Sharing Stories in Bits & Bites

Downtown, Delicious and Determined

There’s nothing quite like a wee sleep-in on the weekend, then pulling on something comfy and heading out the door to indulge in a mouthwatering  brunch at your favourite local spot. Gabriel Martin has a lofty goal… for Gabriel’s Cafe to be the ‘go to’ breakfast spot in Nanaimo. Although he’s set the bar high, he is well on his way to success.

A brief four and a half years ago he and his girlfriend, now wife, moved to Nanaimo. Already a red seal chef, with years of  experience, he struggled to find a spot that was a good work ‘fit’. His love affair with food creation begun early. At the ripe age of five he recalls learning to scramble eggs with Uncle Bob. His parents, both avid cooks, ran a vegetarian restaurant. As a teen he worked with Chef Terry Small at Swans in Victoria. When it came time to head to school he had no doubt which path he was on. He studied the Culinary Arts at Camosun College and then went on to apprentice under Dave Craggs at the well known Victoria hot spot Ferris’ Oyster Bar.

A respect for fresh, clean flavours presented with creative twists is Gabriel’s trademark. A life-altering moment in his past was  when he watched a family friend butcher a deer, then sent him out to gather stinging nettles in a nearby field. That evening while feasting on roast venison and steamed greens…he knew he wanted to make food for people for a living. Months of travelling through Thailand and Australia continued to shape his particular style of food creation. A quick browse through the menu will confirm his love for tropical flavours. Inevitably when I ask people what their favourite thing on the menu is…it’s akin to asking who their favourite child is. Luckily Gabriel just has one…child that is! But, he did say his green curry is his personal favourite. Over a decade of recipe tweaking and experimentation has led to the final, popular product.

Upon his return to Canada and move to Nanaimo,the downtown location on 183 Commercial was available for lease, and although he wasn’t quite ready for restaurant ownership…it was his dream and he took that leap of faith. Gabriel shared that the challenge of not knowing a soul and simply hoping people would happen upon his originally “signless” cafe’ was daunting. Fortunately for Nanaimo, his passion for the food spoke volumes and the word spread quickly. Over the years he’s won awards and accolades from Lonely planet, BC Living, Nanaimo News and the Bite of Nanaimo, to name a few. His regulars are die hard fans and he claims that even if he wanted to remove something of the menu …he can’t. “I’d be afraid…they won’t let me” he chuckled describing his customers devotion to their favourites.

The future is bright for Gabriel’s Cafe. As of this week they moved into their fun & funky new digs at 39A  Commercial Street. As they were busily preparing for the grand opening, Gabriel generously shared a few minutes of his time to fill me in on the exciting changes ahead.

First of all…waaaaayyyy bigger space. For the kitchen this means improved storage for locally sourced products. A favourite hobby for this chef is foraging through famers markets to find his next best friend, who can provide him with top quality  ingredients right from our own backyard. And although nothing is being removed from the menu, he’s added several dishes on to the menu, making it a delightfully difficult decision! Best news for the clientele, the elbow room means they can enjoy their breakfast and lunchtime favourites…even during the rainy season! ON the horizon there is the possibility of adding craft beers and a selection Vancouver Island wines to the menu to compliment the delectable dishes. All sounds great to me!

Chef Gabriel’s commitment to using resources sustainably doesn’t stop with the food either. No way! The entire decor is an example of repurposing materials. From the ‘coffee sack’ seat backs and mason jar lamps to the ‘bowling alley’ counter top. He and his wife thought outside the box to create a hip yet comfortable environment while still limiting their carbon footprint. They even went so far as to create a living wall along the entry way. Chock full of herbs, lettuce, kale, spinach and other tasty leafy stuff! As long as their toddler son doesn’t scale the wall and do too much of his own ‘gardening’…it should be a wonderful addition to the restaurant. The chef generously shared his recipe for a Chickpea & Kale Curry, make sure to have a look at that here.

Gabriel, his family and cheerful staff are ready for you, so stop in soon, check out the new space and the same fabulous food. For the next little while they will be closed on Monday’s…just a breather after the hectic move. He needs ONE day to get out and have fun with his family, fishing and veggie gardening…that season is just around the corner…ahhhhh! Gotta love Island Living! So go on in and please let me know what your favourite thing on the menu is…what could possibly be stopping you with true fresh food, a great value and a welcoming atmosphere?

Gabriel’s Cafe is on Facebook and Twitter so if you are a ‘follower’ jump on board to get news of specials and the amazing featured soups and dishes.

Cheers to many more years for Gabriel’s Cafe where his passion is for making people happy, because good food always makes people happy.

The easiest diet is, you know, eat vegetables, eat fresh food.

Just a really sensible diet…like you read about all the time.

~Drew Carey


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