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Vancouver's global reputation down to Bishops' staff

The advance of our food scene from its once uninspired doldrums to its current position as one of the most diverse and attractive in the world has been staggeringly quick.

The advance of our food scene from its once uninspired doldrums to its current position as one of the most diverse and attractive in the world has been staggeringly quick. Though partly the natural consequence of our cultural melting pot coming to a steady, delicious boil (now seasoned with street food), one can find causation elsewhere, like in a small Kitsilano eatery owned by a bespectacled, mild mannered Welshman named John Bishop.

Bishop's eponymous restaurant may be famed for re-introducing many of us to our region's bounty, but of greater import to the future were the men and women who rose through its ranks. Many of them moved on to lead new kitchen brigades, either as owners or executives, instilling in a whole generation of cooks a sincere appreciation for local and sustainable ingredients.

While Dino Raenarts, Rob Feenie (however briefly), Carol Chow, Vikram Vij and others ascended to local greatness, others spread Bishop's gospel further afield (like so many toqued apostles). James Walt rose to lead the team at Araxi in Whistler; Michael Allemeier ruled the Terrace at Mission Hill in the Okanagan before heading to Alberta to teach at the SAIT Polytechnic School of Hospitality; and Adam Busby - bless him - would go on to influence thousands as the director of education at the Culinary Institute of America.

In Vancouver proper, the most impactful of Bishop's alumni might be former sous chef Jeff Van Geest, who would open the critically acclaimed Aurora Bistro in 2003.

The locavore's delight on (then) gritty Main Street would only last five years, but its coming would signal more than just the start of a transfer of stewardship from titans like John Bishop. It would also expose a vitally important truth about ourselves: no matter our incomes, we'd become zealous foodies, hungry for new flavours, thrilled to support local producers, and willing to go to less "desirable" addresses in our hunt for originality. Aurora revealed to a new generation of would-be restaurateurs that we would travel down Gastown alleyways at night for good charcuterie, we would venture up into the elevated wilds of the British Properties for inventiveness, and we would go deep into the West Side for risotto.

Of course, Van Geest wasn't the only young gun making an impact in the 2000s. The debts abound, but Karri and Nico Schuermans of Crosstown's Chambar merit mentioning for altering the landscape more than any other local restaurant since Bishop's. Since 2005, Chambar has given us nights that have been more honest reflections of our city than facsimiles of how we once imagined Manhattan, Paris, Florence, Tokyo, or New York to be. It reacquainted Vancouverites with the seemingly lost art of the cocktail (nudging competitors and customers alike to rethink their drinks), put the coup de grace on formality in fine dining, and became the second restaurant in B.C. to be certified "carbon neutral."

Even more than Bishop's before it, Chambar unleashed upon our restaurant scene a torrent of new talents. Without it, there would be no Save On Meats, no Sea Monstr Sushi, no Boneta, no Bao Bei, no Diamond, no L'Abattoir, no Dirty Apron, no Medina, no Meat & Bread, no Calabash, no Cadeaux, and no highly anticipated Wildebeest (due this spring). All are either owned or co-owned by Chambar alumni. It has never been just a typical restaurant.

If all these and other successful newcomers have anything in common in their remarkable diversity, it's been their deliberate departure from pretension. Most of the explicitly "formal" restaurants that opened in the wake of Chambar's success have since closed (including the once-mighty Lumiere, as reissued by superstar chef Daniel Boulud). It seems the aspirational sensibilities that once defined our culinary past no longer appeal in a city that has little to prove to itself any more, and much less to prove to an adoring outside world.

In other words, we've grown up. Rather contentedly, too, and by no means are we done. As rich and real a food city as ours has become, evidence abounds of how hungry we still are. And as informed, engaged diners who expect a little better of today than of what we enjoyed yesterday, we deserve a small round of applause, if only because whenever we've been given an inch, we've eaten a kilometre.