Vancouver Seafood 101
Vancouver is the most western part of Canada. It’s a beautiful city surrounded by mountains, lakes, rivers and the Pacific Ocean. Our water system is still fairly pristine. There’s not a lot of pollution, so there’s an abundance of seafood: from sea urchin, geoduck clams and sablefish – an oily, rich fish likened to Patagonian toothfish – to the famous Dungeness crabs that you find in some of the most expensive restaurants in the world. You can find halibut weighing anywhere from 10 to 500 pounds. Of course, we’re also famous for salmon: our sockeye salmon and coho salmon, for example. We also have some of the best wild mushrooms available in the world. There’s a lot of foraging opportunities on the west coast.
The City’s Most Exciting Restaurant
Published on Main is one of the most exciting restaurants in Vancouver. I really like Chef Gus Stieffenhofer’s approach to food. He’s a chef who’s gone through the very classical French training system but has also trained at restaurants like Noma which have given him exposure to more modern cooking styles and techniques. He can cross between both worlds which is rare. And he’s able to do it while also being hyper local. He’s into a lot of fermentation and preservation of ingredients. He’s the guy that’s out there foraging for pine mushrooms and wild herbs, preserving elderflower in the springtime and collecting berries in the summer. He grew up doing this, it was part of his upbringing. The food at Published on Main is very exciting and really quite beautiful. We don’t have the Michelin guide in Vancouver, but if we did, I imagine that this restaurant would easily earn a star.
Forage Your Own Food
If chef friends were visiting Vancouver, I would for sure take them on one of the culinary adventures available at Wild Origins by Paul Moran. Chefs want to see the best ingredients a city has to offer, and for this, he’s your man. Paul is a young chef who is really making his mark. He’s a little bit of a legend in the mushroom foraging world. He doesn’t have a restaurant, instead, he runs day trips. You spend the day foraging and gathering wild food with him in Tofino, and then he cooks a feast for you on the beach. It’s an incredible experience. He really understands the water: he’s a free diver, so he knows where to find sea scallops and the best sea urchin. He’ll take you out on his boat to set traps for crabbing, he’ll take you fishing, he’ll take you spot prawning. Depending on the season, you might go foraging for morels or sea asparagus or gooseneck barnacles: whatever is best at that time of year. Tofino is a surf town at the tip of Vancouver Island; you can’t go any further. It’s a beautiful, pristine seaside community. It takes a while to get there unless you go by plane, but it’s completely worth it.
Good Value Omakase Dining
Yuji’s from Japan is one of the best Japanese restaurants in the city. Chef Yuji is a very humble, Japanese chef that doesn’t care about being in the spotlight, but he really does deserve the recognition. His food is just so good. Every single time I go there and have the omakase menu, I’m blown away. Yuji is so classically Japanese in his approach to food. The food is as simple as possible and it’s all about seasonality and highlighting the ingredients. There’s nothing to hide. Everything is prepared so skilfully. His understanding of food, of fermentation and presentation is really impressive. It’s also very good value.
I grew up eating sushi and have eaten sushi all around the world, and 99% of the time, the sushi chef is Japanese. But at Temaki Sushi, the chef is Chinese-Vietnamese. And he really has his own style: the way he handles the fish and the combinations he creates; it’s modern and creative, but it’s not taken too far. The hardest thing to achieve in cooking is balance and even more so with sushi. Every component needs to work together harmoniously and the sushi here really achieves that. It’s your everyday sushi restaurant, but its sushi is done really well. The restaurant attracts a lot of chefs, and if it’s good enough for chefs it’s going to be good enough for everybody else.
A Family Favourite
I’ve been going to Phnom Penh restaurant since 1989, when my family and I first arrived in Vancouver. I remember it was summertime and while we were looking for a house to live in, we were staying in a hotel in Chinatown. It must have been one of the very first restaurants we stumbled upon and we’ve been going ever since. It’s been run by the same family for well over 30 years. It’s a 100-seat restaurant and is full from the moment it opens at 10:30am all the way until it closes at around 9pm. There’s always a line out the door. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining – and it does rain a lot in Vancouver – there is always a line. The menu hasn’t changed in 32 years, and it doesn’t need to. My family has been eating the crispy garlic chicken for three generations. That’s pretty powerful.
Cantonese Comfort Eating
I cook classic French food and Pacific Northwest cuisine but Asian food – and specifically dim sum – is my comfort food. In Vancouver, we have some of the best dim sum restaurants in North America; I can guarantee that. I’ve been going to Fisherman’s Terrace Seafood Restaurant for dim sum for 20 years now. I was actually there just yesterday. HK BBQ Master is literally a hole in the wall, underneath a parking lot. It’s another one of those restaurants that always has people lining up out the door. Even if a war was going on, people would still be lining up here. The chef is from Hong Kong, as the name suggests, and he is highly skilled. He’s one the best in how he cooks the meat. He’s definitely a perfectionist and demands the best from his staff, front and back. I love his food, my parents love his food and my kids love his food. He’s so famous now: he was featured in New York Times and on a David Chang Netflix show. He’s been doing this for over 20 years and if he wanted he could retire tomorrow and not have to worry about a single thing.
My Favourite Barbecue Pork Buns
I live in Richmond, which is like the new Chinatown of Vancouver. It’s where most of the Chinese have moved to: it’s got a strong community for sure. There are many restaurants that do barbecue pork buns and of course, people are always debating which shop sells the best. But it’s really more about the time you go. If you get there at 9am, when the pork buns have just come out of the oven and they’re warm, soft and pillowy: sometimes that honestly puts tears in my eyes. For me, it’s the taste of home. Personally, my favourite pork buns are at Pine House Bakery, which is like a classic, old-school Cantonese bakery that’s inside the Richmond markets.
A Yearly Cantonese Feast
Every year, some friends and I go to Jade Seafood Restaurant and have the opportunity to sit at the venue’s largest table: a big, round table that seats 16 people with a lazy Susan in the middle. It’s become a bit of a tradition and something we look forward to every year. We leave the kids at home, order lots of wine, have a blast and relax. It’s great because my friends let me do the ordering. I want a Chinese suckling pig that’s nice and crisp. I want Peking duck. I want steamed fish. I want lobsters. I want crabs. It’s all awesome. When it’s all over, everybody will need to roll out of there.
The Different Accents of French Cooking
A lot of chefs in the generation before me, from France, Switzerland and Austria, moved to Vancouver. They trained the next generation (my generation) of chefs here in classical French cooking. A lot of those chefs then moved away from Vancouver to work in restaurants around the world. This is the case for Lee Cooper, the chef at French restaurant L’Abattoir, who worked at Michelin-starred restaurants like The Fat Duck in London. His food is always great. It’s fairly modern, but still very grounded in classic French cooking. L’Abattoir is one of the best restaurants in Vancouver for sure. St Lawrence is a classic French restaurant from chef Jean-Christophe Poirier, but there’s another layer to it: it’s also very French-Canadian. Canada is bilingual and in Montreal, on the east coast of Canada, the first language is French. The city has its own cuisine and it’s all about very big flavours. Au Pied de Cochon, a famous restaurant over there, is pure gluttony. You know, lots of foie gras, pig’s head, terrines, pate en croute. It’s a really rich, in your face sort of cuisine. St Lawrence very much has that influence and those flavours, only with a little bit more balance and elegance.
“Some of the Best Pasta in the World”
Chef Adam Pegg’s pasta would be ranked amongst some of the best pasta in the world. Eating at his restaurant La Quercia is like eating the best pasta you can find in Northern Italy. His love for pasta is insane and his skills are so rare. I remember doing a stage with him one night and I was watching him do service. He makes the pasta dough; he vacuum-packs it and then puts it in the corner. When I saw this, I thought, okay, this is strange. I was thinking, service is about to start and they haven’t rolled any pasta. I see the tickets come in and then I see him bring out the machine and bring back the dough. Then he literally starts rolling the pasta as he needs it. I’m thinking, oh my goodness, this is crazy, he’s making the pasta to order. He’s making all of these beautiful little pasta shapes so fast and so elegantly. He’s even making the stuffed pasta, like tortellini, to order. It blew my mind. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.
Tastes of Europe
There isn’t a lot of Spanish influence in Vancouver, but ARC Iberico is a great spot to buy and eat great products from Spain. The owner came to Vancouver when he was very young and he’s the second generation of his family in the hospitality industry. He’s importing some amazing products. There’s jamón Iberico, of course, different cuts of suckling pig, Manchego cheese, canned seafood like razor clams and Spanish olive oils. They do a lot of beautiful sandwiches that you can eat there at the counter or you can grab and go. The shop is far away from the downtown area, but it’s really worth a drive. It’s a treat because it’s so rare to find all of those imported products from Spain in Vancouver. Osteria Savio Volpe is fairly new and only a couple of years old and it’s very popular. The restaurant has a very clear identity. There’s an energy to it. It’s a very well designed, young and fresh version of an osteria serving modern Italian food.
Photography credit: Jimmy Jeong.
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