Inside the kitchen of Jennifer Coburn, the owner of Gia

Inside the kitchen of Jennifer Coburn, the owner of Gia

Stocked with vegan brie, instant coffee and two massive juicers

Jennifer Coburn, the owner of Gia, in a turtle neck. She's sitting at her kitchen counter in front of a window.In the ’80s, world-class was not a term bandied about when discussing Toronto’s restaurant culture. Back then, the food scene was almost non-existent, and the idea of the city getting its own Michelin Guide was laughable. Growing up in Rexdale, Jennifer Coburn, the owner of Gia—a plant-based restaurant in Little Portugal that just received a Michelin recommendation—and the up-coming Gigi Market, didn’t even have a favourite restaurant. “It’s only in the last decade that Toronto has become a city with a great restaurant scene,” she says. “With that plus Uber Eats and all the prepared foods that are available, cooking is over. Or at least, it’s something you only have to do if you want to.”

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Coburn, by contrast, grew up in a family dedicated to backyard produce, where every dinner featured homemade pies and pickled veggies. These days, she’s found a happy medium between modern time-savers and the slow-food style of her upbringing. “I have a long game and a short game,” she says. The former involves juicing and turning nuts into milk and butter, and the latter includes a lot of prepared foods (from Summerhill Market and Spaccio), Spatula frozen meal kits and Uber Eats. Ordering takeout isn’t Coburn’s favourite way to eat, though. “I don’t like food that has travelled,” she says. But curry dishes travel better than others, which is why her go-to delivery options are Sher-E-Punjab and Pai.

Coburn's kitchen, which if full of wood panelling and has floor to ceiling windows

Her kitchen’s stainless steel backsplashes and ample counter space make it seem like it was designed by a chef—but that impression would be incorrect. “I don’t think she ever stepped foot in this room before I moved in,” jokes Coburn about her wife, Stacey Patterson, who bought their Riverdale Victorian in the early aughts. “She can’t even make toast.” One sign that the space isn’t home-cook-oriented is the fridge. “The kitchen only fits a condo-sized fridge! I want one of those top-of-the-line, can-do-everything-for-you fridges,” says Coburn. “Unfortunately, none of the models that fit have any fun features.”

Here’s what she keeps in the too-small fridge: buckwheat, honey-sweetened almond milk and homemade nut butters (right now there’s a cardamom-infused pumpkin seed butter and an almond butter). Despite the fact that all the bottles say “Gigi Market,” these juices were actually cold-pressed at home, where Coburn does a lot of recipe innovation for the restaurant. “I don’t like juices that taste like salad without salt,” she says. “Juice needs to taste good.”

A straight-on shot of the inside of a fridge, which contains a row of colourful juices and plenty of fruit and vegetables

To that end, two giant juicers occupy a sizable share of countertop real estate. Coburn uses the Pure juicer for peeled citrus, but anything that would require chopping goes in her Goodnature juicer (you can just throw the fruit in whole). Recently, she learned the hard way why no one sells cold-pressed raspberry juice. Long story short, a malfunction ended with a berry explosion that turned her ceiling into a Jackson Pollock. Despite such fruity fiascos, she continues to experiment.

A large, silver juicer on the counter, beside a bowl of fruit

Other fridge goodies include an assortment of Revel Foods dips and spreads (perfect for midnight snacking), a dairy-free brie from Future of Cheese, and coconut yogurt from Riviera. Although the content of this fridge veers vegan, Coburn describes her diet as “mostly plant-based” (she still regularly enjoys dairy, fish and eggs).

A stack of vegan dips on a fridge shelf

Two bricks of vegan brie cheese

As a restaurateur, Coburn lacks a consistent schedule. From appearances on morning television to late-night recipe-innovation sessions, she embraces the chaos. Two constants define her life: the absence of real weekends (owning a restaurant is a 24/7 affair) and her nocturnal tendencies (she’s usually up well past midnight).

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After those late nights, she generally enjoys a belated breakfast of a protein-rich smoothie or overnight oats. Coburn will usually throw in some mix of adaptogens (stress-fighting plants like spirulina, ashwagandha and turmeric) into the Vitamix to add extra health-boosting properties to her smoothies. Her go-to wellness brands are Blume, Sun Potion and Rainbo.

Three side-by-side packets of smoothie additions from Blume

That sustains her until dinner, the main food event of her day. At home, she opts for easily prepared meals like oven-roasted fish with a side of salad or heat-and-eat pad thai from Summerhill Market. “I’m a real late-night snacker,” she admits. “But, in general, I eat quite healthily at home. That way, when I do go out, I can enjoy myself without any restrictions.” Coburn’s restaurant shortlist includes Cucina Buca and Osteria Giulia (which she thinks both make phenomenal pasta), Donna’s (for their “off-the-charts, totally wild flavour combinations”) and White Lily Diner (her favourite brunch spot).

Two crisper drawers full of fruit and vegetables

Nuts, yogurt and raspberries inside Coburn's fridge

The freezer is stocked with the aforementioned oven-ready meals from Spatula. They recently did a collaboration with Gia, turning their porcini agnolotti, rigatoni bolognese and ricotta gnocchi into frozen meal kits.

The inside of Coburn's freezer, which has frozen meals and vacuum sealed vegatables

Coburn isn’t ashamed to admit that she’s an instant coffee girl. “I’ve always found most coffee too bitter,” she says. “That is, until a recent trip to Greece, where I had an espresso that may have changed my mind.” Typically, she’ll add tocos (a powder derived from brown rice that’s been called a “skin food”), some raw organic sugar cane and Ceylon cinnamon to her morning cup of joe.

An orange french press set up beside powdered coffee

Her immaculately organized pantry is full of stuff for making stews, soups and porridges. There are good-for-you grains (including farro and oats), plenty of dried legumes (lentils, chickpeas) and some canned soups (for those nights when Coburn is looking for an extra-low-prep option).

Three pantry shelves which hold protein powders, grains, beans and soups

Among Coburn’s favourite cookbooks is one from Greenhouse, the Toronto juice bar that brought paying $10 for eight sips of cold-pressed kale and ginger into the mainstream. “I’ve been obsessed with Greenhouse since the first time I tried their chocolate almond milk,” she says. It’s because of this book that she started making her own nut milks during lockdown. Mostly, though, Coburn turns to YouTube for at-home recipe inspiration. Sometimes, in a melding of the two worlds, YouTube begets books. Nisha Melvani, a recipe vlogger Coburn likes, recently published Practically Vegan, which is full of hearty 20-minute meals.

Two cookbooks--Greenhous Cookbook and Practically Vegan--stacked on stop of one another

“I’m not a big drinker,” says Coburn. Although most of the bottles on this cart are intended for guests, she’ll occasionally whip up a hibiscus tea mocktail at home. (She purloined the recipe from Gia, where it’s called the Tom Ford.) Whenever she feels like something a bit stronger, she’ll mix in lemon, vanilla and some gin. “It happens to have some health benefits while also being a bit saucy.”

Coburn's liquor collection, which is mostly for guests, resides on a gold bar cart