Bistro 101: smart new bar and dramatic spheres, Tim Pawsey photo

The Hired Belly has decided there are probably two very good reasons why he doesn’t live closer to Granville Island. One is the proximity to nearby Les Amis du Fromage. The other is the newly renovated Bistro 101 at Pacific Institute for the Culinary Arts–or PICA as it’s known. Last night we dropped by–with not a few other folks–to check out the latest in a series of renovations, which are transforming what used to be a somewhat utilitarian dining room into one of the city’s smartest water-side spaces.

Sartorially brilliant (and uber-smart wine guy) Tim Ellison, Tim Pawsey photo

PICA strives to offer its students the full-on, professional experience–not only in becoming highly proficient in the kitchen but also offering them the opportunity to work ‘front of house’ in a true restaurant setting. The sleek new series of dark, hardwood trimmed rooms (still opening onto the principal teaching kitchens) and polished new bar area deliver just that—and also more than bumps things up a notch for diners.

While the major renos are now complete, further changes will see more luxurious furniture and the addition of a pretty sophisticated wine room at the west end. It’s here that wine director/sommelier (and certified chef de cuisine) Tim Ellison—also, unquestionably the most sartorially superior oenophile in the city—will deliver his uniquely upbeat and highly informative classes.

An unending supply of fresh baking, plus end of day specials

Also included in the renovations is a complete remake of Bakery 101, the patisserie that entices unsuspecting passers-by, right at the front entrance. The new space features expanded showcases for the wealth of baking generated daily. It’s a good thing that a couple of kilometres separates us from this house of calorific repute–specifically from its fresh croissants, fresh filled fruit tarts and highly addictive mocha macaroons.

Bar stools: Nespresso-esque, Tim Pawsey photo

We thought the latter were surely the inspiration for the bakery’s smart new stools but were told, in fact, that honour belongs to the ingenious Nespresso capsule.  Oh, and by the way, there’s now serious coffee service here also—reflecting the surge in demand for properly trained baristas.

This is one high-tech facility where anyone with sticky fingers (aside from those incurred from ‘testing’ éclairs) will likely be spotted by one of the few very discreetly concealed cameras. Believe me, no matter how hard you look, you won’t see them!

Bob Foulkes: all fingers still intact, Tim Pawsey photo

Whilst here we were introduced to Bob Foulkes. The most mature student to date, Foulkes has just penned Adventures with Knives: Surviving 1000 Hours of Culinary School. (French Apple Press, $21.95). It’s a highly entertaining and delightfully personal account of his PICA experiences and successful completion of the Culinary Arts Six-Month Diploma Program. If you’re in the biz–and especially if you’re an aspiring student–it’s a must read.  Available at Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks, and at PICA, of course.