Itamar Shani is keeping it fresh at Chickpea
Itamar Shani was born in Israel and grew up watching his mother cook. As soon as he was old enough to use the stove, he began experimenting with his own recipes. He cooked part time while studying law and accounting, but eventually he was inspired to launch the Chickpea food truck. Just one year later, with an enthusiastic following, the Chickpea restaurant opened on Main Street.
Q: What motivates and inspires you as a chef?
A: I became a vegetarian six years ago after visiting an elephant sanctuary during my honeymoon in Thailand. A lot of people warned me that opening a meatless food truck would not be successful. However, everyday at Chickpea, I woke up motivated to show the world that you do not have to compromise your values for flavour.
Q: How would you describe the type of food you like to cook?
A: I make delicious food that also happens to be vegan. I don’t make any sacrifices in order to make my food free of animal products. My food isn’t strictly for vegans — in fact most of the guests at Chickpea aren’t vegan. Whether you’re at the food truck or the restaurant you’ll see a rainbow of people eating my food and I love that!
Q: What might diners not know about you?
A: When I first came to Vancouver it was hard for me to get a job. As multicultural as this city is, despite my experience, I was turned down by a lot of restaurants because of my accent and foreign appearance. One of the reasons I created Chickpea was to give people who are often overlooked a place to not only work, but also thrive. Today, my three kitchen leads are Brazilian, Eritrean, and Indigenous and two out of three are female.
Q: Describe a couple of your most recent creations.
A: I’ve recently been making a lot of Italian food and enjoy the challenge of veganizing dishes like lasagna and pizza that are typically loaded with meat and cheese. Almost all of my food is made completely from scratch. I mill my own flour for pizza dough, and top it with homemade vegan cashew-coconut mozzarella and fermented almond ricotta.
Q: What’s your favourite local product and how do you use it?
A: Tempea’s tempeh is a great product. At the restaurant we use it in our shawarma but at home make a lot of stir fries and kebabs with it. I also love just about everything from Plant Base. At Chickpea, we use BacUN in the fan favourite Bacado Sandwich and the Chipotle Porkornot Nawsages in our classic vegan Shakshuka.
5 tomatoes, cubed
10 garlic cloves, sliced and peeled
3 yellow onions, chopped
1 tbsp (15 mL) sugar
1 big carrot, shredded
1/2 red pepper, sliced
1 jalapeño, sliced
2 tbsp (30 mL) canola oil
4 vegan sausages, chopped
1 cup (250 mL) hot water
8 oz (240 mL) organic tomato paste
1 tbsp (15 mL) paprika
1 tbsp (15 mL) smoked paprika
1 tbsp (15 mL) cumin
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) salt
1/4 tsp (1 mL) black pepper
Warm canola oil in a frying pan on medium heat. When the oil is hot first add garlic and sauté. Next add the onions and sauté until clear. Add sugar and paprika, and carrots and let everything sauté together. Add jalapeño and red pepper. Once all veggies are sautéed together, spread cubed tomatoes all over the frying pan. Make sure the pan is fully covered with all of the ingredients. Sprinkle with salt. Cover pan and lower heat. Allow to cook for 15 minutes, without mixing. In a large bowl mix together tomato paste, hot water, cumin, black pepper, salt and paprika. After the vegetable base has cooked for 25 minutes, pour the sauce mixture onto the cooking vegetables. Add vegan sausage, cover again and let cook for 10 more minutes.
Makes 4 servings.