He was a staple of this summer’s Fireweed Market, held every Thursday in Shipyards Park. At the far end of the market’s stalls, you’d find him cooking underneath a modest white tent. In fact, most aspects of his operation are modest. But not the line-ups.
He is Gadi Katz, better known to some as “The Falafel Guy.” On this particular Thursday there are often more than 20 people waiting patiently to consume his handcrafted falafel — a chickpea-based dish from the Middle East. It’s proof that there is still a demand for authenticity.
Katz immigrated to Canada from Israel over 20 years ago. He landed in Halifax and gradually worked his way west until he found himself enrolled as a computer science student at Yukon College in 2001. He took to Whitehorse immediately.
“It’s a nice compromise between north and south,” Katz explains. “We have everything here we need, but it’s still small.”
Of course, one thing that was missing from Whitehorse at the time was cuisine from The Holy Land, and that just happened to be right up Katz’s alley.
“I thought I would open up a falafel stand in Yellowknife or Inuvik,” he says. But when the Fireweed Market set up camp off Second Avenue five years ago, Katz sensed his opportunity.
Katz took this change of plans in stride. “Sometimes life just leads you in a certain direction,” he says. Katz seems to approach many aspects of his life with a matter-of-factness and lack of sentimentality that leads one to believe that he would probably be content no matter where he ended up in the world.
Which is not to say that he doesn’t take things seriously. When asked about the process of making falafel, he speaks about it with the earnestness of an artist. Making good falafel, it turns out, is a two-day event.
“You start with dried chick-peas and then you soak them; soaking is a bit of a process, it takes about 12 hours. The next day you grind the chickpeas and add the spices and herbs.” He seems deliberately vague on the specifics of the seasoning.
The chickpea-spice blend is then packed into balls and served in a pita with vegetables and the customer’s choice of sauces.
To a perfectionist like Katz, the pitas are a significant setback. “They are a problem, I have a hard time finding a good one,” he says. “In Israel pitas are much stronger and more flexible.”
Inadequate pitas aside, Katz has found much about Canada that he likes. “It is a good country. You can always find things to do here.” Indeed, Katz pieces his living together from a wide variety of sources. He has worked as a custodian, driven a school bus and dabbled in the photographic arts. In his own words, he is “always busy doing something.”
This can-do approach has endeared him to many locals. As he sits in a local coffee shop, he rarely goes longer than five minutes without someone waving at him from across the room.
So it’s only natural to ask if he plans on settle down here. On this subject he remains non-committal: “I’m a gypsy by nature, I don’t think I belong anywhere.”
The crowd outside his falafel stand might disagree.
Peter Jickling is a Whitehorse playwright and the assistant editor of What’s Up Yukon