Chef-Parent Interview: Eden Grinshpan
Interview by Juliet Izon
Beloved chef Eden Grinshpan, and host of Cooking Channel’s Eden Eats and Food Network’s Top Chef Canada, has the uncanny ability to make you feel like her best friend when you’ve only just met (if only your best friend could whip up a hummus half as good).
And while life is always busy with a toddler – Grinshpan has an adorable 14-month-old named Ayv – she also recently birthed a different kind of baby: her fantastic new fast-casual restaurant DEZ. We sat down with the chef to talk about the genesis of the restaurant, and, of course, her daughter’s favorite foods and eating out together.
Tell us about DEZ! How did you hook up with Samantha Wasser?
DEZ is a contemporary Middle Eastern fast-casual restaurant. I’ve had this restaurant concept in my back pocket for years and decided to try out a pop up in Brooklyn a couple of years ago to showcase a menu for a potential restaurant.
“It’s all about taking the baby with you as much as you can, wherever you go and wherever you eat.”
The experience at the pop-up gave me the confidence to move forward and around the same time I happened to be walking past a By Chloe. I said to myself, “Those guys know what they’re doing.” So, I reached out and before long I was meeting with By Chloe. and The Sosta co-founder Samantha Wasser about partnering up to open a restaurant. We hit it off and were completely on the same page. That was two years ago and that first meeting led to us working together to open DEZ.
How did you decide on the menu?
The menu is inspired by different dishes that I’ve experienced throughout my life. I’m half Israeli, have traveled throughout Israel and my experiences enjoying the flavors of the Middle East have really influenced the menu. I also grew up in Toronto, which is a very multi-cultural city, and we had close family friends from Iran, which led me to develop a passion for Persian food. I also love Moroccan spices and flavor profiles, so that played a role in the menu development. Plus, Tel Aviv’s food scene is really having a moment, which is also inspiring. I always wanted to be a part of this Middle Eastern food movement in America and show that there is more to this style of food than falafel – there are so many great dishes and flavors to try, and I want DEZ to represent that.
What’s your favorite dish?
My favorite dish on the DEZ menu is the carrot meze. This dish has so many elements that I love, like the harissa we make in house, which is also available for retail purchase. I’m very proud of this harissa recipe – it has heat and richness. The carrots are also roasted with honey and they get a nice char. They’re served on top of labaneh, a tangy strained yogurt that’s one of my favorite things. On top of the carrots we sprinkle dukkah, an Egyptian condiment I make with toasted spices. There are so many inspirations in this one small dish. I love the way it comes together. I’m also obsessed with the harissa curry shakshuka, I eat it all day – that’s why I kept it on the menu all-day and not just limited to the brunch menu. It’s seemingly simple but also complex, and just a very heart-warming dish.
What are the best dishes for kids on the menu?
My daughter absolutely loves the jeweled saffron rice. It’s not too spicy, so it’s kid-friendly, and it comes with grilled chicken and mint-lemon yogurt. She also loves anything served with the pita, so the beet hummus and babaganoush, as well as the lamb meatballs – it’s a great way for kids to get their protein – and the sabich salad, which has so many elements like potato and eggs that are easy for kids to eat.
What kind of an eater is your daughter?
She is 14 months and usually open to trying new foods but has been getting a little picky lately – it may just be a phase at this age. But she loves everything on the DEZ menu because that’s what I cook at home – roasted vegetables, hummus, rice, salads and eggs. She eats a Middle Eastern diet.
What are her favorite foods?
She’s obsessed with cucumbers. I feed her tons of cucumbers with tahini. She also likes omelets, avocado and would do anything for a handful of berries. Granola is one of her favorite foods too – I make her the tahini granola we serve at DEZ. She’ll grab a handful of granola and make the biggest mess all over the living room, but it’s so cute.
How has being a parent changed your cooking style?
It hasn’t really changed. I’ve always embraced a Middle Eastern diet and didn’t even really pay attention to how healthy everything is, but when you really look at the menu you realize how nutritious everything is because there are so many vegetable dishes. So now when I sit down for lunch or dinner with my husband and the baby, we still get to enjoy the food we’ve always ate, and she is there enjoying this food right along with us.
Where do you love to eat out as a family? Favorite restaurants, in New York, Toronto and/or Tel Aviv?
What’s your philosophy on dining out with your daughter/family?
I’m all about it. I think that sometimes parents aren’t in the mood to put in the effort to take their kids out to eat, but I really think it’s important to introduce babies and kids to dining out. It’s all about taking the baby with you as much as you can, wherever you go and wherever you eat. Sometimes people are nervous about others judging them if their child is crying in public at a restaurant, but I say to that, “You do you!” Go out and make it happen. The baby is a part of your family, so I think it’s important to get comfortable dining out with your kid.
You’ve been a great champion of #normalizebreastfeeding and nursing at restaurants, why was that important to you?
Breastfeeding was something that I always wanted to do once I had a child, but when I started doing it, I was shocked by how painful it was and also how much women tried to cover it up in public. I even started out that way. I’ll never forget going out for lunch with my friend Daphne and breastfeeding with a cover; she looked at me and said, “I did not expect you to cover up when you nurse.” and I looked at her and said “You’re so right!” So, I tossed that cover-up and from that moment on I nursed in as many public places as possible and shared all of it on my IG. I want people to feel free and comfortable. Becoming a mom and dealing with all the changes is stressful enough – worrying about covering up while you feed your child shouldn’t be another stressful situation. Breastfeeding is the most natural thing you can do.
Have you had any super-positive experiences with that? Or any negative?
Only positive. New moms gain the confidence from their peers to do what they need to do. When I see moms comfortably doing their thing and nursing in public it makes me so happy.