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Alan Gratias is at Home With Grant Van Gameren and Sunny Stone

A home, like a family, has lineage. As a physical structure and shelter, a house’s ancestry is a declaration of its singularity and evolution. My own homestead, Cressy House, on County Road 8, at the eastern reach of Prince Edward County, has welcomed a new custodian. After 20 years I have bid adieu to the old abode. Grant van Gameren, his wife Sunny Stone, both in their thirties, and their one-year-old son, Wylie, have assumed ownership of my Loyalist waterfront farm just below the Rock Cross Road.

Grant van Gameren is a celebrated chef and restaurateur in Toronto. I have heard it said the he is the hottest young chef in the Big Smoke. Toronto Life recently named him 38th on their list of the most influential Torontonians. His current collection of restaurants includes Bar Isabel, Bar Ravel, El Rey, Harry’s, Pretty Ugly, and the Tennessee Tavern. In addition, he opened two Mexican eateries this past spring. They are all buzzy kinds of places where the drinks are as important as the food. His wife, Sunny Stone, tall, slender, and beautiful, is his partner in the compulsively hectic life of a couple in the hospitality biz. She, also a chef, quickly came to see how a farm at the far end of the County would be an antidote for the craziness of restaurateur life. She could take up iron-mongering again, their two dogs would have free range, Wylie could learn to swim in the open waters of Lake Ontario, and Grant, well, he could decompress and visit the design gods for his next creations.

Grant has a personal ethos about collaboration and a sharing of wealth. Every restaurant he has opened has been with former employees as partners. “I like helping people grow,” he explains. He has a tattoo on his stomach that reads, “½ Mine ½ Yours.” It came from his days as a broke cook, working at Il Fornello. “If we had one cigarette, we’d share it. By making staff owners, you have someone who really cares about the business,” Grant contends. In reality this means Grant and Sunny can be off to new ventures, like Cressy House, knowing the details and day-to-day stewardship of the restaurants can be left to another owner.

I wasn’t sure at first. About selling. About the next chapter. Then one day he came down the road on a cold hard day in April. This stranger, Grant van Gameren, stood in the drizzle, taking it all in. The quiet and the serenity. The vineyard and the field of lavender. A village of reconstructed buildings and barns at the water’s edge, more Mediterranean than Canadian Shield. He stood there at the circular dry-stone wall in a trance of wonder. Grant van Gameren, handsome and confident, two sleeves of tattoos under black leather, came right to the point. “This is for me.”

We know timing is everything in life. I wanted to downsize and simplify while I had the energy and the health to do it. After a few visits with Grant I became convinced he would be a trusted legatee, he and Sunny would be good custodians of Cressy House and the house-tree would have a vigorous new branch. We quickly agreed on terms, and a late closing meant I had time to attack the job of deconstructing a lifetime of acquisitions.

Grant and Sunny, of course, have their own style-stamp, I quickly realized, as distressed leather sofas, oversized harvest tables, and more than several antler heads began filling the vast empty spaces of Cressy Longhouse, the guesthouse, and the main house. Pearl button white has been replaced by fresh green on the walls, and my French country sensibility reads more northern hunting lodge. All different, but pleasing and geared to a younger generation. One of the reasons the van Gamerens’ restaurants have received such fanfare and accolades (“drop-dead gorgeous tapas bar”), is their ability to appeal to a millennial aesthetic. I have been invited for dinner several times at Cressy House to savour the charcuteries and rare-cut meats that became Grant’s signature approach at his famous first bistro, The Black Hoof. “People remember the experience and the feeling as much as the food,” Grant sums up.

As Joanie and I depart the laneway for the last time, we wave farewell to Sunny who is painting the front hall, and to Grant who is building outdoor tepees to hold firewood for the plethora of fireplaces. She in a tank top and jean shorts, and he in a dark singlet and skinny Levi’s, are the picture of rural adventurers. Both keep an eye on the two dogs bounding about, and on Wylie who is learning to walk. Our bittersweet exit on this perfect May 1 moving day is interrupted when the moving truck gets stuck in the soft grass of the orchard, churning up deep ruts of mud. Grant points out a broken truck on moving day brings good luck. Something like breaking a leg on opening night at the theatre. With the newly created Waupoos flag tied to the antennae, we turn left onto County Road 8. In the rear-view mirror, Grant and Sunny, young, focused, and bursting with energy, go back to work creating their country home, like their restaurants another warm, comfortable space nobody wants to leave.

Photography by Daniel Vaughan