It's funny to see how people progress over time. I met Geoff Rogers when I was teaching a cooking class for university students, while I was still working a full-time day job and writing less. Rogers found out about my culinary initiative through Twitter and expressed interest in coming into the classroom to work with the post-secondary students.
From there, I got to know Geoff a little more, and then a lot more. The restaurant he was working in at the time, Home Tasting Room, was struggling to make a name for itself (which made strides with Rogers), so he went on to open at new restaurant, Market, a nominee for enRoute's Canada's Best New Restaurants list for 2013, although he departed for Vancouver in the summer of 2013 before the accolades were published. Since then, Market's kitchen has been led by chef Dave Bohati, where it has found a lot of success, most recently with Bohati winning the city's regional Gold Medal Plates competition.
After working at Fable Kitchen with noted Vancouver chef, Trevor Bird, Rogers moved onto Blacktail Florist, a restaurant with somewhat of an identity crisis, not unlike the one he left in Calgary. Learning from his mistakes, as so few of us do, he started back at square one with Blacktail Florist, assembling a new team and rebuilding an establishment that a lot of people had previously written off.
Now, you can see the Vancouver restaurant he's at the helm of slowly gaining buzz. Recently, Alexandra Gill of The Globe and Mail proclaimed, "Rogers is definitely a talent to watch." She also noted that Blacktail Florist inhabits one of those supposed "cursed" locations in the city. Never a fun thing to be known for a restaurant.
Today, he is someone I am happy to call a friend. Rogers will be the first to admit that a rollercoaster ride can bring experience for the better. Here, he talks about the importance of being humble, why bloggers ain't so bad and what he misses about his hometown of Calgary.
From a chef’s perspective, how would you compare Vancouver’s food scene to Calgary?
It's very different. Vancouver's food scene is very established, it's been around for a long time and it's been a focal point in this country. Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver -- those have been the main food cities in our country for a long time, but I find that, sometimes, people don't have as much of a drive here. Calgary is great for having that underdog sort of culture, where there's more to prove, so you will see people pushing harder. Maybe I just see it because I'm more familiar with it, but in Calgary, there's a lot more different places that are continually trying to push to a higher level.
As an outsider, was it hard to break into the west coast food scene?
No, it wasn't really anything crazy. I don't think I noticed any extra undue pressure or any hierarchy I needed to break into. This city doesn't seem to put near as much pressure on chefs that Calgary does. Calgary is a smaller city, there's a lot more of a social media presence, maybe I'm just missing it entirely here, but it's not that I have to prove myself to become a 'Vancouver' chef.
Would you say that was because of the exposure you got from Top Chef Canada during season three?
I wouldn't say a lot of people knew who I was. I may have had a slight bit of notoriety from Top Chef Canada, but it's not something that would have worked in a crazy kitchen. I just came here, started cooking and working at Fable, fell under the Fable umbrella an dmaybe now more so that I'm running my own shop, there might be a bit more pressure to become a more prominent chef in this food scene, if that makes any sense?
Do you think bigger cities with bigger food scenes mean bigger chef egos?
Well, there's a lot of ego in smaller areas, too. If you look at cities around the size of Calgary, you might find a lot of egos there because they become more apparent when the scene is smaller.
What’s your general impression of the impact that media (online, print or otherwise) has on the food world?
It can be an interesting thing. I’d say Calgary definitely has that scene where the writers and the bloggers that are active there are almost as much a part of the city's food scene as the chefs and restaurants. Here in Vancouver, I honestly could not tell you the names of many food writers or bloggers, aside from Alexandra Gill or Mijune Pak.
That’s interesting, for sure, but be honest, do you actually like bloggers?
Ha, ha, ha. Yeah, I've never had that "I hate food bloggers!" kind of mindset. I think everyone is entitled to their opinions about dining, and if people are getting excited about something they've been eating at my restaurant, then that’s pretty cool. Just the fact that people want to take the time out of their day to write about your business? That's great. As long as it's even-handed, I don't like when people use that platform just to bash certain places. There are a lot of people that go into making a dinner experience, the service and all of that, so you need to think about the bigger picture. Do your homework, do your research and understand what you're actually experiencing.
Some restaurants hate it when people take photos of their food. Where do you stand on that?
Oh, take photos of your food! Keep those memories, understand what you’ve eaten and enjoy. If someone can look back at that picture and say, "Oh yeah, that was a really good meal", then that's really awesome for a chef like me.
What’s the worst thing someone has said about you on social media?
Oh geez. I don't think I've gotten any really bad flak about my food or anything. I had a writer run me down a bit last year, imply that I wasn't actually capable of cooking well.
Oh, did I write that?
Ha, ha, ha. No...that was somebody else! Anyway, it was what it was.
You’re the first to admit that Market, the last restaurant you worked at in Calgary, definitely had a too-many-chefs-in-the-kitchen sort of situation which resulted in you leaving. What did you learn from that and how would you navigate that type of problem in the future?
This type of thing comes down to maturity. Having been in a situation like that and even recently in Vancouver, when I worked with Trevor bird in Vancouver, [I realize] it comes with maturity and actually understanding and respecting other people's opinions and using it in a way that benefits the whole. In a case like the last restaurant I worked at in Calgary, certain things that I felt, I'm sure the other chef felt too, while working with me on the flipside; but again, it's that maturity, where you can address a certain situation and figure out ways to communicate. It's incredibly difficult when you have two really capable chefs working alongside each other in the same kitchen. You have to figure it out. When I moved to Vancouver, you learn a lot of about yourself and how you communicate with others.
Chefs are all very opinionated; no surprise, ha ha. And they've got to a certain level doing things a certain way, so it can be hard to move around within those parameters.
Biggest pet peeves with diners?
The biggest thing that I've found out in Vancouver is that the food "allergies" come up a lot. I totally understand when someone is celiac or has another restriction and is willing to dine with us; that's cool and we still can cook something for you. But, I don't think people quite realize that when they say, "I have a severe allergy to this," we need to stop the line, check for cross-contamination and all of that. Especially on a busy night, it becomes incredibly difficult. I will plate that food all on its own, because I don't want to make anyone sick, but then nine times out of 10, you find out it's either a dislike or something someone just doesn't want to eat.
I think a lot of young chefs equate television or media exposure to a successful career. Since you’ve experienced that firsthand, is that the case in your eyes?
It’s funny. Chris Consentino gave a talk recently about that kind of allure; chef 'stardom' and how it can ruin your career. He wasn't really thrilled on the experience because people start to expect different things from you and you're not able to do what you would normally want to do as a chef. Anyway, it's a really interesting speech that's worth taking a look at.
You’ll be heading home for Christmas next month, is there any food in Calgary that you miss?
It's not a specific type of food, per se, but it's the people. I miss the people. Some of the best Asian food is here in Vancouver. There's insane Spanish food at places like Espana; there's everything here, truly there is. But, I miss the people [in Calgary]. I know their back story, I know who they are and I know what they go through to make what they make. When I go home, I'll go see Roy Oh, Rogelio Herrera and Duncan Ly, and eat their food because I miss people like them.