Friday, December 19, 2008

A new start

I guess what I'm about to write wouldn't be a big surprise if you'd taken my few previous blogs seriously. After years of watching and reading others take on the culinary world...I've made the decision to go into culinary school myself. I've set a goal of saving money and getting my ducks in a row to begin school October 2009. I'm hoping to attend the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Vancouver, given its stellar reputation and extremely awesome proximity to my house (five minute walk, doesn't get better than that).

I've been floating on a cloud for weeks thinking about it, dreaming about the possibilities. I don't yet know if my end goal is to be a chef, a food writer or a chef who writes about food. But I know that whatever I want to do, going to a great culinary school and earning my diploma is the next step. I'm only 25. School is a year. Now is the time, before I get tied down with a mortgage or kids or whatever else comes my way.

Unfortunately, after a couple weeks of bliss...the freaking out has also set in. I have to quit an awesome job doing something I am good at, that I potentially have a very lucrative future in. I love being on air. I love telling stories. And I love my coworkers at the CBC. Ever since I got to Vancouver, I've been going from job to job, having to meet new people and learn new skills all over again. I finally found a place where I could see myself working for at least the next few years, learning new skills, working with amazing professionals who've helped me tremendously. I've gotten to do so much since I got there. Can I really give up a well paying, fantastic career track job to start something completely new??

I don't know.

I don't even know how good a chef I'd be. I mean, I'd give it my absolute best shot. And I tend to be great at things I love (who isn't?) But...what about my dreams of being on air? Home ownership? Stability?

I'm putting so much on the line. It's terrifying. I've been spending all day torturing myself with scenarios where I crash and burn and get incinerated in the process. I absolutely hate the unknown. I also hate change.

Yet this change I'm planning excites me more than anything has excited me in a very long time. I can hardly think about anything else. I'm practically vibrating I'm so excited.

So tomorrow I'm going to the Art Institute open house to check out the curriculum. I've already planned a meeting with someone from admissions in January. It helps me to set goals and achieve them. I want this so badly. I want to do well. I hope that will be enough for now.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A foodie nerd wet dream

Who's got a blog and had the greatest dinner EVER last night? THIS GAL!

We finally got to eat at the brand spanking Lumiere redux. Now with Daniel Boulud and Dale Mackay at the helm.

Let's go right to the food. We had a three course dinner. First we were presented with an amuse bouche of broccoli done three ways. I know it sounds weird but it was fantastic. Among the items was an oyster with some kind of broccoli puree served on a bed of sea salt. Fantastic. Also a shot glass with a broccoli soup and a crouton wrapped in prosciutto.

Appetizer: venison with celeriac done two ways. It was so beautiful and detailed. Ever since I got to spend time with Canada's Bocuse Team I've been blown away by how much detail work goes into really great food.

Then my main course: arctic char with leeks. I think the char was done en souvide. It was topped with a cloud of crispy potato. Again, clean, beautiful, stunning. People say the way food looks doesn't REALLY REALLY makes a difference when you make this kind of effort. It's also an interesting juxtaposition between the formality of the way it's presented and the way it tastes, because to me the flavours always seem so warm and enveloping.

Dessert was chocolate fondant with pistachio ice cream. Anytime you pair warm, gooey chocolate with ice cream is just fine by me.

Then came the REAL highlight of the evening. As if the meal wasn't amazing enough. The maitre d' came over and asked us if we'd been over to db Bistro. I said yes, we had just been there a couple days ago (see below). THEN he asked if we'd spoken with Daniel Boulud yet.

Then I think my brain exploded.

We were asked if we wanted him to come over to the table. I was like, "ABSOLUTELY!" Probably scaring the poor guy half to death. So we waited. And then he was there. The whole time in my brain I kept thinking, "do not make an ass of yourself" because sadly, I have a history of making an ass in front of people I admire, including Sarah McLachlan and Wendy Mesley.

Luckily, thanks to the wine I was totally coherent. I think. I told him what a thrill it was to meet him and he took it like a champ who's heard that a million times. He's excellent at self-promotion. He knows exactly how to make you feel like he's interested in you, whether or not he really is. He actually spent quite some time chatting with us (when Fernando was talking about his newspaper I thought to myself, my god, one of the world's most celebrated chefs is listening to my husband drone on about newspapers). He also talked about his displeasure with the service ("not so smooth yet" was his opinion although we could scarcely complain).

THEN........then he asked if we had met Dale yet. As in Dale Mackay, the head chef of Lumiere. My brain exploded again. He led us, oh so gracefully, to the kitchen where the entire staff seemed to stop and stare at us. Dale was totally open to all my prying questions about how he was finding the Vancouver market and how he was adjusting to the opening. I remember the first time I saw Dale in an interview. It was probably the day after he got the job at Lumiere and he arrived at The Early Edition. I was there for the first time watching them put the show on air. He was quite nervous and intense. Talking to him in the kitchen, he was a completely different person, able to laugh and talk freely about his experiences. I think it's a combination of intense media training and the fact that I didn't have a microphone in front of me.

AND THEN.............Daniel escorted us next door to db Bistro to meet THEIR head chef, Stephane Istel. We walked past BC's Attorney General Wally Oppal on the way. Love him.

db Bistro's kitchen was bustling, so we couldn't stay long. We did schmooze long enough for me to figure out that Stephane's charm was going to carry him a long way in this town.

All the while, Daniel was the most charming host. You'd think we were his family members and not some loser journalists barging in during dinner service.

That evening could NOT have gotten any better. I waited an appropriate amount of time after walking out the door before squealing and jumping up and down. Only in Vancouver do you have the chance to hob nob with the likes of Daniel Boulud and his homies. Only in Vancouver. I think I'm starting to like it here!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

db Bistro Heaven

Here I go again...with another gushing foodie nerd entry.

So yesterday at work I get the best email EVER from Fernando: We're being invited to db Bistro. Do you want to go for dinner?

I phoned him immediately and didn't even say hello. "HELL YEAH!" was what I think I said.

For those of you that have no idea which restaurant I'm talking about, db Bistro is a new restaurant in Vancouver, attached to the illustrious Vancouver institution, Lumiere.

A lowdown on Lumiere: was created by uber chef Rob Feenie. Then last year Rob Feenie was suddenly and shockingly let go. The new owners have installed Dale Mackay, a former Gordon Ramsay sous chef from New York, as the new head chef. I kind of have a crush on him, having first laid eyes on him the day after he was named head chef and had come into the CBC studio to do a radio interview with Rick Cluff. He was so intense looking...and for some reason I'm drawn to that. Bordern psychotic intensity is very attractive. I don't know what that says about Fernando. Oh, btw, we were also engaged at Lumiere, so it has special meaning for me.

Anyway, back to db Bistro. So we get there...and it's gorgeous. It's very French bistro meets West Coast chic. We sat down and started looking through the menu. Immediately I know I have to have the charcuterie plate (for two) and the Berkshire pork as a main. We're also given sparkling wine as a lubricant, which doesn't hurt.

The charcuterie plate is magnificent. The jambon ('cause it sounds better than just saying ham) is lush with fat...I think I talked about how good the fat was, five minutes. I also raved on and on about it was a crime that Victoria Beckham doesn't eat ham. I had had a couple glasses of wine by then.

Then comes the Berkshire pork. It comes in two ways: on one side, tenderloin with sauerkraut. A row of potatoes in the middle. Then on the other side: cripsy belly with coleslaw. How clever. Pork and cabbage done two different ways.

Fernando had lamb in this unbelievable ragout. By then all I could do was say "This is SO good..." over and over again. I'm pretty sure the staff thought I was deranged. Or had never eaten food before.

Then our helpful waiter suggested we have a clafouti with two kinds of gelato...and that's when the other shoe dropped. It was molten, bittersweet heaven. And the vanilla and chocolate flavours were so intense, better than any frozen dessert I've ever had.

I know this sounds almost pornographic. But that's how much I enjoy myself when I eat at a great restaurant.

I couldn't've been happier. Until the person who invited us to db Bistro invited us to eat at Lumiere tomorrow. I don't need to tell you how happy I was to hear that!

So my next entry will be about that experience. Get ready for more gushing.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Foodie dreams come true

I am not a trained chef. I don't even cook on a regular basis...not food I would serve anyone besides myself anyway. But I am a giant foodie nerd. Not just a regular actual giant nerd.

So when I got the chance to pitch a radio documentary about Canada's Bocuse D'or team, I jumped at it. Like, 100 feet in the air.

Bocuse D'or, FYI, is the world's biggest, most important culinary competition. European teams spend millions of euros training their chefs. People paint their faces with their national colours and cheer just like it's a soccer game. You cook in the middle of it all. It's outdoors. It's crazy.

The American team consists of no less than all the big Food Network names. You know who they are: Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Mario Batali, Tom Colicchio, etc. etc. Their budget is, at last count, just over a mil.

But let me tell you something about Canada's team. We're represented by the amazing David Wong. Never heard of him? He's based out of Vancouver. He used to be a social worker...turned chef. Trained by one of Canada's best: Robert Sulatycky (more on him later). Now teaches at a culinary school here. His chef commis is Grace Pineda, a very accomplished 22-year-old in her own right. Robert Sulatycky is their coach. Here's a little about Robert: former head of some of Canada's most luxurious hotels, current head of the kitchens at the Bel Air and Beverly Hills hotels. He competed at Bocuse in 1999 and has the distinction of being the highest ranked North American chef ever to compete there (he finished fourth).

Here's the rub: Canada's got a small team compared with everyone else. They've also got a MUCH smaller budget...nowhere near even half a mil.

I've been fascinated by the whole David and Goliath thing. Ha ha. Anyway, I finally got the chance to hang with the team while they did a practice run.

A practice run consists of five and half hours of grueling, non-stop attempts at making the best food you've ever made. That's the time they'll get when they go to the competition in Lyon, France.

I have personally crowned David the nicest chef ever. I've told him this. For example, first thing he does when I walk into the kitchen at 6:30 am on a Sunday is warmly greet me and offer me something to drink.

As a food nerd, being there and watching the pros do their thing was like going to some kind of fantasy camp. I've never been so happy watching people souvide, puree, saute...

I also got to meet the other main players in the team: Robert Sulatycky and team manager Vincent Parkinson. Robert's whole swagger and look reminded me of Anthony Bourdain...but without the arrogance. And Vincent was incredibly helpful in filling me in on the details. Like how their sterling silver platters can only be used ONE time because the oils of the food ruin the plates. So they've got their plates waiting in France for them, with aluminum ones for practice for now. The silver ones cost $22,000. For one shot. Do you get how much people put into this competition?

I kept my mike on and pointed at them the whole time. Never once did David lose his cool. Possibly the most memorable moment was when he tossed me a tasting spoon and gestured toward his pomme puree. "Go ahead", he tells me. I didn't need any encouragement. I dipped my spoon in and tasted something I will never forget. Creamy, almost cheesy, smooth, warm...the flavour spread in my mouth. It was one of the best things I'd ever tasted. I'll never forget that spoonful.

I also got to watch the critique afterwards. Now, some people find it brutal that you could go balls to the wall for over five hours and then be told what you did doesn't work. But frankly...I've been in meetings like that about stories =) When you're trying to make the best you've ever made, it does make a big difference that your parsley leaves be just small enough and facing the right way, consistently on everything. That's the kind of detail we're talking about.

Then afterwards, even after all the cooking and interviews (because I wasn't the only one trying to get his attention!) David was gracious enough to have a chat with me. I had been looking forward to it for months. I had previously booked David for the CBC Radio afternoon show in Vancouver and it was the day the heads of the American team were announced. I remember asking him if he knew who they were...he didn't. Lol. It was a funny moment.

Anyway, I finally got to ask him some of the questions I'd wanted to ask. Like, how do you go from social worker to chef? (A trip to Spain and an amazing paella apparently). How good does he think their chances are at taking home the ultimate prize...$20,000 euros and a gold statue of Paul Bocuse? (Fantastic...everything's been going their way so far, knock wood). I could've talked to him for hours. He's one of those guys who always gives you his full attention and as much time as you need.

I'm frankly terrified that my radio piece won't do him and his team justice. I can't wait to see how they do in Lyon. The competition is at the end of January FYI. It'll be streamed live on the internet if you're interested. I hope one day Canada takes this as seriously as the Europeans chefs like David will be treated like the rock stars they are. I'm rooting for you!!!