybe even nachos with piquillos and anchovies. The chef says the bartender will handle these late-night snacks, rather than the kitchen staff. “A big problem with food being served late at night is that the cooks have been there since 10 in the morning,” he says, noting that a few restaurants in the city have recently stopped offering late-night eats. “Three months later and none of them want to work there anymore. The kitchen will make most of the food, but the bartenders will be putting it together.”
He tosses around the term “old-school” a lot when describing the place. The dining room will be purposely cluttered and lit with chandeliers emitting a warm amber glow. He’s taken a few design cues from an absinthe bar in Barcelona, and there will be no reclaimed wood (he’s opting for maple). In the back, the enclosed kitchen will be decked with old cabinetry and marble to mimic a European kitchen. Reservations will be accepted, and some seats will be designated for walk-ins. “I want to bring back some class to the west end,” he adds. “It’ll still be comfortable, and the menu will be big enough that you can come back the next day and have something different. We want you to be excited to come here and eat.”
The new setup will be a change for van Gameren, who once shared a cramped 50 square foot-kitchen with two other cooks. He now has a lot on his plate. He’ll continue to be involved with Enoteca Sociale while fulfilling executive chef duties at Crown Cooks, and he’s also running a new side retail charcuterie business called Crown Salumi. He says he wants to become a leader in the city’s restaurant scene, like the chefs and restaurateurs he worked under.
“Some restaurants want to keep staff for 10 years, but I want you for a couple of years and then I want you to move on to other things to become a well-rounded cook, server, or restaurateur,” he says. “If you’re not constantly learning, you should move on.”