How did you become a chef? 'From an early age, I appreciated nice food. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother when I was growing up and she cooked everything from scratch - nothing was pre-made. I love the challenge of cooking, and how it's different every day. I spent 10 years [cooking] in Europe, and I worked for a number of very inspirational chefs there - Philip Howard at The Square, Marco Pierre White [of L'Escargot] and Raymond Blanc [of Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons]. They are very enthusiastic about what they do. They are relentless in their drive for perfection as well as in their determination to work seasonally and be unique.'
Which restaurant has had the most influence on you? 'I'd say The Square. It's a two-star Michelin. It was later on in my career - I was probably 27 - and Phil Howard's take on how to dress the plates and how different he is from everybody else was inspiring. He is a university graduate and took up cooking quite late in life. In Europe, back then, everybody was doing things that were somewhat the same. He is very different in how he plates [the dishes]. It was refreshing.'
What does contemporary Canadian cuisine mean? 'I love Japanese, French and Italian cooking, so we take a little bit of the best of what I know from these cuisines. It's not fusion. Vancouver is very diverse. It has big Chinese, Japanese and Italian communities, so we can draw from them.'
What's your signature dish? 'Our menu is ever evolving, so everything is always different. We have only one dish that I've kept since I [went] back to Canada - the parfait of foie gras with chicken livers, which I learnt to make when I first went to Europe in the 1990s. Everything that we have on the menu now will change, and we try to evolve and get better. So the parfait, which we've modernised, is made with green-apple jelly and a cotton candy of foie gras. The actual parfait is what I used to make when I worked for Marco, and the green apple jelly is incredibly refreshing. We used to make it with truffle jelly or sauternes jelly, but the cotton candy is kind of fun.' What do you think of the ingredients you worked with in Hong Kong? 'I love quality and great ingredients. I was in the kitchen [at Sevva], looking around to see what everybody was using and asking lots of questions - probably bugging them too much. The local duck is very nice and there's some amazing fish and shellfish, so it's [great] to have access to that.
In Vancouver, in the winter - you have to get your fish from California or from the east coast. And with the volume that we're doing [at Hawksworth Restaurant] - about 400 people per day - you have to be very organised. You can't get in six or seven fish - you've got to get 50 fish, and very consistently. So it's a challenge to get fresh and really [good quality produce]. We do have an amazing coastline, but for our fishermen to get their produce from halfway up British Columbia to Vancouver is extremely difficult and costly, so it's tricky getting consistent products. The wet market [here] is great. We went along at 9am every morning and I could tell that the fish [had been] caught just a couple of hours before. That's pretty special.'