2009 Foodies of the Year
In our second annual listing, meet the new generation of passionate chefs, restaurateurs, food producers, wine and spirits experts and activists who are helping to define and change the way we eat in Western Canada today.
Restaurateurs of the Year
Nico and Karri Schuerman, 33 and 35
Chambar and Café Medina, Vancouver
If you’re a fortunate restaurateur, you might make a little profit. If you’re blessed, you may open a second location. If after five years you’re still popular, now you’re in the Hall of Fame. Accomplish all that and have an entire neighbourhood gentrify around your restaurants, and you’re the Restaurateurs of the Year.
The path that led Nico and Karri Schuerman to Western Canada couldn’t be more eclectic. Rwandan-born Nico meets New Zealand-born Albertan Karri (a scion of Calgary’s Cross family) in pre-Olympic Sydney. A move to Canada sees Nico helming the kitchens at Vancouver eateries (Lucy Mae Brown, Baru), while Karri starts a successful clothing company (Twice Shy, twiceshy.com). Four years later, they bring the then-unheralded Belgian cuisine of krieks, lambics and moules frites to Vancouver with award-winning restaurant Chambar.
Two years later they add Café Medina next door, with Chambar employee Robbie Kane. It originally prospers selling Belgian waffles and great coffee, and soon adds exotic takes on eggs and sandwiches for breakfast and lunch. Both places harness the perpetual buzz of newly opened hotspots, even as they enter middle age in restaurant years. Since their Dirty Apron cooking school opened in August, along with a retail annex selling kitchen essentials from All-Clad to Wustof, we see a movement to redub the Crosstown area as Schuermansville.
Sommelier of the Year
Andrea Vescovi, 40
Blue Water Cafe, Vancouver
In today’s world of wine, which often features fuddy-duddy old-timers on one side of the divide and too-cool-for-school hipster sommeliers on the other, how refreshing it is to find the passionate pragmatism of Blue Water’s Andrea Vescovi, right in the middle, where the restaurant diner sits.
The Rome-born Vescovi has always known food (his mother Bella cooked at Umberto Menghi’s Il Giardino in Vancouver for years), but it was not until a then- 24-year-old Vescovi tangled with a 1985 Joseph Drouhin Gevrey-Chambertin—aheretical wine choice for a Roman—that he realized his path would be the way of the vine. “I realized right then that this was for me,” he chuckles. He honed his knowledge the hard way, with rolled-up sleeves, serving and crafting lists at some of Vancouver’s best rooms, until a meeting with legendary Vancouver restaurateur Jack Evrensel of the Top Table Group brought him into the Blue Water Cafe fold.
Vescovi has crafted that rare tome: a stellar wine list that is by turns fanciful, economical and voluminous—no mean feat in the gulag of the B.C. Liquor Board. The restaurant’s customers can’t get enough, nor can the reputation-making Wine Spectator, which awarded the list a “Best of” accolade, or the Playhouse International Wine Festival, which feted Vescovi as Sommelier of the Year in 2009. Vescovi responds, with typical modesty: “I just want to help people find out what they want to drink.”
Foodie of the Year
Craig Noble, 32
The set-up is heavy with irony: a young filmmaker trumpets the joys of local eating and, in doing so, reaches a global audience. The filmmaker is Craig Noble of Pixel One Productions (p1-productions.com) and the film, Tableland, is a journey from Quebec to California, from Penticton to Portland, in search of artisans who make crafting local food their life’s work. And it came out well in advance of films like Food Inc. and other late jumpers on the local/fresh/seasonal bandwagon.
Tableland had a modest premiere in late 2007, but since then it has taken on a locavore life of its own, sweeping the awards at last year’s New York Food Film Festival. Screenings, whether in Athens, Georgia, or Kelowna, B.C., tend to follow a pattern: the film is watched, thoughtful discussion ensues, local food and wine are consumed.
If only our local multiplexes were always so inclined.
Next up for Noble: a series of how-to videos that instruct budding distillers how to make alcohol at home (boozhowtooz.com). It doesn’t get much more fresh and local than that.
Chef of the Year
Jared Alvey, 25
Petite Restaurant, Calgary
There’s run-of-the-mill-young. Then there’s superstar-young, as in I’m-Avril-Lavigne’s-age-and-I-cook-at-Calgary’s-hottest-restaurant young. That’s Stettler-born Jared Alvey. At age 14, Alvey took his first job working in the kitchen of a Calgary Earls. A pilgrimage to food mecca the Culinary Institute of America in New York state set the budding chef on the road to serious cuisine.
“The instruction at the C.I.A. was great, but what was really unique was the access to the great dining rooms of Manhattan—like Le Bernadin, Chanterelle,” says Alvey. After graduation, Alvey took a position at the Michelin-starred Manhattan restaurant Country on his quest to perfect a casual, ingredient-focused style of French cooking.
It’s a style that has reached its pinnacle for the young chef in the open kitchen of Petite Restaurant. But unlike other “bistros” that abuse the term by charging $45 for an entrée, Petite keeps it real. “Nothing on the menu is over $25, and that’s key to me,” Alvey says, a sentiment that would be admirable even if he served just roast chicken and frites. But instead, he dishes up memory-making dishes like bison sirloin and eggplant caviar or pan-roasted halibut with gnocchi and Swiss chard, while keeping the prices very 2009—a combo that adds up for our Chef of the Year.
Producers of the Year
Jordan and Stefan Urbani, 23 and 25
Moccia-Urbani Salumeria, Vancouver
“You’re Abe Froeman? The Sausage King of Chicago?” Stefan Urbani is out in front of Moccia (the family business he runs with his brother, Jordan), cleaning the windows, when I greet him with a line from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a film released when he was two years old. He gives a polite laugh:
“I get that a lot.”
Inside the unpretentious shop, the Urbani brothers could be mistaken for two dutiful sons helping out at the family store—and that’s partially true. This retail store has been the backbone of the family since their maternal grandfather, Pietro Moccia, opened it in 1968 (their father, Claudio, took over in 1990). And while the storefront still has the look of a neighbourhood butcher, a fantastical world of charcuterie unfolds inside, where their forefathers’ culinary traditions meet the sons’ savvy trendspotting. “We do everything our grandfather and father used to do; we’ve just updated the technology,” says Jordan. That means dry-cured salumis—from a sweet Toscana with figs to a whole-fennel Rustica—so authentic they were previously unavailable without buying a ticket to Rome. That is, until Stefan, then a cell biology major at the University of British Columbia, wrote a paper convincing local food inspectors that the Urbanis’ innovative modern processes were safe and sound. Today, legions of restaurateurs and consumers trek down East Hastings to worship at this altar of meat.
Not content to rest on their pork hocks, the boys have created a line of ready-made sausage and soon-to-be ubiquitous risotto balls, all bearing the Moccia-Urbani name. They’re Stefan and Jordan Urbani, the sausage kings of Vancouver.
Angus An, 29
After closing his haute cuisine project Gastropod, An is set to become the Vikram Vij of Thai food—a massive talent who refines and opens up an entire ethnic cuisine for his Vancouver audience.
Jeremie Bastien, 27
This Quebec-born protégé has been consistently wowing fussy foodies for the last two years with sophisticated comfort food—and a killer poutine.
Marc-Andre Choquette, 32
In his Loden Hotel showcase, this chef finally moves out of the shadow of former Lumière mentor Rob Feenie to helm one of Vancouver’s most underrated new rooms. Watch out, Iron Chef.
Quang Dang, 29
C Restaurant, Vancouver
While executive chef Robert Clark is the face of sustainable seafood, chef de cuisine Dang quietly creates spectacular dishes in the West’s version of Le Bernardin.
Cam Dobranski, 32
Muse and winebar, Kensington, Calgary
This NAIT graduate crafts ethereal dishes, like blue crab ravioli with pea shoots, that have been injecting culinary playfulness into the now-hopping Calgary neighbourhood of Kensington for seven years.
Mark Filatow, 37
Waterfront Restaurant & Wine Bar and 764, Kelowna
In a land of far too many chain restaurants and generic dining experiences, Filatow’s hip, urban rooms and stylish seasonal cooking are a breath of fresh air in the
Warren Geraghty, 36
The Brit transplant with the sterling resumé finally seems downright comfortable filling the massive shoes left by the departed David Hawksworth in one of Vancouver’s altars of haute cuisine.
Laurence Munn, 33
Café Brio, Victoria
At $40 per head, the steal of a Family Meal at Brio could only be created by a dude who loves cooking and serving great food.
Anthony Sedlak, 25
Corner Suite Bistro De Luxe, Vancouver
With his new restaurant venture, TV celebrity chef Sedlak (The Main) is out to show that he’s more than just a pretty face.
Matthew Stowe, 27
Sonora Resort, B.C.
He cooks just north of Desolation Sound, but his dishes, like liquid truffle ravioli
and olive oil-poached monkfish (both in his new cookbook, The Tastes of Sonora Resort), will put this chef on everyone’s map.
Daniel Walker, 37
No one captures the tastes of the prairies as well or as unpretentiously as Walker, who nodded to his roots in naming his restaurant (created with partner Nicole Walker) after the Ukrainian word for the evening meal.
Producers & Retailers
Melanie Boldt, 39
Pine View Farms, Osler, Saskatchewan
For chefs to rave about local products, someone has to get up at the crack of dawn to tend to livestock the old-fashioned way, the way Boldt’s team does at Pine View Farms.
Wendy Boys, 30
Wendy Boys Chocolates, Vancouver
From Calgary’s Catch and Belvedere to Vancouver’s Lumière, Boys has given countless diners sweet endings. Her new chocolate venture (wendyboys.com) lets you re-create it in the privacy of your own home.
Rebekah Pearse, 28
Nectar Desserts, Calgary
Bringing a sweetness to Calgary’s gruff Inglewood neighbourhood, this extraordinary baker produces the best red velvet cake north of the Mason-Dixon line.
Monika Walker, 25
Okanagan Grocery, Kelowna
Whereas most tourists can’t wait for summer’s first dip in an Okanagan lake, we dream of the Peanut Butter and Jelly loaf, baked every Thursday by Kelowna’s best.
Wine & Spirits Experts
Miranda and Del Halladay, 36 and 37
Elephant Island Orchard Wines, Naramata
This couple single-handedly took an industry that was snickered at (fruit wine) and forced it into respectability with their impressive bottlings. Even the Wine Spectator thinks so.
Kenji Hodgson and James Nevison, 33,
Authors, Had a Glass, Vancouver
Finding a great bottle of wine under $20 is finding the Holy Grail; finding 100 makes them the Indiana Joneses of wine writers.
Peter Hunt, 31
Victoria Spirits, Victoria
He’s the first master gin distiller in the West since the 1930s. Now he’s working on a line of handcrafted bitters, which should be gracing your Manhattan by
Josh Methot, 28
We adore any sommelier who can find an obscure unclassified Bordeaux that will make you forget Margaux and can ring fellow “wine brat” Brad Pitt on his home phone (really).
Josh Pape, 27
The Diamond, Vancouver
This meticulous mixologist builds classic drinks, served without attitude and with genuine passion for the craft, at this chic speakeasy.
Solomon Siegel, 26
Coming from Victoria restaurant royalty (his dad runs Pagliacci’s), the upstart kid may have trumped his old man with this stylish drinks den.
Shawn Soole, 28
Clive’s Classic Lounge, Victoria
Soole is an inventor (the Viva muddling stick), a web guru (theliquid
revolution.com) and, above all, a guy who makes cocktails so fine that calling him a mixologist or bar chef doesn’t seem at all pretentious.
David Walker, 39
100 Wines, Calgary
Spend five minutes talking to this wine nut and you’ll realize just what a feat it must be for him to limit himself to just 100 wines in his trailblazing boutique.
Foodies, Media & Activists
Ben Kramer, 36
University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg
He recently left the acclaimed Dandelion to take a campus advisory position, ensuring that this generation of undergrads will pass on the mac and cheese in favour of healthier fare.
Julianna Mimande, 31
Eat at the ARTery, Edmonton
When activism tastes as good as this bargain-plates ($10) Saturday celebration of local, seasonal food, who doesn’t want to sign on?
Andrew Morrison, 36
The former Urban Diner authority (and Western Living contributor) launched a lifestyle website so essential, even restaurateurs go there to get the skinny on B.C.’s restaurant scene.
Rob Fuller, 39
Zest and OATstanding Bakery, Regina
The best sticky toffee pudding ever, served in a former power station. Plus his new bakery is a godsend to those who don’t savour gluten.
Kunal Ghose, 37
Red Fish, Blue Fish, Victoria
Look for the funky former shipping container in Victoria’s Inner Harbour—and find the best (eco-friendly) fish and chips of your life.
Uri Heilik and Rogelio Herrera, 34 and 39
It takes a good restaurant to survive an off-the-beaten-path location. A great restaurant, like Alloy, prospers anywhere.
Christien Hurlburt, 37
Muse and WineBar Kensington, Calgary
He gave northsiders a stylish place to eat (Muse), then to drink (Wine Bar)—here’s the real King of Kensington.
Chris Lachance, 39,
Century Hospitality Group, Edmonton
Some restaurateurs thrive running a 30-seat bistro; others, like Lachance, thrive when their five hip restaurants serve 500 meals a night.
Rueben Major, 32,
They brought us balsamic, parmesan and good house wine. Earls and its young corporate chef influence the way we eat more than anyone in the West.
Adam Pegg and Lucais Syme, 38 and 32
La Quercia, Vancouver
It’s new, it’s small, it’s authentically Italian and it’s packed to the rafters. These La Buca alumni are onto a recession-proof restaurant formula.
Angela and Nicholas Popoff, 30
Onyx Steak House, White Rock, B.C.
Thankfully, there are some restaurateurs who refuse to believe that the suburbs can’t sustain great restaurants.
Dominic Tudda, 39
For bringing the first and favourite honest-to-goodness Napoletana pizzeria in the West, we salute him. wl