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For the love of Hamilton

For the love of Hamilton: This regular feature highlights people from all walks of life who have embraced Hamilton as their new home. 

Anthony Zolkiewicz is a veteran chef with over 25 years of experience working in various food establishments, including banquet halls, hotels, bistros and fine dining restaurants. Zolkiewicz has been sharing his culinary prowess with students of varying ages and backgrounds as a chef instructor. From teaching young children how to hold their first chef’s knife during summer kids camps, to training hungry teens to compete in Jr Chopped Canada on the Food Network, to teaching college students and adult food lovers to expand their gastronomic skills, Zolkiewicz pairs years of culinary experience with his incredible talent for uniting people with jokes and and his boisterous approach to food. Through Gastro Market, Anthony’s goal is to bring his fun-loving culinary vision to life so that every food lover may learn how to become their own chef at home and to experience tasty, beautifully crafted, homestyle meals and ingredients from his talented team of chefs.

What brought you to Hamilton?
It was sheerly by accident. We had been doing a location scout in St. Catharines and on our way back home, I insisted on checking out 193 King St. E. based on a recommendation from one of our realtor friends. The rest is history!

Anthony Zolkiewicz is a chef and instructor at Gastro Market on King Street East. Photos: Lucas Claxton/Giant
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What do you do at Gastro Market and what is the experience you provide to your guests?
Cooking is a life skill. And our mission is to help every Canadian household be able to cook good food fresh from scratch. This is the vision behind Gastro. We’re a very small team of chefs and culinary educators dedicated to teaching culinary arts and empowering people from all walks of life with the ability to cook. Most folks don’t have the time or financial resources to attend culinary school, and likewise, most high schools no longer offer proper culinary programs where Canadian youth can at least build some basic foundations for cooking. So, in this day and age of DoorDash, inflation and skyrocketing grocery prices, where does the average Canadian learn how to cook and fend for themselves? This is where we hope our unique program offerings, like our 8-week adult home and teen chef series, couples cooking classes, and corporate “Hell’s Kitchen” team building, help provide our guests with a fun and foundational learning experience.

What made you choose the location of your business in International Village?
To be honest, it was the space itself that really made us commit. We have our main operations on the ground floor, but the mezzanine is a super cool private dining space that overlooks our cooking studio. It's also a great vantage point from which you can tease your partner during a couples cooking class or your colleagues during one of our Hell's Kitchen team building experiences!

You opened in the height of the pandemic. What was that like?
It was ridiculously scary! We've always had complete confidence in the classes we offer and their overall reception, but it was obviously "timing" that we ultimately were taking a chance on. How much longer would the pandemic last? Are we going to be able to tide ourselves over with our market provisions and takeout pizzas & sandwiches until we could run our classes? These were questions we would constantly ask ourselves. Then, as restrictions would change, we also forced ourselves to evolve – something we immediately realized was the key to survival. We are forever fortunate to be in the place we currently are.

How do you and your wife Justine Wilk work together at Gastro Market?
Sometimes I have no idea (lol)! Working side by side with your spouse is not for everyone, but in all seriousness, I couldn't imagine doing this with anyone else. The best way to describe our working relationship is that Justine is the yin to my yang. Even though we both cook and teach, Justine takes care of all the marketing, communications, sales and social media, whereas I look after day-to-day operations like ordering, inventory, catering, and the like. Essentially, we each play to our strengths to make things run smoothly.

Wife and husband Justine Wilk and Anthony Zolkiewicz at Gastro Market.

How would you describe your approach to food?
In an age of instant gratification where you can get a finger-licking good shawarma (or any decent fast-food order) delivered with the swipe of your phone, sometimes the simple goodness of a hearty, home-cooked meal is forgotten or overlooked. Whether our customers want to grab a quick, wholesome meal, plan a unique menu to celebrate a life milestone, or learn how to cook with the confidence of a chef, Gastro strives to fulfill every food enthusiast’s appetite through our cooking, catering, and recreational cooking classes.

What neighbourhood did you choose to live in and why?
We currently reside in Corktown. The proximity to work enables us to take on last-minute caterings and other such endeavours. It's also fantastic not to have to commute. We used to drive in all the way from Mississauga, which was a complete time killer. Now we're able to have the time to explore more of Hamilton and determine exactly where we'd like to live and settle down.

What’s your take on Hamilton now that you've got some roots here?
It's a city with huge potential. Is there a need for change and upgrades? Yes, of course, but there is such an influx of young people bringing energy and lifeblood that there is no doubt good things are headed this way.

Favourite hangout in Hamilton?
To be honest, Gastro Market. Being such a small operation (and having a young son), it's hard to get away anywhere but work and home. But we love our space and constantly have friends and guests popping in, so in essence, it is our own little hangout during our downtime.

How would you describe this city as a place to work as a chef?
As a chef, Hamilton is a dream. Folks here are definitely hardcore foodies and love experimenting with different flavours and fare. The number of amazing restaurants in the neighbourhood also offer a ton of creative inspiration. We love that we're able to play with food and that Hamiltonians are only too happy to indulge.

Justine Wilk and Anthony Zolkiewicz with their young son at Gastro Market. Photo: Submitted

Are there Hamilton arts or cultural events you most look forward to attending?
We are a hop, skip & a jump from Theatre Aquarius and cannot wait to be able to attend a show. We're just usually working at the same time their performances play, so hopefully we can get out and see our Theatre Aquarius friends in action.

What do you like to do when you’re not working, on your personal time?
We love spending time with our amazing son and playing golf. Hope to be able to combine the two activities once he's old enough!

What's Hamilton's best-kept secret that you've discovered?
Dim Sum House! The restaurant is located a few doors down from us, and man, do they have good dim sum.

What does Hamilton need more of?

What does Hamilton need less of?
One-way streets! Navigating through the city can be quite tedious at certain times.

What's the one thing you brag about Hamilton to outsiders?
The people! Hamiltonians are by far the most open, outgoing and loyal folks we've ever come across. A number of our regular customers and students have become our close personal friends and we truly feel like we're growing family here. Hamilton is our forever home!