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LET'S EAT: 'Happiest chef in town' offers authentic Middle Eastern food

Newmarket has embraced The Flaming Stove, which specializes in three items: saj bread, falafel, and chicken shawarma

For Newmarket’s Costa Warwar, everything made at the Flaming Stove restaurant is a labour of love.

“I believe when offering something, you offer the best you can,” said the head chef and owner of the Flaming Stove, which has two locations: the first location in the back of the Hasty Market on Davisville Avenue in Toronto and the other in a plaza on Mulock Drive beside Newmarket High School.

The Flaming Stove specializes in three items: saj bread, an unleavened flatbread; falafel, a vegetarian dish made from chickpeas and spices; and chicken shawarma, meat on a vertical spit.

The dishes found at the Flaming Stove are made in-house and are traditional from “where I come from,” said Warwar, who moved to Canada from Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel, when he was 18. “Authentic is where you come from.” 

Take shawarma for example. What Warwar considers authentic would be different from what someone elsewhere in the Middle East would make. Their shawarma would taste different based on spices traditionally found in their area. 

To Warwar, shawarma is traditionally chicken or lamb. People tended to avoid beef.

The shawarma served at the Flaming Stove is also different because as a chef, “I pick up the spices, and downplay the sauces. I infuse the flavour. It has so many different levels of flavour.”

Warwar first worked in grocery stores before taking a chef course from Liaison College Culinary Arts at the urging of his wife. He opened his first restaurant at the Hasty Market where he began offering typical Canadian meals. It wasn’t until his regular customers asked about the foods he would have eaten as a child that he began offering Middle Eastern foods, first “two days a week, then five.”

When COVID-19 hit, Warwar decided he wanted to bring the Flaming Stove to his Newmarket hometown.

“My heart is in Newmarket. To be honest, I came out with very low expectations. Toronto is a more diverse community … I didn’t know my community as well as I should have.”

The Newmarket community, he said, has exceeded his expectations. Warwar opened his Newmarket location in August 2022, and he was immediately busy, including a steady stream of students from Newmarket High and who would come in at 9:30 a.m. looking for shawarma bowls and wraps.

“I am the happiest chef in town.”

Work begins early at the Mulock Drive restaurant.

Not many Middle Eastern restaurants make the saj bread by hand, likely because it is a labour of love taking both time and skill, he said.

Warwar returned to his homeland to learn the art.

“The first time I visited, all the ladies in the village laughed at me. It’s not usually a man’s job.”

But Warwar learned the basics and then it was a matter of repetition. 

You “keep on doing it. You get better at it. You learn from your mistakes. It was at least a year to learn.” 


The bread is stretched on a pillow and flipped onto a wok where it is cooked within minutes and peeled off. The bread is placed one on top of the other, letting the steam soften it. 

“At the beginning you can’t serve it, it’s like crackers it’s so dry.

Saj bread is used to dip in hummus or as a wrap.

“My mom filled it with cheese and I would take it to school. It’s a resilient bread,” Warwar said.

Much like the saj bread, the salads; falafels; sauces, including an amba sauce, made from a blend of unripe green mangos, vinegar and spices, and a hot sauce; and chicken shawarma are all made at the Flaming Stove. With the shawarma, the chicken is marinated overnight in spices and then cooked on a spit. Staff shave off pieces of meat, serving it either in a bowl or in a saj wrap filled with in-house prepared toppings, until it’s gone, starting the process over each night.

Warwar said the best part of about the Flaming Stove is connecting with the variety of people who come into his restaurant.

“Engaging with people is enormously important. It’s worth it.”