Of all of the food scenes in this country, Vancouver's can be one of the most cutthroat and hard to keep up with if you're not completely immersed in it. With a ton of competition and a city full of folks who crave one new thing after the next, if you don't open up to plenty of buzz (good or bad can usually do the trick, mind you), chances are, you're not going to last very long. In addition to a full schwak of new openings, plenty of other interesting things happened in the West Coast city throughout the year.
Here are some of the most interesting things that happened in Vancouver's food scene throughout 2016.
Contemporary Asian cuisine still as hot as ever
Miku, Maenam, Bao Bei, and Torafuku are just a handful of well-known, chef-driven Asian eateries that have proven popular with Vancouverites in recent years. The interest in Asian cuisine showed no sign of waning this year, with places like Vietnamese restaurants, Anh and Chi and House Special, Mak N Ming, Bao Down Snack Bar and Heritage Asian Eatery all opening their doors. Kissa Tanto, the city's best new eatery according to many food experts, also satellites this genre with its Italian-Japanese fusion menu.
Chef Matthew Stowe leaves Cactus Club to join The Joseph Richard Group
After spending years with the famous restaurant chain working closely with its main corporate chef, Rob Feenie, it was announced publicly in late September that Top Chef Canada season 3 winner, Matthew Stowe, had taken the position as the Director of Culinary Operations at Surrey-based company, The Joseph Richard Group. What was no doubt a blow to Cactus is definitely a win for Joseph Richard, so it will be interesting to see in which direction Stowe takes the various concepts' menus going forward in 2017.
Chef Alex Hon winning The Hawksworth Young Chef Scholarship
The country's most prestigious culinary competition for up-and-coming chefs, The Hawksworth Young Chef Scholarship, saw West's sous chef, Alex Hon take the top prize in its fourth year, which means a hefty $10,000 in cash and a stage at an acclaimed international restaurant.
“He's definitely one to watch out for. I think he's only 26 or 27, but his future is so bright, and he's better than he even knows,” says Vancouver's Mijune Pak of FollowMeFoodie.com.
Here's to seeing what Hon gets up to in the years to come; no doubt it will be quite delicious things.
Notable restaurant closures in Gastown
It is with much sadness that Blacktail officially announces its closure at the end of the month. Due to the lease ending at its current premises, Blacktail's last day of operation will be Saturday March 26th, 2016. Our day will be a special event, with all liquor selling at 50% off, so come visit, get your drink on, and say goodbye to our amazing staff! Blacktail sincerely wants to thank all our guests for your patronage and the wonderful times you've shared with us. Please check back on the website to see where @chefgeoffrogers adventure will be! @vancitybuzz @vancityhype @eatdrinkvancouver @thevancouversun
A year is never complete in this lively food scene without a few restaurants shutting their doors. Not too surprising, but Gastown’s too-posh-for-the-block restaurant, Secret Location, had floundered early on since it opened in 2013 and finally called it quits this summmer. As well, Blacktail, in a location that was frequently referred to as "doomed", shut down in early spring. Other more prominent closures for the year included Kitsilano's Supermarine and Hapa Izakaya's location on Robson Street.
Earls Restaurants roller coaster year
Vancouver is the homebase for all of Canada's top restaurant chains: Cactus Club, JOEY Restaurants and Earls Restaurants, but Earls is the one that made the news most frequently throughout 2016. The most widespread story came by way of the company's decision to opt for American and ethically-raised beef over Canadian beef: a decision which was reversed just days later, much to the relief of Alberta. Then, there was the new test concept, Earls 67, that debuted in downtown Calgary with automatic gratuity built into the bill, which was also met with mild media coverage and some pushback.
It wasn't all bad news, though, with a new Washington, DC location getting plenty of buzz and its first restaurant in Dallas, TX slated for early 2017. As well, Earls the Cookbook, a look back at three decades in the Canadian restaurant industry, proved to be one of the best-selling Canadian cookbooks of 2016.
Kissa Tanto named the best new restaurant in Canada by enRoute magazine
Joël Watanabe, chef and co-owner of Kissa Tanto, discusses his Japanese-Italian style of cooking. His stunning Vancouver dining room ranks #1 on our list of Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2016. Watch the full video by clicking the link in our bio. . Le chef et co-propriétaire de Kissa Tanto, Joël Watanabe, nous parle de sa cuisine nippo-italienne. Son magnifique restaurant se classe en tête de notre palmarès des Meilleurs nouveaux restos canadiens 2016. Regardez le vidéo complet en cliquant le lien sur notre profil. . #enRouteTop10 #restaurants #BestRestaurants #Vancouver #KissaTanto @kissatanto
Every year in late October, restaurant owners wait with baited breath to find out the 10 best new restaurants in Canada according to Air Canada's enRoute magazine. This year was a particularly good year for Vancouver, with Savio Volpe rounding out the far end of the list at number ten while the Japanese-Italian culinary effots of Bao Bei's sister restaurant, Kissa Tanto, claimed the top spot.
Chef Ned Bell leaves YEW Seafood + Bar to become Ocean Wise executive chef
It is no secret that Vancouver-based celebrity chef, Ned Bell, is passionate about seafood sustainability. So, it wasn't too much of a shock to see the chef move over to the Vancouver Aquarium to become Ocean Wise's executive chef this summer.
“We have long been partners with Chef Ned Bell in the fight against overfishing,” says John Nightingale, president and CEO of Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre in a press release that was sent out in May, 2016. “Having him officially join our team as executive chef will strengthen and expand our national Ocean Wise program and further elevate our culinary experience at the Vancouver Aquarium.”
Bell's job still involves plenty of cooking, yes; but perhaps more importantly, he is to work as an advocate and leader in the sustainable seafood movement. As a result, he's been travelling a hefty amount across the country, sharing his experience and love of the oceans with Canadians. As well, his first cookbook, the Chefs For Oceans Cookbook, is set to be published in fall, 2017 by Figure 1 Publishing.
Erin Ireland's transition to plant-based diet advocate
After years running a successful food company, To Die For Fine Foods, as well as providing commentary on various television programs as a local restaurant expert, Erin Ireland has transitioned into a very postitive role model in terms of plant-based dieting. Her TedXSFU talk (see above) from late 2015 showcased her ability to talk with conviction on the topic of media bias preferencing meat-based diets over plant-based ones. Almost all of her social posts now showcase vegan cooking (and dining out) in a vibrant and often satiating light, something which is not so easily done.
In a world where the topics of raising livestock, its effect on the world and sustainability in general is ever on the rise, it's been nice to see a food media person in Canada champion a vegetable-based diet.
Alexandra Gill's review of Nightingale
"Did you read Alex Gill's review of Nightingale yet?", what most people in the Vancouver food scene would have asked each other by mid-September.
Nightingale, the long-awaited and immensely-hyped second restaurant from one of the city's most recognizable chefs, David Hawksworth, did not go over all too well with the Globe and Mail food critic, who recapped her evening of ups and downs in her one and half star review in the September 9 edition of the newspaper. Boy, did it keep people talking...for quite awhile.
"The service, on this occasion and two others, was generally pleasant, prompt and knowledgeable. Yet, this one little slapdash fumble does neatly encapsulate the larger inconsistencies, laziness and lack of ingenuity plaguing Vancouver’s fabled new songbird," writes Gill in the review.