Adrian Niman’s Top Toronto Chefs
Food Dudes Founder loves to talk up his fellow culinary creators
July 24, 2017
Adrian Niman is no stranger to Toronto’s thriving restaurant scene. As founder of The Food Dudes and Executive Chef at Rasa and Pantry, he’s practically the chairman of the board. According to custom, fellow chefs are welcomed with open arms and plied with off-menu delights when visiting a contemporary’s kitchen and, needless to say, Adrian has sampled an array of Toronto’s finest dishes. It takes a truly special talent to top his list of the city’s best chefs, and he wastes no time in praising those chosen few.
“I think Matt Blondin – no biased opinion there – but I think he’s doing some really interesting stuff,” Adrian says of his colleague who now runs the show at Omaw, having earned his stripes at Acadia and Momofuku Daisho. The sophisticated American fusion Blondin brings to the Ossington strip, presented via contemporary design, is truly in a class of its own. And amidst the sparkling ingenuity of Omaw’s inventive fare, the focal point remains on enjoyment. “His mussels on toast is one of the favourite bites I’ve ever had,” Adrian attests about a Blondin classic. “And he hasn’t even reached his full potential. The best is still yet to come.”
With Chef Blondin’s cutting-edge flavour and texture combinations continuing to evolve, and word getting out organically as more people discover his work, the growth at Omaw will indeed be exciting to track. Adrian ranks him as the most creative chef in the game at the moment, a lofty mantle he’s confident others will come to recognize. As head of a sizeable and growing hospitality group, it’s Adrian’s recognition of savvy in other chefs – as much as the application of his own acumen – that progressively keeps The Food Dudes at the forefront of Toronto cuisine.
Another Acadia alum that consistently turns Chef Niman’s head is Patrick Kriss – the Scarborough native who honed his craft in France and at New York’s Michelin-rated Daniel, before eventually opening Alo to critical delight in downtown Toronto. “With Patrick, it’s just – the ingredients he works with,” Adrian says of Chef Kriss’ dedication to elegantly simple sourcing. “The last time I was at Alo, he had these baby squid, it wasn’t even on the menu. Baby squid the size of a dime, and he tossed them in a little squid ink sauce, or – I don’t even know what he did – but that’s all it was. It came out, and I’m like, where in the world would I be able to try something like this?” Alo’s recent distinction atop Canada’s 100 Best – a nationwide list created by the industry’s best and brightest – underscores Adrian’s enchantment.
“Anybody who does something unique in this city is rewarded.” It’s a seemingly straightforward credo that Chef Niman notes, but one that a surprising few visionaries embrace in full. The rare access afforded to a member of the chef’s circle provides priceless exposure to the kinds of bold experimentation happening in the city at any given moment, a privilege Adrian relishes. His chance to host and thrill his peers comes through different avenues, as an overseer of custom catering menus and a regular but partial presence in the Rasa kitchen. When tasked with creating the menu for a fellow chef’s event, Adrian seizes the platform for some of his most innovative work, and really lets his imagination run wild.
The final forward-thinking artisan to make Chef Niman’s current shortlist is Grant van Gameren – he of Bar Isabel, Bar Raval and El Rey fame, and the builder of a legitimate restaurant empire in the making. “His charcuterie is incredible,” Adrian raves, nearly glazing over in recalling his last visit. “I think his Spanish food is his best effort. I mean, he’s opened a Mexican place. He’s opened a diner now, last year. Everything tastes incredible. Everything he does. I just think his Spanish food is the pinnacle of what you can get in Toronto, as far as authentic.”
And Adrian should know, thanks to his training in Mallorca, Spain over a decade ago. Again, simplicity and inventiveness are the hallmarks of Chef van Gameren’s undeniable genius that resonate with Adrian – a reflection of that intense formative period during which he soaked up all there was to learn about fresh seafood, excellent wines and impeccable service. Spain is undoubtedly one of the centres of culinary pursuit, so it’s no surprise to identify the origin of Adrian’s high standards. The perennial praise for Bar Isabel and Bar Raval show he’s far from alone in his admiration of Chef van Gameren.
The eminence of Toronto’s elite chef’s class is constantly evolving, before the very eyes and palates of patrons, pundits and participants such as Chef Niman. The next best-chef-in-town is most certainly rising from obscurity to claim the crown in their time, only to be dethroned by another strike of brilliance. Adrian is just excited to be along for the ride, honoured to glimpse behind the curtains of so many spectacular kitchens, and grateful for the opportunity to continue taking part in the action.