This is our 14th edition of Foodies of the Year and I think it's safe to say, it's been a tough year for most everyone in the hospitality industry across Western Canada. But despite the closures, restrictions and seemingly endless hurdles, the foodies of the West still managed to make their mark and do all of us proud. Our top 10 FOTY winners will be announced Wednesday, March 10, 2021, here on westernliving.ca (keep an eye on our Facebook and Instagram for updates). They’ll also be featured with portraits and essays in Western Living’s March 2021 issue.

Please join us in raising a glass in honour of our 2021 Foodies of the Year Finalists: these are 40 of the tastemakers, innovators and damn good cooks that wowed our editorial team. Congratulations to each and every one of you.

1. Katherine Backman (Nora’s Non-Dairy, Vancouver) The beloved cashew-based Nora’s is only three years old but it’s already in 250 retailers in B.C. and Alberta, including Whole Foods Market, Nesters Market and SPUD.ca, and has sold more than 100,000 pints of its ice cream.

2. Ned Bell & Kate Colley (The Naramata Inn, Naramata) The former Four Seasons chef and Oceanwise ambassador is no stranger to this list, but he and wife Colley (along with partners Marie Wiesner and Paul Hollands) have taken the all-potential, but never-quite-there circa 1907 Naramata Inn and transformed it into the perfect small wine country inn. Great food, a killer wine list and charm and history galore—it’s the lodging the area’s been longing for.

3. Tess Bevernage and Tom Robillard (Hānai Family Table, Vancouver) In a year when all but the most selfish of us stayed put in our home provinces, what a godsend it was to have these two recent O’ahu transplants cooking up all the Hawaiian classics—from garlic Furikake Chicken to Spam Musabi to perfect macaroni salad—once a week from their East Georgia shared commissary to a legion of tropically deprived fans.

4. Bread & Butter Collective (Social Issues, Victoria) Spearheaded by some of the biggest names in the city (Sterling Grice of Part & Parcel, the Big Wheel Burger team) this initiative is focussed reimagining the Victoria food scene addressing issue with compensation, returns and community engagement.

5. @actual_daddy (Good Pizza, Vancouver)  The industry veteran—real name Alexander Cashin—started making homemade pizzas on his night off, posting them on Instagram and then donating profits to local charities helping those in need. It proved so popular that it’s morphed into an actual business: Good Pizza started serving the public in late January 2021.

6. Antonio Cayonne, Andrew Jameson and Sean Reeve  (Say Mercy!, Vancouver) The Southern-meets-Italian spot had just opened when Covid hit, but the team (who also own the Mackenzie Room) responded by starting the Staff Meal program, which allowed industry people and first responders to access low-cost healthy meals via takeout (and made reasonably priced containers of deliciousness for the rest of us). Plus Cayonne found time to star in a Hallmark Movie – no kidding.

7.Taylor Chobotiuk (Tacofino, numerous locations in B.C.) The head of people at Tacofino spearheaded the Shift Change series of events, and when Covid hit moved them online to help the industry open up a discussion on important issues facing the industry like LGBTQ2S and BIPOC inclusion.

8. Meaghan and Steve Clark (Tractor, Vancouver/Victoria/Toronto) Covid proved a boon to the healthy, pre-made fare that has seen Tractor grow from one location in Kits in 2013 to now nine, including Toronto and the newly opened Victoria spot.

9. Abdallah “Dallah” El Chami (Superbaba, Vancouver & Victoria) With partners Robbie Kane and Ryan Spong, Dallah brought the middle-eastern meets high-end ingredient concept to Main Street, and it’s been one of the few openings to flourish during a tough year. Plus he helped spearhead the movement to avoid delivery services, by making Superbaba a pick-up only spot.

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10. Liane Faulder (Edmonton Journal, Edmonton) The long-time Journal scribe covered Edmonton’s food scene with focus and passion for more than 30 years before taking a final bow in 2020. A sincere bow to a job well done.

11. Mike Gordon (Great Plains Craft Spirits, Calgary) The main problem facing any whisky start-up? Time needed to mature the spirit to mellow perfection. Gordon didn’t have it, so he got creative with a variety of unique barrel finishes—both 20-year-old cognac & 35-year Armagnac versions will be coming soon. But it was their inaugural Jerez brandy finish that got them all the attention—including Best New Whisky at the Canadian Whisky Awards. 

12. Brandon Grossutti (Pidgin, Vancouver) The long-time Gastown restaurant owner created delivery app FromTo, as a cost-based delivery app that was designed to allow restaurants to survive the lockdown without having to pay the steep delivery fees associated with the big companies.

13. Joe and Matt Hamill (Red Shed Malting, Penhold, AB) Most craft beer drinkers don’t think beyond the brewmaster when they enjoy a pint, but if it weren’t for the Hamill brothers steering their multi-generational farm in central Alberta toward producing their own custom malt, there would be a lot less interesting pints in Wild Rose Country.

14. Jill Hoff (Monogram Coffee, Calgary) The team at Monogram has been at the forefront of the sustainable, ultra-nerdy love of coffee since their first location in 2014. This year saw their showstopping manager Jill Hoff win the title of Best Barista in Canada at the Canadian Barista Championships—the first woman to ever garner the honour.

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15. Tristan Jagger (Vancouver Food Runners, Vancouver) This start-up pairs restaurants with organization that help those in need with an aim to prevent food waste. Since March 2020, they have rescued over 235,000 pounds of food, which is equivalent to over 195,000 meals.

16. Kelcie Jones (Chambar, Vancouver) With four years and counting at Chambar, the somm is one of the longest-serving-at-one-spot wine slingers in the city, and not only does she run one of the city’s tightest wine programs she’s long been an agitator for respectful and equal work environments for all FOH peeps.

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17. Jenny Kang (Orchard, Calgary) The South Korean native grew up on a farm outside Seoul and has worked at some of the city's top rooms (Bow Valley Ranche and Darren McLean’s acclaimed Shokunin), but at the stunning new Sturgess Architecture-designed Orchard, she’s finally the star of the show (and part owner), and she’s been wowing crowds with her modern Mediterranean as seen through a pan-Asian lens take on cooking.

18. Peter Keith, Will Kotowicz and Glendon Tan (Meuwly’s Artisan Food Market, Edmonton) The concept started with three friends and nascent butchers launching a Secret Meat Club that delivered artisanal fare to those in the know. It’s now morphed into a 124th Street bricks-and-mortar shop showcasing not just their own charcuteries, but local fare from a well-curated selection of purveyors.

19. Tyler Knight and Jordan Kubeck (Lightning Rock Winery, Summerland) Their low-intervention sparkling-wine operation has been clamoured after since their first vintage three years ago, and each year production and acclaim increases—and the date they sell out gets shorter.

20. Eve Laird (Eve’s Crackers, Vancouver) The dream of a gluten-free cracker that tastes good became a reality when the Nanaimo-raised Laird perfected the crunchy and flavourful recipe that is the hallmark of Eve’s crackers. Now in some 500 locations across Western Canada, including Safeway, Save On Foods and Whole Foods Market. Sales reached the high six figures in 2019.

21. Arlie and Brett Laroche, Scott Dicks and Lacey Sellinger (Odla, Saskatoon) Two farmers, a chef and a sommelier come together like some sort of agrarian Avengers to bring Saskatoon a near-perfect partnership of a generational farm (Odla means farm in Swedish) that supplies the bounty to a farm-to-table wonder on Sakatoon’s Broadway Ave.

22. Julius Makarewicz (Nude Beverages, Vancouver) Is it possible that Nude, that spirit juggernaut that’s seemingly everywhere in Western Canada, only launched in 2017? Yes, and the anticipated onslaught of the behemoth has done little to dampen the local champ’s upwards trajectory.

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23. Jonathan Burke, Alex Ploughman, Craig and Jillian Sheridan (Legends Haul, Coquitlam) Perhaps the ultimate Covid pivoters, they not only moved from supplying high-end protein and produce from restaurants to consumers, but they also quickly added ready-made food from those restaurants to their growing fan base.

24. Gemma McNeill and Doug Zaklan (Zaklan Heritage Farms, Surrey) The duo has transformed a 1.5-acre micro-plot that’s been in Doug family for over 90 years into the go-to spot for thoughtful and creative chefs (like Budock and Co.'s Andrea Carlson) who want the very best (grown by the very best people).

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25. Said Mdahoma (Said the Pastry Nerd, Calgary) If one person encapsulates everything that happened in the pandemic year, it might be this French-Comorian PhD in Neuroscience who got the baking bug and transformed a nascent passion into being one of Calgary’s self-taught proper French baking extraordinaires, through his popular Instagram account and YouTube videos. 

26. Shane Munn (Martin’s Lane, Kelowna) The Kiwi winemaker oversees one of Anthony Von Mandl’s (and as such the entire Okanagan’s) prestige properties, crafting rieslings and pinot noirs that are easily among the region’s best (and most pricey), while still maintaining that southern hemisphere “aw shucks it’s nothing” vibe.

27. Paul Natrall (Mr. Bannock, Vancouver) Nattrell is a familiar face thanks to his popular Mr. Bannock food truck, but it’s his role as a director of The Indigenous Culinary of Associated Nations that’s seeing him help bring to cuisine of our first peoples to a wider audience—including the Indigenous Feast Box program that sees Indigenous-owned restaurants (including Mr. Bannock) create healthy meals for their communities during Covid. 

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28. N’Quatqua First Nations (Trout Hatchery, Darcy, B.C.) The D’arcy-based band may be isolated from regional population centres, but in the past few years they brought their bounty to the finest restaurants in the region (like Whistler’s Grill Room) with their pioneering trout farm. Covid saw them using their surplus to help feed local band members, many who, raised on Salmon, had never tried trout.

29. Ben Reeder (Maple Bay Hop Farm, Maple Bay ) We love our IPAs out West but we rarely think of the raw goods required. Ben Reeder does—the Backcountry Brewing co-founder controls his (and others) own supply change, by running a Maple Bay hop farm growing everything from classic Cascade to nerdy Sorachi Ace to keep the bitter front and centre for breweries like Luppolo and Strange Fellows.

30. Pascal Roy (La Fabrique St. George, Vancouver) The idiosyncratic owner of Marche St George had an idea three years ago to open a small natural wine that aged the fermenting juice in ancient kveri vessels. And it took all of those almost three years of dealing with the city’s permitting department to make it happen. But the cool Mt Pleasant spot is worth the wait.

31. The Schacht Family (Ampersand Distilling Company, Duncan) What is it about gin and the Island? First it was the ground-breaking Victoria Gin, then purple-hued Empress, then the dominance of Sheringham. But at this year’s World Gin Awards, it was Ampersand's flagship bottling that took home the Gold for Canada (and for good measure their Per Se Vodka won best varietal vodka at this years world vodka awards). A testament to the father-son engineering of Stephen and Jeremy, with Jeremy's wife Jessica dealing with the botanicals and mother Ramona tending the nearby farm.

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32. J’Val Shuster (Devour Catering, Calgary) Her catering business may have been reeling from the pandemic, but when she heard that the Calgary Food Bank was in receipt of an unwieldy donation of 1,000 pounds of potatoes (destined for French fires that never were) she sprang into action. The Potato Project, as it came to be known, saw her company transform the raw material into healthy meals that could be frozen for the underprivileged. That initial shipment started a trend —by the end December, Devour had transformed over 20,000 pounds of potatoes into almost 16,000 packaged servings of potato soup, smashed potatoes and Potatoes O’Brien for the community.

33. Gus Steiffenhofer Brandson (Published on Main, Vancouver) The Winnipeg-born Hawksworth and Pear Tree-alum opened one of the most ambitious restaurants in recent memory—weeks before Covid hit. But he’s stuck to his guns with thoughtful, elaborate and one-of-a-kind menus throughout the pandemic.

34. Ian Tostenson (BCRFA, Vancouver) The long-time head of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association was front and centre from the start of the pandemic, advocating for change to the industry—like patio permits and ability to sell wine with takeout—that made the difference between life and death for many establishments.

35. The Turyk Family (Unsworth, Duncan) Perhaps the most momentous wine moment of the year came last summer when Barbara Banke and daughter Julia Jackson, majority owner in the behemoth that is California’s Jackson Family Estates, announced that they were purchasing Duncan’s well-respected Unsworth. It was a feather in the cap for the Turyk Family, who will stay on and continue the day-to-day operations of the now in-the-spotlight winery.

36. Josh Vanderheide (Field House Brewery, Abbotsford) In the Lower Mainland, the conventional wisdom is that you want to open a great craft brewery you have two options: East Van or North Van. But Abbotsford’s Field House has bucked that trend making sought-after brews (they’re deadly with the sours) that the city folk are clamouring for (and they expanded to Chilliwack this year).

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37. Peter Van De Reep (Bar Gobo, Vancouver) The long-time Campagnolo Upstairs barkeep started the year by winning the BC Sommelier of the Year, but as his beloved bar closed, he helmed the opening of yet another soon-to-be classic spot a few blocks away: Andrea Carlson’s natural wine spot Bar Gobo.

38. Brian Welch (Farrow Sandwiches, Edmonton) The sandwich king of Edmonton’s three locations was primed to serve the needs of the takeout-only era, but he still found some spare time to open the High Dough, an ode-to-Detroit deep dish, which seems like another concept that might replicate itself a few times over.

39. Asha Wheeldon (Kula Kitchen, Vancouver) Wheeldon created the Afrocentric plant-based foods that became one of the city’s notable vegan operations, and when the BLM movement was just gaining wider recognition in Western Canada, she created one of the first directories of black-owned business in Vancouver that continues to be the resource for those who want to support with their shopping dollars.

40. Greg Zeschuk (Ritchie Market, Edmonton) The Bioware founder used some of his capital to create one of the most dynamic spots for food in town. Housing the new Duchess Bakery location, Acme Meats, Transcend Coffee, the uber-popular Biera as well as Blind Enthusiasm Brewing, Ritchie Market has become the place for the city's foodies to get their fix of, well, everything.