Grant van Gameren lives on coffee, cigarettes and maybe one meal a day. “Somehow I seem to survive,” he says, wryly. Perhaps thrive is a better word, since the skinny Toronto chef’s Spanish-inflected Bar Isabel has just won top honour on both The Globe and Mail’s and Enroute’s best new restaurants lists. The chef, who developed a following when he co-owned nose-to-tail trailblazer The Black Hoof, is so focused on each diner’s experience that he will not leave the kitchen during service. But cooking at home, he says, is entirely different. “There I’m a little out of my realm. I’m looking for my tools, my dishwasher, my mise en place.” That’s when van Gameren’s girlfriend, Sunny, who is also a cook, steps in. “She whips up amazing stuff with whatever we have in the fridge.” Sometimes it’s just for him, sometimes it’s for company and sometimes Sunny’s spontaneous creations inspire van Gameren’s most interesting dishes, like this shakshuka, a Middle Eastern egg dish that the pair pumps up with smoked cheese, meatballs and gizzards.
1 lb chicken gizzards, cut in half
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp vegetable oil
1 lb raw meatballs (any recipe you like)
2 tbsp each whole black mustard and coriander seeds
1/2 tsp each whole cumin seeds and chili flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 onions, diced
4 bell peppers in mixed colours, diced
1 tbsp sweet smoked Spanish paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
2 cups dry white wine
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
3 large tomatoes, diced
1 can San Marzano tomatoes, torn roughly into large pieces
1 cup spinach, blanched, squeezed and finely chopped
4-6 soft-poached eggs (1 per person)
A few sprigs cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup grated Scamorza or other smoked cheese
Season gizzards generously with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a heavy pan on high until almost smoking, then add gizzards and cook for 2 minutes per side or until gizzards are goldenbrown and crisp. Remove from pan. Next, brown meatballs the same way, colouring the exterior but not cooking fully. Remove from pan and set aside.
Turn heat to low and add remaining teaspoon of oil if pan looks dry. (Don’t scrape out the pan, as those bits of stuck meat create flavour.) Add mustard, coriander and cumin seeds and chili flakes, and cook gently for 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and sweat for 30 seconds without burning. Add onions and peppers and cook over medium, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened but not brown (15 to 20 minutes). Return gizzards to pan; add paprika and oregano and cook at medium-high for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in wine and vinegar and simmer until most of the liquid evaporates (20 to 30 minutes). Add tomatoes and increase to a strong simmer.
Return meatballs to pan and continue cooking until gizzards are tender and not chewy when tested (1 to 2 hours). Add more salt or chili flakes if desired. Refrigerate overnight.
Just before serving, heat broiler. Stir spinach into stew and warm through in a pan on the stovetop. Place a spoonful of stew into a small oven-safe dish for each person and top with a poached egg. Garnish with cilantro and a bit of cheese and broil until melted and bubbling.