How did the Foodie Book series come about?
Before I moved to Vancouver, from Melbourne, I was the lead photographer for a winery magazine and a couple of cookbook/lifestyle books. I’d always had a lot of ideas and the dream of self-publishing so after the move I was re-establishing my photography business and, basically, just had the time to bring those ideas together. It was also a great way to get to know my new home!
The Gastown Foodie is your third book. The North Shore and East Van Foodies precede it, why did you choose that order?
Yes, I started on the North Shore. There were a couple of reasons for this, firstly I live on Lower Lonsdale so doing the Shore first was easy. Secondly, there is a great dining scene over here and it is often overlooked by foodies on the other side of Burrard Inlet, so the chefs and restaurateurs here jumped at the chance to be involved. I loved the process of putting it together so much I decided to focus on East Van next even before the Shore book was out. I think I chose East Van next solely because I didn’t know much about the area and wanted to!
Putting the Gastown book together was quite personal for me. Like most not-born-and-bred locals Gastown was the first Vancouver neighborhood I could name. Back in the early 2000’s I was working briefly in Banff and fully intended to move to Gastown at the end of the season, life happened instead, it’s funny how things turn out. So the Gastown book, in twisted hindsight, is something that has been a long-time coming even though I didn’t know it at the time. I really wanted the concept refined and to have a bit of a following before attempting it.
Storm Brewing -East Van
What makes Gastown so special food-wise?
History and the future. Gastown is where the acorn fell for Vancouver; Gassy Jack and his saloon was where it all started. It fell into the background a bit in the 20th century and almost became a highway at one point, but in the past 20ish years has had a renaissance that arguably was lead by foodie businesses. It’s easily accessible, visually stunning, relaxingly casual and a bit east-side meets west-side. Today’s really good restaurants are all these things too. The days of snobby service, chefs in tall white toques and pristine tablecloths and settings are over. It’s all about creativity now and Gastown is all about creativity.
Bodega on Main -East Van
So you’re the publisher, photographer, recipe writer, and editor, how did you meet the book’s story writer Chris Dagenais?
Chris is the food columnist for The North Shore News and I first approached him to write the foreword for the NS Foodie. I was a fan of his reviews for two reasons. Firstly, he is one of the most knowledgeable people I know about food and drink and the hospitality industry in Vancouver and generally. And secondly, his style of restaurant review is always balanced, constructive and interesting from unique angles. When he wrote the foreword I saw that he is also an amazing creative writer—not saying that his columns aren’t creative, just that because the columns are for a broad audience they need to be a different style. My “directions” for him when writing for the EV and Gastown Foodies were essentially just a word count. I didn’t want to get in the way of his creativity. As a photographer, that’s how I work best so it makes sense.
Ask For Luigi -East Van
The stories are so much more than just a who, what, when and where article. Was the storytelling a conscious approach?
Eating is all about stories—stories of the food’s origin, the chef’s inspiration, the venue’s atmosphere, the recipe’s history and much more. Also, meal times are one of the only remaining times we have face to face without screens or distractions so they are naturally the times that we tell each other our own stories.
The books do cover the “who, what, when and where.” These are an important element but nothing that Google can’t provide. To be really engaging, to be really timeless and to be a book that people will show their guests or buy as a keepsake of a holiday, etc., it is the “why” that is the key. If a story in words or photos can convey the “why” of a thing (in this case restaurants) then it has real value. This is not always easy, Chris’s style of writing in my books isn’t in the style of a magazine or a blog, it rewards a second read and taking a moment to stop and think about a bigger picture.
This goes for the photos too. I don’t over style the photos… you know… with designer crumbs tweezered into place on the counter, perfect studio lighting and flawless produce scattered about in the background just so. I know when I cook at home my kitchen doesn’t look like that! All of the dishes are presented just like they would be if you were to visit one of the restaurants and order the dish. The photos of the dishes being made really are of the dish being made. This is tricky because commercial kitchens are not good photo studios. When you polish photos to the extent that everything is Type A designer perfect the first thing that is polished off is genuineness.
Kin Kao -East Van
How long do the books take to complete?
In short a bit under a year. I usually start researching and approaching restaurants in December and January, then production starts in February or March through until print deadlines sometime in August. When the book is at the printers I take a bit of time off and then switch to marketing and distribution.
When you were on location to take the photographs, did you get to sample any of the food that got into the cookbook?
Yes and no. It’s usually cold by the time I’m done shooting it! Also, because of my big bushy beard eating on the go in front of “clients” is less than professional!
Cabrito -East Van
Any fun stories about visiting the restaurants you care to share?
Lots, the ones I can tell are in the books. When I was shooting the Bauhaus recipes with tripods and reflectors all over the place, one of the reflector boards fell and knocked a full glass of wine straight into the dish I was shooting. Bauhaus’s dishes are so perfect and refined it couldn’t be re-plated and had to be prepped from scratch. The chef was super cool about it… good chefs never freak out!
Bauhaus Restaurant -Gastown (Yes, the dish that I added wine too.)
Do you consider the foodie book series specifically cookbooks?
Well, they do have around 100 recipes in them so yes. One of the early reviews I got was “it’s a cookbook equally at home on the coffee table as it is in the kitchen.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
How often do you eat out in Vancouver?
At least weekly, but because I have been so focused on specific areas of Vancouver for the last couple of years there is a big list of restaurants that people are surprised I haven’t been to yet.
As a self-confessed foodie are you always on the lookout for a local hidden gem?
I’m not the “foodie” in the book’s title though, the reader is. It’s a small but important point!
It is cool to be the person my friends ask where they should go and when we have visitors from out of town we essentially just eat.
Do you consider yourself a foodie in the kitchen too?
I’m not a chef but I am keen and enthusiastic and that’s the important part. I am a big fan of comfort food in winter and salads or ‘bowls’ in summer. Both are usually a blend of styles and cultures so I guess that’s my thing. At the moment Japanese Chicken Katsu Curry Rice is one of my home faves… it doesn’t get much more comfort/multicultural than that!
The Mackenzie Room -East Van
Have you made any of the recipes in the books? Which ones?
I test all of the recipes myself, so all of them. There are some that only certain elements within the recipe need to be tested though. I’m not a chef so it’s not one of the easy parts but it’s fun and a lot of the recipes or elements of the recipes are now in my and my wife’s and my weekly dinner rotation.
Alessandro Vianello, Exec Chef at Wildebeest -Gastown
Do you have a pimped out kitchen with all the gadgets and tools?
Lol, we’re in a tiny one-bedroom rental and our dining table is the office so I wish! I do have all the basics and I’m regularly visiting my local Cook Culture just up the street to add to that. Most recently I got a mandoline which has been a revelation both in time-saving and presentation. I’ve managed to keep my fingers intact so far which is a bonus. I’m also currently saving for an ice cream machine, I really want to try out some weird flavor combinations.
The Diamond -Gastown
Are you planning on doing more books about other areas of Vancouver?
Yes! I’m currently planning how to cover the West Side, Yaletown, Kits, Granville Island and Downtown. I’m not sure if this will be one or two books yet… I’m looking forward to working it out.