Forage Chef Chris Whittaker. Vancouver’s greenest chef?

Reinventing a legendary room is never easy but when the Listel Hotel decided to close long running O’Doul’s, the move afforded no shortage of opportunities.

In 10 days or so they’ll pull the wraps off forage (1300 Robson St, 604-684-8461), a smaller and considerably more casual space than its predecessor, but with a personality and mantra suited to the times. The area released by the smaller room, already leased, will soon emerge as an art gallery bathed in natural light.

As the name promises, forage will fit the seasonal / sustainable mold, bringing to the fore as many ingredients as realistically possible—locally sourced and menu in tune with the time of year.

Listel GM Jim Mockford: a full on sustainable agenda, TP photo

While ‘going ‘green’ has become little more than a convenient buzzword for some, it’s certainly not the case for Listel. The hotel has been aggressively pursuing a raft of practical sustainable policies that have garnered no shortage of awards and recognition—such as a new heating system powered by a batch of rooftop solar heating panels, heat pumps and high-efficiency boilers, which have reduced natural gas consumption by over 30%.

Forage is a groundbreaker in restaurant terms, in that the new room (and kitchen equipment) has been shaped in partnership with Green Table Network, BC Hydro and LiveSmart BC. The idea is to develop a showcase, sustainable room, by placing every conceivable aspect of the operation under the microscope to see how to make it as enviro-friendly and cost efficient as possible. Even the plates at forage have been chosen based on the fact that they’re fired only once, and hence require less energy to produce.

If O’Douls was expansive and even somewhat fishbowl like, its successor is decidedly compact and intimate, with the focus of the room a large and well stocked oval bar. Taps (eight of them) are entirely BC and decidedly craft brew driven, by the likes of Storm Black Plague, Crannog Red Branch and Driftwood Fat Tug—with a spare for revolving casks.

The Evoke-designed space has more the feel of a small, contemporary gastropub than hotel dining room. And the more casual feel carries through to the carbon friendly kitchen, still in the hands of chef Chris Whittaker.

With no shortage of backing from hotel GM Jim Mockford, Whittaker saw what was needed to execute a truly sustainable menu.  The chef, an accomplished outdoorsman and hunter, fully grasps the true meaning of farm to table.

“I’m not a trophy hunter,” he says. “I hunt to feed my family.” In short: he walks the talk.

For example, his menu favours bison over beef, which he generally doesn’t accept as sustainable.

Seared tuna, brown butter gnocchi and chanterelles

Checking in at the bar, chances are you’ll be seduced by the list of snacks to enjoy with your pint or glass of Blasted Church Hatfield’s Fuse or Nichol Pinot Gris (one of four Okanagan drops on tap).

A measure of the chef’s sense of fun but also his thoroughness is the bowl of corn popped in ducked fat tangled with pork crackling. It’s mildly addictive—and the fat rendered from other dishes does double duty ($5). ‘Skillets’ include salmon bellies, end cuts from fillets which would otherwise be wasted, with pickled sea asparagus. ($10)

Top of our tasting preview was an artfully assembled plate of just seared Albacore tuna, with black berry and fir jelly (from a wide range of preserves made this season), with small chanterelles and succulent brown butter gnocchi with squash purée. A symphony of fall flavours, it’s a good representation of what to expect from forage, whose larger plates will come in at $20 or less.

Forage is the next chapter in Vancouver’s love affair with local eating that found its beginnings with the hundred mile diet. And it might just be a (sustainable, of course) page burner…