In downtown Vancouver, at the Boulevard Kitchen and Oyster Bar, executive chef Alex Chen is prepping one of the night's star dishes: roasted sablefish with gai lan flan, beech mushrooms, coconut rice and lemongrass vinaigrette.

In Kitsilano, the western suburb known affectionately to locals as "Kits", chef and owner Curtis Luk hovers over his crew at the newly opened Mission, ensuring the tasting-menu dish Humboldt squid with bagna cauda comes out exactly as it should.

On the outskirts of the city, hungry millennials are being introduced to bold flavours from the East made with produce from the Canadian west coast at Torafuku. Ahead of the dinner rush, chef Clement Chan works tirelessly on a ham hock terrine that is to be served with crispy bacon fried rice, pickled cherry tomatoes and parmesan cheese.

Montreal may have a reputation as Canada's culinary capital, but Vancouver is beginning to give Quebec's most populous city a run for its money. And much of the credit must go to a wave of Asian-Canadian chefs.

That Asian chefs are at the forefront of culinary developments in the city should perhaps come as no surprise; 28 per cent of Vancouver's 2.5 million people are ethnically Chinese and authentic Japanese street food, Taiwanese beef noodles and Korean stews can be found on street corners all over town.

Their peers in the United States - David Chang in New York, Danny Bowien in California and Edward Lee in Kentucky, for example - have been changing the way North Americans think of Asian food for some time and Canadians are hungry to follow suit. Whether it is demystifying Korean barbecue, educating people on the food culture and habits of the Chinese or simply putting an end to the likes of lemon chicken doused in a sticky, sugary syrup, Vancouver's young guns are reinventing both their careers and Asian flavours with flare and ambition.

Below are some of the most feted.

 

Curtis Luk
33, chef and owner of Mission (modern Canadian)

Luk grew up in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, before moving to Toronto and discovering a love of cooking while studying computer science at the University of Waterloo. After graduating, he decided to follow his dream.

"I had a long-standing interest in cooking," he says. "Since I had no professional restaurant experience, I decided to get into the industry by starting at the bottom, washing dishes at local restaurants I respected."

Following jobs at establishments such as George, in Toronto, and Atelier, in Ottawa, Luk competed in the second season of Top Chef Canada, where he met Trevor Bird, runner-up in the television competition. After the show aired, Luk helped Bird to open Fable (the second best "nose-to-tail" restaurant in Vancouver, according to recent awards in local lifestyle publication The Georgia Straight), in Kitsilano.

He went on to head other kitchens before realising his ambition of opening a west coast-focused restaurant specialising in seasonal tasting menus.

Mission - "a strong, clear and focused word that represents who we are", according to the website - is where he now operates as chef and business partner, with sommelier Chase MacLeod.

"I believe I break the mould of a typical chef by having a background in computer science," Luk says. "The education allows me to approach typical kitchen and restaurant challenges in a more thoughtful and unconventional way.

"My philosophy in the kitchen is to create an environment that is both disciplined yet provides a certain amount of freedom to work. I believe people should be given the opportunity to succeed on their own merits and voice their opinions, but as we serve paying customers, ultimately, we have to look at the product we send out from the kitchen," he says.

Luk describes the dining culture in Vancouver as being one of casual comfort. "I believe we excel at East Asian cuisines with a fun and casual spin, but, ultimately, the strength is in the mid-priced dining options of all nationalities.

"Although I don't necessarily look at the ethnicity of our clientele, a large portion of our customers are of Cantonese or Asian descent. When I walk through the dining room, I hear Cantonese being spoken and I do appreciate their support of a restaurant that is very much in the style and philosophy of west coast Canada," he says.

"Perhaps subconsciously I take into account their specific tastes and I cook accordingly but, ultimately, our food is shaped by the ingredients available around us.

"Although I'm endlessly fascinated with Chinese cuisine in terms of technique and ingredients - which I try to practice and learn as much as possible - the culture of the European kitchen was one that interested me greatly."

Luk says the growing fascination the world has with modern Asian cuisine leaves him conflicted.

"On one hand, I feel every chef should have the freedom to do what they want and that strengthens both the chef and the city's food culture," he says.

"On the other hand, I am very interested in traditions and how and why they evolved.

"While some knowledgeable and skilled chefs successfully combine the techniques and sensibilities of several styles of cuisine, there is also a lot of poorly executed work by an even larger set of chefs done purely for prestige or the hip factor. They don't take into account the traditions and why they developed."

Jack Chen
33, head chef, Royal Dinette (French)

Chen was born in Taiwan and moved with his family to Vancouver as a young child. Throughout high school and university he worked as a cook at nights and during the summers, but it was only after completing an economics degree and taking a trip overseas that Chen found his true passion.

"It was on a backpacking trip to New Zealand and Japan when I realised I had a genuine interest in food. I decided I would apply to culinary school," he recalls. "My parents were not fond of my career choice at first. While they have always been supportive of my decisions, they were worried about the hard work I would put myself through and, of course, what I would be earning. That said, my parents are happy for me now. Besides, my brother is a doctor, so that makes up for it."

Since graduating from Vancouver's Northwest Culinary Academy, Chen has worked at some of the city's most respected restaurants, including as head chef at Farmer's Apprentice. Internationally, he has worked at The Ledbury and L'Autre Pied, both in London, at New York's Per Se, Napa Valley's Ubuntu, Belgium's In de Wulf and at La Vie, in Osnabruck, Germany.

He describes his cooking philosophy as "simple, flavour-forward and ingredient driven".

"I was trained with a French background in cooking. Until about five years ago, most culinary schools focused on the French way of cooking rather than teaching the vast variety of cuisines around the world. After culinary school, I worked in farm-to-table restaurants, so I learned to value whatever ingredients I had to work with, depending on the season."

Hard work played a part in his success.

"Like most Asian parents, my parents taught me to value hard work. And Taiwanese people are workaholics!" he says.

"Vancouver's Asian community has been very supportive of the work we do at Royal Dinette. When the community sees an Asian chef succeed in cooking non-Asian food, they're interested and they want to recognise you for it. Living in such a diverse city, I never felt as though Asian cuisine was my only option as a chef. To tell you the truth, I was never formally taught how to cook Asian food. I only learned by watching my mom."

Clement Chan
37, executive chef, Torafuku (modern Asian)

Although Chan's roots stretch back to Singapore and Shanghai, he was born and raised in Vancouver.

"I was never really good at school. My marks were not high enough for university," he says. "After graduating high school, I started working at my grandmother's restaurant as a [busboy]. During the break between lunch and dinner service, I would help my grandmother wrap dumplings and wontons. I enjoyed it and after that, I looked into culinary classes at Vancouver Community College."

Since then, Chan has put together an impressive list of accolades and accomplishments, including representing Canada in the World Culinary Olympics, being named national chef of the year and TV appearances on the Food Network's Top Chef Canada and Eat St. And he has worked in notable Vancouver restaurants such as Lumiere, Hapa Izakaya, Chambar and Blue Water Café.

In 2012, Chan joined forces with chef Steve Kuan to serve "authentic Asian" fare from a food truck, Le Tigre. It was so successful that last year the pair opened the pan-Asian Torafuku, which was recently named "best new restaurant" by Where Vancouver magazine.

"The dishes are playful yet skilfully prepared, delivering bold interpretations of flavours traditionally found in Japanese, Taiwanese, Korean and Vietnamese cuisines," says Chan.

The chef says Vancouver's Asian demographics have helped his career "but it's a double-edged sword because there is so much to compare [the food] to," he says. "If you miss the mark, you're going to hear about it."

Alex Chen
40, executive chef, Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar (west coast seafood)

Chen's culinary vision is made up of family tradition, classical techniques and training, and casual west coast flair.

"My love of food developed early on," says Chen, who was born in Malaysia and moved to Canada aged 13. "I learned from the aunts on my mother's side, who would cook for big family gatherings. Everyone got together once every few months at the home of my grandmother, who was also a great cook. An integral part of Chinese culture is gathering together with loved ones and sharing meals, which is something I always looked forward to.

"I really had no other interests besides cooking. It was the only area I excelled in. I think my dedication showed and, at a certain point, my parents just had to accept the fact that I was doing something I was really passionate about," he says.

After graduating from Vancouver Community College's culinary arts programme in 1999, Chen spent six years as executive chef of the Beverly Hills Hotel's legendary Polo Lounge, and worked throughout North America and Europe.

Boulevard's opening in July 2014 marked Chen's official return to his hometown after representing Canada at the prestigious Bocuse d'Or culinary competition in Lyon, France, in 2013, finishing in the top 10.

Last year, he was named regional champion at the 10th annual Gold Medal Plates competition in Victoria, and represented British Columbia at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna, in February, where he won the people's choice award.

"These experiences have all influenced my cooking style, my love of seafood and my desire to always use fresh, local ingredients. I also like to use a very balanced flavour profile, which is something I picked up from cooking with my mom," he says.

"I might have ended up in Hong Kong if I had had more of an aptitude for Chinese cooking, but that door was never opened for me. When I went to cooking school, I was exposed to different types of cuisine and I gravitated towards what felt natural. This is what took me to restaurants all over Europe and the reason I am where I am today."

Angus An
35, owner and chef at Maenam (Thai)

"I enjoyed cooking but at first I didn't think I would become a chef," says An, who was born in Taiwan and raised in Vancouver from a young age. "During university I wanted to be an architect, and I cooked on the side. Eventually the passion for food took over and I made the job into a career."

After completing a fine-arts degree at the University of British Columbia, An enrolled in New York's prestigious French Culinary Institute (FCI).

"My cousins were lawyers, doctors. I told my family I wanted to be different. I believe if I'm passionate I can succeed no matter what I choose to do. At first they weren't so sure; kitchen jobs are hard. In the end, I proved to them no matter what I do, it takes a lot of hard work to succeed, so I might as well enjoy doing it."

At the FCI, An worked under culinary greats such as Jacques Pépin, Alain Sailhac and André Soltner, and apprenticed at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's legendary JoJo, on New York's Upper East Side.

After graduating, An trained with Normand Laprise at Montreal's Toqué, before moving to Britain to work at Michelin-starred restaurants including The Ledbury and The Fat Duck. From there, he moved to David Thompson's famed Nahm, in Bangkok, where An met his Thai wife, Kate.

The couple returned to Vancouver to open their first restaurant, Gastropod, which received several awards for its cuisine and atmosphere before closing in 2009. That same year, Maenam was born. The restaurant is a perennial winner of Vancouver Magazine's "Best Thai" award (and managed to bag the publication's best overall restaurant for 2016) and has received rave reviews from The New York Times, USA Today and Food & Wine.

"The casual sector has really taken off. Fine-dining food in casual restaurants, that's what Vancouver is strong at," says An, who also runs Longtail Kitchen and Freebird Chicken Shack, both at River Market, in New Westminster, and Fat Mao, which serves a range of Asian noodles in Chinatown.

"[Vancouver's] Asian - more specifically, our Chinese food - is second to none. Montreal has a good French scene but no good Chinese food. Even New York can learn a thing or two about our authentic Chinese food."