IN this city - birthplace of the 100-Mile Diet - it's not hard to find a chef who talks a good sustainability game.
The trend is a trend no longer; savvy diners look for locally grown ingredients, and restaurants have responded by stacking their menus with products they source on our doorstep. Or at least they say they do. It's impossible to know for sure if the meal that lands on the plate is exactly as it's described on the menu.
Unless you're looking at the menu of chef Chris Whittaker.
During his childhood in Thunder Bay, Ont., Whittaker's grandparents taught him to think about where food comes from. When he took up his spot at the burners at Robson Street's Listel Hotel and O'Doul's in 2007, he brought his passion for local products with him. So when it was time for the restaurant to get a facelift it made sense not only to bring it more in line with the hotel's already green tourism practices, but also to let Whittaker take the lead in developing the concept and philosophy.
Forage is the result. A joint venture with Green Table Network, BC Hydro and LiveSmart BC, the restaurant
is a showcase project on achieving financial savings through high-efficiency, leading edge technology. Forage has reduced energy and water consumption by 30 per cent in both the kitchen and front of house, and Whittaker's menu is built around ingredients from farms in Abbotsford and Richmond, from local fishermen's boats, from Okanagan vineyards, and yes, from his own foraging trips.
"To me forage means that we no longer seek out excess, but instead revisit a time when we respected the land and oceans and took only what we needed to sustain ourselves and the people we love," said Whittaker in his Chef's Statement. He backs it up on the menu where unusual cuts of meat like bison tongue and pork hock are used alongside wild fixings like mushrooms, huckleberries, even bull kelp.
During a recent media dinner, offerings ranged from popcorn spiked with housemade pork crackling, and flatbread layered with alpine juniper duck confit, to squash perogies in a birch syrup vinegar reduction, and roast bison bone marrow served with a perfect little spoon for scooping it onto bread.
Standouts included the luscious B.C. spot prawn and seafood chowder, topped with a soft-poached egg (winner of the Vancouver Aquarium's Chowder Chowdown in November); and the ravioli, stuffed with flavourful bison tongue, cress, crispy parsnip, and grilled matsutake mushrooms. Wines poured included the Noble Blend from JoieFarm in Naramata, and bottles made at Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland.
You can see the transformation of O'Doul's to Forage at thenextcourse.ca, and about the restaurant, chef and menus at foragevancouver.com.
Deana Lancaster has been writing about food and wine since 1998, and worked in restaurants for more than a decade before that. She is passionate about good food. Follow her on twitter @deanal, or send her an email, to deanal@ telus.net.