LONG before it became fashionable in culinary circles to trade in the grueling schedule of a fine dining chef for the more casual whites of a restaurant chain, Chris Mills made it cool.
At one time such a move was looked down on, but these days, it's a gig many young cooks aspire to.
It was a smart one for Mills. After an appearance on the original Japanese Iron Chef, a fifth-place finish in the 2001 Bocuse d'Or culinary competition, and two stints cooking for members of the James Beard Foundation in New York, it's clear he is the author of his own career path. He chose this.
Since leaving his top chef role at Metropolitan Hotels to become executive chef vice-president at Joey Restaurant Group in 2004, the West Vancouver native has helped redefine the "casual fine dining" category, built a solid apprentice program, and created a career for himself that allows growth, creativity and plenty of globe-trotting.
A recent sampling of current and upcoming dishes on the Joey menu ably proved that Mills isn't resting on his laurels either. He is constantly testing new recipes in the chain's Bentall One location on Burrard Street, and often incorporating ingredients, techniques and flavours from his travels. In the heart of downtown's financial district, it draws a regular business crowd, many of whom love to act as guinea pigs for items still in development.
A seafood soup he's playing around with now is a perfect example. Recently back from a motorcycle tour of Patagonia, he fell in love with a full-flavoured soup loaded with veggies, garlic, olives and seafood, including a meaty wild Argentine red shrimp. He hopes to make use of the supply imported locally and add the soup to the menu.
Another excellent dish he's still working on is a buttery filet of black cod, glazed in sake and perched with stir-fried vegetables atop creamy mashed potatoes that mingle with the dashi broth poured into the bowl at the table.
From the current roster we sampled sushi cones, a refreshing contrast in textures made up of tempura prawn, avocado, spicy mayo and cucumber; and a decadent French Dip sandwich, stacked with prime rib (roasted overnight) and beef crackling on a housemade roll.
We finished with a dessert that has yet to be rolled out: an unusual twist on a lemon tart, with classic lemon curd, toasted marshmallows and raspberries tucked neatly into a mason jar, topped with a flaky shortbread biscuit.
Joey Bentall One is located at 507 Burrard Street, Vancouver. Visit joeyrestaurants.com for more information.
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If you're in the Okanagan this month, celebrate your sweetheart with the Discovery Icewine Tour at Inniskillin Winery.
This one-of-a-kind outdoor tour unveils the mysteries of one of Canada's most precious and highly sought after luxury wines. Experience what makes it unique, learn about the challenges in making it, as well as the Inniskillin story and its contribution to the Canadian wine industry.
The tour starts in the vineyard, where winter conditions of minus 8 C are needed to harvest the naturally frozen grapes, and continues on to a discussion about how the wine is pressed and made. Following the vineyard tour, guests experience a comparative Icewine tasting, plus food pairings. The one-hour tour is $15 per person; available on Saturdays at 11 a.m. with 48 hours advanced reservations required. Book online at inniskillin.com or call 250-4986663.
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