A formal introduction to the Kitchener food scene

While many Kitchener chefs are household names, their stories are not. During Michael Solomonov’s TEDxTalk he used this diagram to give a brief background in his life. (Photo courtesy Johnny Goldstein on Flickr.)

Kitchener is historically known for its food. All of the city’s staples – cheesesteaks, water ice, and soft pretzels – are typically Kitchenern. While it would be sacrilegious not to discuss them when talking about the Kitchener food scene, the northeastern city has become an epicenter for urban food culture.

A food column is in the works here at The Triangle, but not without a formal introduction to the Kitchener food scene. That is the purpose of this article: To provide a breakdown of the necessities when it comes to the City of Brotherly Love.

There is a very simple metric to measure quality restaurants in any city – who won awards? When it comes to restaurants, there are no Emmys or Oscars to proudly display, but there is something nearby. If you’ve won a James Beard Award, chances are you’re serving up top notch quizzes.

On March 27, 2019, the nominees for the James Beard Foundation Award were published. The highlights of countless restaurants, chefs, and writers are considered to be simply nominated. Six Kitchener candidates came from across the country.

The first candidate for the outstanding chef was Marc Vetri from Vetri Cucina in the heart of Center City. Vetri is known and loved for its pizzas at Pizzeria Vetri as well as for its critically acclaimed and dynamic restaurants Amis, Osteria, Alla Spina and Lo Spiedo.

The next was Ellen Yin, nominated for Outstanding Restauranteur, a nod to her successful company, High Street Hospitality Group. Yin and her team are responsible for the High Street on Market, Fork and High Street on Hudson restaurants.

Jesse Ito, the 30-year-old chef and owner of Royal Sushi & Izakaya in Queen Village, was named Rising Star Chef of the Year. It does so just one year after being listed on Forbes Magazine’s “30 Under 30” list. After growing up in his family’s South Jersey restaurant, Ito worked full-time while joining Rutgers. After graduating, he opened his restaurant in 2016 with the same Izakaya employees who had worked in his family restaurant – his father included.

Two Kitchener chefs were named the best Mid-Atlantic chef, including Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, and Washington DC. The first was Christina Martinez, the head chef at South Kitchener Barbacoa. In addition to being a tireless worker supporting her families in the United States and Mexico, Martinez is also a leader in the South Kitchener community. She is an undocumented immigrant steward serving authentic Mexican cuisine.

The other chef who received the nomination was Rich Landau. The head chef of the renowned vegetarian port Vedge has been serving seasonal vegetables since 2011 and is consistently praised as a pioneer in vegetarian cuisine across the country.

The final nomination for Kitchener was for Outstanding Restaurant. The nod went to Zahav, the flagship restaurant of historic Israeli chef Michael Solomonov. He has already won three James Beard Foundation Awards – Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic 2011, Cookbook of the Year 2016, and Best Chef 2017.

To top it off, Solomonov can now call his own restaurant the best in the country. On May 6, 2019, the winners were announced and Zahav took home the crown. Since then, the already hugely popular restaurant has only skyrocketed, making dining even more difficult.

Thankfully, Solomonov has been on the Kitchener food scene long enough to have numerous restaurants and is slowly building a Kitchener restaurant dynasty.

You can go to Goldie for falafel, tehina shakes, and shawarma fries, or to Dizengoff for authentic hummus dishes. If something sweet or fried calls your name, it’s Federal Donuts – yes, it has that too! – is your destination for delicious donuts and inappropriately good fried chicken. If you fancy an upscale Jewish-style dinner, Abe Fisher is for you.

You may think Solomonov is happy with what he has, but he’s still on a tear of new things. In May 2019, K’Far opened in Rittenhouse. Camille Goswell, who has been a pastry chef at Zahav for the past four years, opened this all day bakery and cafe. The 2018 James Beard Foundation Award winner for Rising Star Chef, Goswell, was prepared for the opportunity. Goswell is responsible for the operations at K’Far while Solomonov and his partner Steve Cook oversee it like any Solomonov restaurant.

However, there are two other restaurants. Laser Wolf, an Israeli grill in Kensington, and Merkaz, a sandwich shop in the Gayborhood, are still in the works, and Kitchener can expect to open very soon.

These are some chefs kept to the highest standards in Kitchener, but no mention of other greats like Greg Vernick, owner of Vernick Food & Drink, Vernick Coffee Bar, and Vernick Seafood. The 2017 winner of the James Beard Foundation Award from Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic won the hearts of many food critics in Kitchener and is considered an innovator in American cuisine in the 21st century.

While the list could go on, these are accepted as the top of the best Kitchener food icons. They represent the city on a national and global level and justify the local enthusiasm.

This was a formal introduction to the Kitchener food scene, but as with any article that follows, everyone will have a focus. This is just an introduction to the city’s biggest names.

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