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Western Living's annual collection of the best and brightest foodies in the West.
This is our sixth year of gathering the best and brightest foodies in the West, and this year we’re doing it a bit differently. Instead of giving you a quick line or two about 40 personalities, we’ve focused on the top dozen. They’re at the heart of understanding why Western Canada is an amazing place to eat, cook, grow, market and discuss some of the greatest bounty on the planet. And if we thought it was tough to narrow it down in years past, this year it was downright brutal. The talent that didn’t make the cut could have their own food network. And the ones that did typify what we already knew: our foodies are on the cutting edge not just here, but worldwide. From restaurateurs who used Kickstarter to fund a new space, to chefs who brought gluten-free to the discerning masses, to visionaries who are designing restaurants that change the way we look at food, these are Western Living’s Foodies of the Year.
In 2008 we named a 29-year-old chef to this list who had just returned from working under Gordon Ramsay in London, and was about to take the reins of the then Daniel Boulud-run Lumière. And while we don’t generally name people twice to the list, given Dale MacKay’s journey—the closing of Lumière, the comeback of Top Chef, the closing of Ensemble and Ensemble Tap and now the triumph of Ayden—we think it’s fair to say this is not the same kid we named to the list all those years ago. Ayden is not just a great restaurant—although it is that, too—it’s also the coronation spot that marks Saskatoon’s ascendance over the last five years. And it’s not just MacKay returning home: he’s convinced chefs Nathan Guggenheimer and Jesse Zuber, along with general manager and mixologist Christopher Cho, that the happening place to be is not some new, taxidermy-laden room in Vancouver’s Gastown, but this spot, in this city and this time. And, emerging from Ayden on busy Wednesday night, it’s tough to disagree with him.
2013 was the year the word “crowdsourcing” moved from the tech pages to the food pages. First up was Dane Brown and Clinton McDougall of Bestie, who had an admirably obscure dream—bring the German street food staple currywurst to an unsuspecting Vancouver. A clever video, complete with their quirky charm, allowed them to crowdsource enough scratch to make Bestie not just a reality but one of the offbeat stars of Vancouver’s new restaurants. In Edmonton, it was home baker Darcy Scott who used Kickstarter to raise the modest goal of $5,000 so she could make custom cakes from scratch at her cake studio. In no time, everything from frilly, four-tiered ombre wedding cakes to an entire gingerbread Star Wars Ewok village cake was coming from her kitchen. The latter even garnered a tweet from Ashton Kutcher—the social media equivalent of the Pope showing up and blessing your new store.
For chef/sommelier Cody Willis it was the perfect marriage: tacos, bourbon and tequila paired with Lucha Libre (that’s Mexican wrestling, to you). What began as an entertaining pop-up event to promote his first restaurant—the soon to open Native Tongues—quickly became the food event of the year. It was just the latest triumph for social media wizard Willis, who’s shown a unique ability to build online buzz (his “Taco or No Taco” events took their name from his restaurant’s habit of using Twitter to announce that its food has sold out) and then exceed the expectations of the gathered masses. No word on whether the luchadores will be running the tills, but it’s safe to expect the unexpected from Willis.— Karen AshbeeQ&A Biggest trend for 2014? Ramen.Most tired food trend? Bacon everything, thank God, it is already starting to disappear.Favourite recipe from a new cookbook? Toasted Sesame and Spicy Chile Tsukemen from Ivan Ramen. I love making noodles.From a classic cookbook? Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad from Fergus Henderson’s The Whole Beast. Probably one of the most highly duplicated, simple and delicious dishes of our time.One indispensible kitchen gadget? Vitamix.Favourite food city? Portland.Best food movie? Eat Drink Man Woman.Easiest dish that sounds complicated? Good sourdough bread.Most complicated dish that’s actually easy? Good sourdough bread.
Deutscher, a former bank manager, and Pilon, a Ucluelet-based restaurateur, have put a hyperlocal, West Coast spin on both Hank’s locations. From the seafood (think smoked oyster BLT) to the meat, it’s all Island or B.C.-sourced. Pilon drives the Island twice a week to find the latest craft brews and hand picks produce from farms along the way. Their flavour palette surfs from stout braising to Filipino adobo and all the ketchup, hot sauces, bacon, and beans are made on site—the pair are bringing a breath of smoky fresh air to the meaty table.—Shelora Sheldan
The intersection of the Red and Assiniboine rivers is the junction that started the West. Now, chef Mandel Hitzer of Deer and Almond and architect Joe Kalturnyk of RAW Gallery have transformed this spot into an exploration of a different sort. RAW:almond is a pop-up restaurant right smack on the ice at this famous intersection. It features a tent that seats 30, a rotating series of guest chefs (including such Foodies alumni Adam Donnelly, Scott Bagshaw and Ben Kramer) who cook in “classic” conditions. We dare you to find a room that’s more Western than this.
When Vancouver’s Bao Bei opened in 2009, the excitement around owner Tannis Ling’s modern Chinese cuisine was only matched by the buzz about the room itself. Designed by a then-unknown (and untrained) Craig Stanghetta, it’s a beautifully nostalgic room filled with old family photos, shadow boxes and creative lighting (now a Stanghetta signature)—a space that, from the time you walk in the door, sets the scene for the kind of night you should expect, as all great restaurant design should. (It also went on to win Vancouver magazine’s restaurant design of the year.) These days—and nearly a dozen restaurants later—a Stanghetta design is just about guaranteed to bring line-ups on opening night. The former actor-turned-designer now has his sights set on Austin, Texas, where he’ll be designing an Uchi restaurant (think farmhouse dining meets Japanese cuisine), and, more locally, he’ll be launching his own—what else—bespoke lighting company.Q&A What do you think the biggest trend for 2014 will be? I think fermenting will be more ubiquitous.What’s the most tired food trend? Organic, free range, non medicated etc… It should be the baseline, not a marketing platform.Name one memorable recent meal. On my last trip to Mexico City I had a bowl of Pezole, an Aztec soup, which contained the entire digestive tract of what I can only assume was an unloved creature from Satan’s own wretched pasture. Next to perfect.What’s your favourite food city? I have a theory that anyone’s favourite food city should be the one you live in. You have the time, experience and inside track to get into all the nooks and crannies.Best food movie? Goodfellas.Guilty pleasure? A Friday afternoon office Negroni at 2:30 on a Tuesday.
Blueberries, pomegranates and goji berries have all benefited from the “superfood” label. But the humble saskatoon berry, native to the Prairies and B.C., has all the same health benefits as those fruits, minus the glamorous title. Now, these two Ukrainian brothers have taken over their parents’ saskatoon berry farm, built on their grandparents’ homestead near Vegreville, Alberta, and are putting the scrappy berry on the foodie map. On 15 acres of picturesque farmland, they grow the juicy, plump “smoky” variety, not the mealy, dry kind often found in the wild that has plagued the berry’s reputation. They supply large food producers, who turn their sweet, tangy orbs into syrups, jams and pie fillings you’ll have seen at your supermarket and at small, independent restaurants like Culina in Edmonton, who make their famous saskatoon berry scones and a berry-infused lemonade that’s a sell-out fixture at summer festivals.—Tina Faiz
Here in Canada, oenophiles use the terms winemaker and vigneron almost interchangeably to describe a person who makes wine, But whereas a winemaker may buy grapes from all sorts of places, the vigneron is steadfastly connected to the land. They select the grapes, farm them, nurture them and practice tough love to draw out their true nature. And while the Okanagan has a nice complement of excellent winemakers, there aren’t many true vignerons like Matt Mavety. But it couldn’t be any other way at Blue Mountain, his home turf. Matt’s father, Ian, planted the first vines 1971, which may as well be in the Pleistocene, it’s so ancient by Okanagan standards. From the get-go the place was all about the land, and what grapes can and should grow in our climate. It was this ethos that Matt was raised on, and when he took over as head winemaker in 2002, there was scant danger of him producing a tempranillo or a cabernet with grapes from Osoyoos. It’s the difference between wanting to be a star or a steward.
Making a delicious gluten-free baking product is no easy feat (heck, making an edible gluten-free product isn’t that easy), but Kerry Bennett makes it seem effortless. Her commercial baking business, Care Bakery, filled the need for high-calibre gluten-free baking in 2010, which is like buying Microsoft shares in 1982 in terms of prescience. She’s since perfected pizza crusts, buns and loaves of bread that diners and restaurateurs can’t get enough of. You’ll find her goods across B.C. and Alberta in popular eateries like the microbrew-focused chain Craft Beer Market, Calgary’s Una Pizza and the Cascade Room in Vancouver.—Dan ClapsonQ&A What’s the most tired food trend? Kale has been a downright floozy on menus this year. It’s time to step out of the limelight and let someone else shine.Your favourite classic cookbook? The Art of Cooking by Jacques Pepin. It was my first cookbook, I will never forget being completely fascinated by the idea that someone would want to eat meat jello.One indispensible kitchen gadget? Honestly, a corkscrew. You can MacGyver almost anything with it.Name one memorable recent meal. The Plants dinner at This is Not a Winebar this summer by Cam Dobranski and Brandon Baltzley.Best food movie? Book? I am going to pick Julia Child on both of these. She and I share a nickname so it’s only appropriate to go with Julie and Julia and As Always, Julia.
It was only two years ago that it made sense to open a bar in Vancouver called Portland Craft, because, as we all knew, Portland had an amazing array of folks making real beer the old-fashioned way. These days the question is whether Portland has any plans to open a place called Vancouver Craft, now that Brassneck,33 Acres, Four Winds, Bridge, Powell Street and 49th Parallel have joined the more established brands of R&B ,Central City and Russell for a lineup worthy of some serious notice.
Though Matt Stowe is, by all appearances, Robin to Rob Feenie’s Batman in his role as product development chef at Cactus Club, his win on last season’s Top Chef Canada proves that the Surrey-born chef is a star chef in his own right. He recently slipped off for a spell to cook at the Grand Hyatt Seoul, whipping up Canadian-inspired dishes (beef tenderloin cooked sous vide and served up with king oyster mushrooms and black truffle jus) and is helping launch new Cactus Club expansions into Saskatoon and Toronto this year. And while he no doubt occasionally hears the siren call of his own room, for the time being he seems comfortable helping create the West’s most influential dishes.
Last year Sointula-based Twyla Roscovich took to the B.C. waters with scientist Alexandra Morton to reveal how farmed salmon are adversely affecting our wild salmon populations. Her film, Salmon Confidential—boasting a quarter-million views on Vimeo—is a chilling reminder against blind trust, and urges us all to stay informed about what ends up on our collective dinner plate.—S.S.
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