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At Lunchroom Toronto, Eating Well is All in a Day’s Work

Meet Lunchroom, a talented group of creatives that mix co-working with meal time

By Bert Archer
Photography by Arash Moallemi

Click here for Gabriel Li’s recipe for Curried Tomato Chickpea Stew.

On the fourth floor of one of Uno Prii’s Annex towers unbeknownst to most, and as often as three to four afternoons a week, some of the city’s most talented 35-and-unders gather to work, vet each other’s pitches, mend each other’s often-frayed freelance egos, and eat.

Both the space and the food comes courtesy of Gabriel Li, a photographer, designer, graduate of University of Waterloo’s architecture school, and mother-hen-by-proxy to this revolving group of about 30 creatives. Regulars include illustrator Zachary Monteiro, photographer Pam Lau, and multimedia designer Katherine Diemert.

“It just happened naturally,” says Li of his unusual social network, seated at the large wooden table that dominates the two-bedroom apartment, which he shares with a cat. “I can’t work in libraries and coffee shops,” he says, “so I started bribing people to come work at home with me. Now I’m cooking like I would if I had a family, the way my mom cooked for us every day.”

The bookshelf on the northern wall is filled with volumes on various aspects of food, by Toronto’s Coach House Books and others, though they’re more likely to be about food security, sustainability, and urban gardening than the latest Nigella Lawson. The room is heavy with plants, fed by the east-facing window that looks out over the roofs of the Annex.

He cooks every meal, which have evolved to be vegetarian and largely gluten-free. It’s clear from Lunchroom’s Instagram feed that everyone enjoys his roasted Brussels sprouts with a quick pickle watermelon radish served with a fried egg. Same with the fresh local vegetables (including tomatoes grown on his balcony) with herbed falafels inspired by Geary Avenue hot spot Parallel. He assigns available $5 slots to interested group members through weekly Facebook polls. But Li says that Lunchroom is not really about the food. “It’s a reason to gather,” he says, pointing to the importance of community for people who often live satellite lives.

Originally published in our Designer of the Year 2019 issue as Lunchroom.


Categories: Eat Here
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