13 Canadian chefs on why Vancouver is a great food city

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Everybody knows when it comes to fresh food in North America the west coast is the best coast. Or do they? There’s still a lot of scoffing from locals and fellow Canadians when Vancouver gets a nod for being a great food city. Some can’t see past the local chain restaurant strongholds that dominate the everyday dining out scene, while others have been living the “farm-to-table” life for decades before it became a culinary “trend.”

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SEE ALSO: 12 things to love about the Vancouver food scene

Vancouver ends up on lists all the time for all that we do well, and the city is landing with more regularity when it comes to food. From dim sum to spot prawns, from sushi to croissants, Vancouver is rising in prominence in Canada, and the world, when it comes to what we’re doing with food.

Don’t believe us? We talked to a baker’s dozen of Canadian chefs to find out what they think about Vancouver as a food city, and where they like to find food here.

Jackie Kai Ellis

Beaucoup Bakery (Vancouver, BC)

“I’d say that even seven years ago, Vancouver was not a ‘food city.’ It’s very recent. What’s unique about Vancouver is that we’re sort of at this middle point of all these different cultures. There’s a lot of Asian influence. In Vancouver, across Canada, and even in North America, we have some of the best Asian food. We’ve had a fresh life breathed into the culture.”

On where she goes:

“I love to see what the local chefs are actually doing with truly seasonal, local ingredients. Dave Gunawan at Farmer’s Apprentice and Andrea Carlson at Burdock & Co. are true leaders in sustainable and local eating. Also what I love to see are all the chefs are doing more that’s vegetable focused–like at AnnaLena, which has just opened. Lately I’ve been really into being back in my home kitchen, entertaining in my home. Being able to go down to Granville Island and get the beautiful produce, Oyama sausage, the cheese, the olives, that’s been a real lovely spot for me.”

Trevor Bird

“Top Chef Canada” competitor/FABLE (Vancouver, BC)

“I think Vancouver is an amazing food city because of the amount of resources we have here, and how much fresh product from the land and the oceans we have. We have great access to all these fresh ingredients, and a long growing season. It’s one of the best food cities in Canada. There are a lot of really driven chefs here, and great restaurants. There is a lot of opportunity here for young chefs coming up, too. We’re starting to bring up the farmer here. Farmers are starting to be rock stars. That puts cooks in closer contact with where their food is coming from, and that’s a huge reason why Vancouver is such a popular city for chefs.”

On where he goes:

“L’Abbatoir is probably my favourite restaurant in Vancouver. We go to the farmers’ market every Saturday, and I’m always excited to see what the farmers are bringing in.”

Duck breast at Hawksworth (Juan Pasalagua/Flickr)

Duck breast at Hawksworth (Juan Pasalagua/Flickr)

Mark McEwan

“Top Chef Canada” Head Judge/Fabbrica/North 44, McEwans Grocery (Toronto, Ontario)

“Vancouver is a ‘breadbasket’ region, from the mountains, to the oceans, the natural habitat. The accessibility to super fresh product is really unique. The people are very precise and energetic about food.”

On where he goes:

“Usually I’ll lean on what’s fresh in terms of fish coming out of the area. I like to focus on what Vancouver is best at. And I always love to go see Mr [David] Hawksworth. Great food.”

  • Read more about Mark McEwan and his thoughts on Canadian cooking here

Thomas Haas

Thomas Haas Patisserie (Vancouver, BC)

“I’m in love with the city, [and have been] since I arrived 20 years ago. We fit in with any great food city in the world–though probably in a more casual way. You get it as good and as diverse here in Vancouver as anywhere. There is a great food culture in the city, and food educated people in Vancouver.”

Christophe Bonzon

Chez Christophe (Burnaby, BC)

“It’s diversity in culture and the love for food in general [makes Vancouver great], which is due to the wide variety of people from different countries living in Vancouver. The selection of food available is amazing here and the people seem to have a love for food in general.”

On where he goes:

“Kessel & March ensures great food ideals to share with friends. Minami restaurant for their aburi sushi. Both Timbertrain Coffee Roaster and Pallet Coffee Roaster are fantastic for coffee.”

Chris Whittaker

Forage (Vancouver, BC)

“I think that I probably wouldn’t be here if Vancouver wasn’t a ‘food city.’ It’s a really cool place to be a chef. What we’re doing at Forage is a bit non-traditional, but people are responding well, and locals and visitors seem to be actually looking for the different kind of experience we offer. I think it’s a great time and a great place to be a chef right now.”

On where he goes:

“I always love what [Robert] Belcham does at Campagnolo–I always think he’s super creative, and I just love his food. I love the fact that we are so connected to our farmers here that I can go talk to them and then do what I want with their stuff. And I grow a lot of stuff at home, and keep bees, and I’m a fisher and a hunter and outdoorsman.”

Andrew Winfield

River Café (Calgary)

“I always enjoy coming to Vancouver as it has such a diverse demographic that leads to exceptional dining and food tours of so many different genres and cultures.”

On where he goes:

“A late night stop into Bao Bei, hanging out at Barbara Jo’s Cookbooks, grabbing some cheese at Benton Brothers, and perhaps a casual evening Burdock & Co.”

Pino Posteraro

Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill & Enoteca (Vancouver, BC)

“Vancouver is a great city for the attachment of the people and the chefs, to the land and the oceans, pretty much like Italy, or France, [which] makes Vancouver a micro gastronomical world. Even if is a city feels quite rural and small.”

  • Read more about Pino Posteraro and his thoughts on food in Vancouver here

 

Anna Olson

TV’s “Bake With Anna Olson” (Niagara, Ontario)

“I definitely get the foodie vibe every time I visit Vancouver – I love the diversity of casual to fine dining and the youthful energy behind all of the area restaurants. I would rarely use the term ‘old school’ when talking about the Vancouver restaurant scene.”

On where she goes:

“Granville Island is always a stop for me – I revel in the produce, cheese and FISH that is just SO BC – I’ll definitely be eating spot prawns and halibut when I’m here in May – they’re never the same by the time they get shipped all the way to Niagara.”

  • Read more about Anna Olson and get some baking tips here

 

Jesse Grasso

Black Hoof (Toronto, Ontario)

“Having cooked in both Toronto and Vancouver, I love them both for different things. The access to ingredients in Vancouver is awesome, and I think there’s a real sense of community between restaurants, as it’s a smaller scene. Lots of people cooking great food.”

On where he goes:

“I absolutely must eat ‘xiao long bao’ as many times as possible when I come visit, because good XLB are pretty much non-existent in Toronto. I’m also excited to visit old friends that I haven’t seen in a while, and eat their food. People like Joël [Watanabe] at Bao Bei, and Dave [Gunawan] at Farmers Apprentice.”

Connie DeSousa

Charcut Roast House (Calgary, Alberta)

“Vancouver has an incredible food scene. What’s particularly notable is the wealth of locally sourced quality ingredients available at every chef’s finger tips. Not every city is so fortunate and it makes for a much more exciting, creative and sustainable culinary scene. Freshly caught local seafood arriving right at the backdoors of kitchens is something pretty special that must be savoured. Vancouver also has amazing ethnic diversity to the dining culture, which ensures it is always evolving and growing into new and exciting areas.”

On where she goes:

“Granville Island market is always a first stop for us, I just love it there. The vast array of produce on offer is extraordinary. It really is a treat for the senses, with eye-catching ingredients everywhere and so many different smells, sounds and an infectious buzz about it. I have had some wonderful conversations with the traders there.

“We also have so many friends that are amazing chefs in Vancouver so we love to visit them and see what new and exciting things are cooking in their kitchens. Some spots that come to mind are Ned Bell at Yew in the Four Seasons, FABLE, L’Abattoir, España, Vij’s and Wildebeest to name just a few. Yes, we do a lot of eating when in town!”

Sebastian Cortez

Sebastian & Co Fine Organic Meats (West Vancouver, BC)

“All the little hole-in-the-wall ethnic gems are what makes Vancouver a great food city. I love discovering a great little pho restaurant, or some amazing authentic taco shack, or an out-of-the-way small family-run Indian restaurant. I love that we support small family food businesses, whether it’s a local cheesemaker or chicken farmer, or a husband-and-wife food truck.”

On where he goes:

“I greatly appreciate the art of cocktail making, so I really enjoy going for a drink at the Diamond, the Keefer Bar, Clough Club, and Bao Bei. When it comes to food, I love simple hearty food. I’m more into a bowl of stew and fresh bread guy, rather than foams and pearls. I recently went to España on Denman and really enjoyed it, and I love a good pho restaurant (which is the food of choice for my 3 young children). I also like real authentic Italian pizza like at Bella Gelateria and Pizza Farina, and I also love these little taco shacks that are popping up. I often pop by the restaurant next to my butcher shop, FEAST, for a drink and to sample some of my favourite items off the menu from my neighbouring chef.”

Blueberries in season at the Vancouver Farmers' Market (Michelle Lee/Flickr)

Blueberries in season at the Vancouver Farmers’ Market (Michelle Lee/Flickr)

Andrea Carlson

Burdock & Co. (Vancouver, BC)

“We do local food really well and have great urban agriculture. What might be a touch unique is our attitude to Ocean Wise throughout the chef community–sustainable seafood is growing in understanding and it’s so important to the future of the oceans. Food carts and pop ups [are] creating unique new options catering to up-to-the minute food trends. [And there is] amazing access to various food from Vancouver’s diverse cultural population.”

On where she goes:

“For restaurants – Ask For Luigi, The Acorn, Suika are a few. A Japanese market – Fujiya – is great. Fresh and foraged produce is always most inspiring so the best selection of tat can be found at The Vancouver Farmer’s Markets – various locations through out the year. We have heaps of small markets for varied culinary delights – everything from Korean to Mexican – this city is awesome!”


All 13 of these chefs and food industry professionals will be gathered together, along with dozens of their peers, in Vancouver from April 26 to May 2, to take part in the EAT! Vancouver Food + Cooking Festival and its wide range of tasting, cooking, and learning events. More information on dinners, workshops, symposiums, and tastings taking place during EAT! Vancouver is available on their website.

Vancity Buzz is proud to be the exclusive online media sponsor of EAT! Vancouver

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Lindsay William-Ross Lindsay is a Senior Editor at Vancity Buzz, and currently runs the site's Food section. A fourth generation Vancouverite, she spent the last two decades in Los Angeles, where she was EIC of the city's top blog, earned her MA, attended culinary school, and was an English professor (among other things). Lindsay's first published piece was December 1980 in The Province; it was her letter to Santa. E-mail: lindsay@vancitybuzz.com
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