The Essential Vancouver 2013/2014

Unless you’re a regular overnight visitor to Vancouver’s higher end hotels, chances are you’re not aware of the Essential Vancouver. It’s the sister publication to monthly WHERE magazine, with whom I’ve enjoyed a much-valued relationship over many years. I’ve also been lucky enough to write for the Essential Vancouver since its inception.

It’s a stunningly produced magazine to which I can’t do full justice here.

Editor Louise Phillips often invites me to contribute a food story that’s reflective of the Vancouver scene.

Here below is what’s in the current issue. But before you read it, I’d like to quote in part from Ms. Phillips Letter from the Editor:

“Think globally, act locally

The grass roots environmental slogan is increasingly applied to every sphere of our lives: to our food, in particular, and also to our political and creative endeavours. Thanks to technology, ideas that once took months or even years to cross oceans or continents are now only seconds away from starting a revolution—not just in government or science, but in dance and fashion and literature, and on menus and billboards and blackboards. What happens there affects what happens here.

Putting together this issue brought home to me how the globe is now a series of neighbourhoods, each influencing the rest. Our Vancouver based freelancers sent in contributions while they were working in Paris, Lancaster, Berlin, Toronto…and on Easter Island. They bring a global perspective, broadened by contact with other cultures, to their home beats, those place they hold closest to their hearts and minds no matter where they find themselves.” …

Being a freelancer in this day and age can sometimes feel more precarious than ever. In a time when good content, experience and perspective is increasingly undervalued, I can’t tell you how much I honestly appreciate sentiments such as these.

Thank you, Louise.


Waste Not, Want Not

Concerned about wasteful consumption, local chefs go whole hog

By Tim Pawsey

When chef Robert Belcham announced his first “Whole Hog” dinner a few years ago, he hoped it would be a success. He never dreamed that diners would be at the door clamouring for more confit head, trotters, crackling, and even tripe. Now Belcham’s rustic Italian inspired Campagnolo restaurant buys no fewer than eight whole pigs a month from Sloping Hill Farm. And the pork lovers are lining up.

A city with a continuing reputation as a dining destination, Vancouver is renowned for regional cuisine driven by a mild climate and a year-round abundance of seasonally fresh ingredients. Recently the same West Coast chefs who embraced the now celebrated 100-Mile Diet (spawned here) have joined the “nose to tail” movement, which advocates using as much of the animal as possible, often by returning to traditional ways and recipes.

Belcham, who’s been at the fore of the “source local” brigade for some time now, says it’s a trend that’s here to stay. His passion for making good use of the entire animal is such that he developed an entirely separate charcuterie side to his restaurant business. Now he says couldn’t and wouldn’t do it any other way.

“We make use of every last bit,” he says, “from lard for cooking and making pastries; skins for making stocks and for brodos (thin soup), sausages, hams and specific cuts for the menu such as porchettas.”

Butchery is a dying art that needs reviving, says Belcham. “The skills are not there like they used to be. I teach cooks to become chefs…and to do that you have to know how to butcher an animal.”

One catalyst for the return to responsible sourcing was the publication of Jennifer McLagan’s Odd Bits. Her best selling Fat signalled a return to traditional cooking styles; Odd Bits was an unabashed endorsement of using the entire animal, with a wealth of recipes spanning everything from ox tail to offal.

Downtown’s Cibo Trattoria offers an occasional “Odd Bits” set menu that celebrates McLagan’s book with numerous different preparations, while bone marrow and black pudding enjoy spots on the regular menu.

Another factor in the growth of the whole-animal movement is the growing public awareness of how much energy it takes to raise and ship an animal to slaughter. That chore has become more irritating for small producers since governments closed down many small local slaughterhouses in favour of large abattoirs that process animals for an entire region or province.

The reaction from chefs and consumers who care where their food comes from has been to embrace local farmers who raise animals in uncrowded, humane conditions.

Chefs pursue their whole-animal philosophy in different ways. At sustainably driven Forage, chef Chris Whittaker likes to shop for “neglected parts” too often ignored and turn them into delectable tastes. He sources pork from Gelderman Farms in Abbotsford (60 kilometres / 37 miles east of Vancouver) who increasingly deal directly with chefs. The free-run Gelderman animals, like all Canadian pork, are not subjected to growth hormones, and are well cared for and relaxed. The result is meat with more flavour and a higher fat content, in which chefs delight — but which flies in the face of demands by big processors for the leanest cuts possible.

“Producing food for North America has become a huge challenge,” says Jerry Gelderman, who suggests it’s become “a major disconnect that, increasingly, the producer is not tied to the people.”

Whittaker’s menu is liberally sprinkled with the likes of pork hock and bacon terrine with pickled walnuts, and the surprisingly delicious pickled pig’s ear-and- watercress salad. Roasted pork belly sports perfect outside crackling, and whipped pork fat makes a delicious substitute for butter on rolls. His pork-hock and spot- prawn chowder was the runaway winner (both judges’ and peoples choice) at Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown.

Nor is the Nose to Tail movement limited to pork, although good pigs tend to be more widely available. While some chefs and caterers demand only the prime cuts of salmon, others make good use of salmon bellies. Often wrongly shunned as too fatty by modern diners, they have long been considered a delicacy by West Coast First Nations, who also used the skin and bones for other purposes.

More adventures are on the menu at Gastown’s bustling Wildebeest, where diners flock for pork jowl with bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup, and the flagship dish of roasted bone marrow with a bone luge shot of sherry.

Even casual haunts have been happy to hop on the Nose-to-Tail bandwagon. Laid- back barbecue house Memphis Blues also regularly stages slow-cooked, whole-hog dinners. Downtown Eastside Big Lou’s Butcher Shop, which also serves quick bites such as Bánh Mi Vietnamese sandwiches, sports a picture window right by the butchering slab, so you can watch the process while waiting for the bus.

The return of responsible sourcing in the form of Nose to Tail reflects society’s rediscovery that we can no longer afford to throw away protein that’s useable and beneficial. The generation that grew up following the Second World War did so with all kinds of different cuts, from tongue to kidney and liver. But subsequent generations in more affluent times, raised on cheap gas and supermarket convenience, knowing only prime cuts, often have little idea how to shop economically and use the same cut of meat in different recipes.

Chefs, however, are the first to realize the true cost of food and to be aware of the bottom line that dictates a “waste not, want not” philosophy. Cuts such as skirt or hanger steak were once unheard of on “fine dining” menus, but are now considered equally flavourful to prime cuts. There’s every evidence that the less known “odd bits” brought to the fore by the Nose to Tail movement are here to stay.


Essential Vancouver Waste Not 1Essential Vancouver Waste Not 2, WHERE Magazine annual

Waste not 1


If you’d like to read the full Essential Vancouver issue, it’s here.