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John Bishop Helped Pioneer Vancouver's Sustainable Food Scene

Restauranteur John Bishop was one of the first chefs in the city to adopt a sustainable philosophy.

Restauranteur John Bishop was one of the first chefs in the city to adopt a sustainable philosophy.

In the ’70s, I remember John Bishop taking Vancouver’s top chefs on a tour to Quadra Island opposite Campbell River.

It was the fall and John challenged chef and cookbook author James Barber and peers to go into the island forest, and out to sea, to gather ingredients for dinner. They came back with wild greens, bags of mushrooms, shellfish and hand-caught fish.

John called the experience “magical, because in the ’70s everything they cooked and we ate came from somewhere else. Oysters from France, mushrooms from Germany, lamb from Australia and berries from California. Except for some small places in Chinatown, there were no farmers markets."

John Bishop

It wasn’t until the ’80s that John discovered the culinary talents and forward-thinking of Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, and the amazing Jonathan Waxman, another pioneer of California cuisine. They were preaching local farmers, cheese-makers and fish-mongers; kitchens changed in a hurry.

Local. Sustainable. Organic. Today’s buzz words. John says, the keyword is “local” “because it means our foods are not shipped an average of 1,500 miles and you get to put a face to the food, you get to meet the farmer and the money goes to them.”

To see John’s influence on today’s Vancouver dining scene, simply take a look at the chefs who've passed through Bishop’s kitchen: Vikram Vij, Angus An, Michael Allemeier, Andrea Carlson and many more. John’s footprint is

Other than the Death by Chocolate dessert, a huge hit for 31 years, Bishop’s is known for its fresh fish, clams, oysters on the half shell from Quadra, classic rack of lamb, prime rib and peerlessly consistent food and service. (By-the-way, John, who is also a cookbook author, is the restaurant’s oyster shucker and delivers the goods himself.)

When pressed for his favourite recipe, John offers up one that he mostly cooks at home and occasionally offers up at Bishop’s.

“It’s a stew made with local lamb, lots of fresh vegetables, in a broth that you simmer for a couple of hours with fresh fennel seeds in. Then I add a dumpling dough that I put on top, cover with a lid for 15 to 20 minutes until it steams. It’s a meal in one pot. I pair it up with an Okanagan Rhône-style wine, a rich red. That’s a gift. Local wine. Local food. A natural pairing,” he says.

John Bishop’s best memories of Vancouver’s culinary scene include trips to The Only Seafood Cafe on Hastings where you shared stools with a wild array of people, including chefs like Joel Thibault and Jean Claude Raymond. He also remembers cooking for Umberto at Yellow House, back when John knew nothing about Italian food.

It’s been a wild ride. In 2010 he was given the honour of being inducted into The Nations Table by the Governor General in Ottawa for pioneering and growing Vancouver’s local food movement through his own culinary artistry as well as through his mentorship of local culinary talent.

John’s come a long way from The Only. Do yourself a huge favour. Take a couple of hours and dine the way dining was meant to be. Unhurried, quiet and comfortable.

And say hello to the guy shucking the oysters.

Bishop’s. 2183 West Fourth Ave., Vancouver. 604-738-2025.