The Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards are like the Oscars of the Vancity food scene. Vv Magazine’s West Coast Editor Alexandra Gill just happened to be a judge and got us the full scoop…
The 26th Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards were announced on Tuesday. “Announced” is an understatement. The day of celebration included a huge pre-awards reception for the hundreds of attendees at the Sheraton Wall Centre with free-flowing beer, wine, and tons of food. During the ceremony, which lasted two hours, 50 awards decided by 17 judges (I am one) were presented. There were passionate speeches, tears, and standing ovations, followed by a lavish VIP reception at Joey Bentall One, and smaller private parties all over the city that carried on until the wee hours of the morning.
These awards are a huge deal in Vancouver. There really isn’t anything comparable– in terms of sheer breadth, prestige, drama, competition, and following — in any other Canadian city.
Some people complain that there are too many categories, many of which have become yawningly predictable. Yes, Hawksworth did once again win — for the fourth year in a row — Best Upscale Restaurant. As did Cioppino’s (Upscale Italian), Le Crocodile (Upscale French), Thomas Haas (Pastry Chef), Araxi (Whistler), Cactus Club (Casual Chain), Kingyo (Casual Japanese), Maenam (Thai), Vij’s (Indian). These are titans of the industry, wholly worthy of their awards and not likely to be edged out anytime soon.
Does that mean the awards have lost their relevance? Hmm, you might want to ask David Hawksworth what he thinks about Ask For Luigi (winner of the Best Casual Restaurant) taking home Restaurant of the Year. (The winners of the two sub-categories are pitted against one another.) To most of the contestants, the awards do still matter — and sometimes smart.
But for every predictable win, there were other surprises and a few head-scratchers. This year’s ceremony also generated a startling amount of genuine, heartfelt sentiment that choked up the audience. Here are some of the highlights.
Ask For Luigi
This humble Italian, 32-seat eatery swept the awards, winning not just Best New Restaurant, but also Best Casual, Best Casual Italian and Restaurant of the Year. Didn’t the same thing happen to Farmer’s Apprentice last year? Oh, right. Farmer’s only won three.
Zest and Tojo’s
Last year, in a major upset, Zest tipped the venerable Tojo’s off the throne. This year, the two restaurants tied for Best Upscale Japanese. Nobody from Tojo’s was on hand to claim its plaque.
The “sheer busyness” of Vancouver’s most recognizable restaurateur – proprietor of Vij’s (Gold), My Shanti (Silver), Rangoli (Bronze), Vij’s Railway Express (Silver for Food Truck), and, briefly, a juror on Dragons’ Den – contributed to his long overdue recognition as Chef of the Year. But some people were confused. “Has he ever cooked?” Yes, he has.
How does this newly revitalized and relocated restaurant –with regular two-hour wait times for tables– get shut out of at least three categories? I have no idea and I was a judge.
Bufala + Homer St. Café
Both are excellent restaurants that won Best Local Restaurant in their respective neighbourhoods (Westside and Downtown). But why were they competing against the likes of Bishop’s and Cioppino’s – again, both excellent restaurants, but in totally different leagues? What does neighbourhood restaurant even mean? Again, don’t ask me.
The former owner of La Belle Auberge – also a member, manager, or coach of dozens of Canadian culinary teams over the last three decades – was travelling in Switzerland and unable to pick up his Mentorship Award. But the video testimonials from his all-star protégés were so heartfelt and inspiring, the entire room leapt to its feet for a standing ovation. Let’s hope someone recorded the moment for him to see.
“This is the greatest moment of my life,” she humbly cried when presented with a Premier Crew award for her gracious front-of-house service at Mr. Red Café. This is a woman who was a lawyer in North Vietnam before coming to Canada with her husband, Chef Hong. They saved every hard-earned penny and, last year, opened their charming mom-and-pop restaurant to instant acclaim.
“My parents came to Canada from Burma with $20,” explained the young Mr. Kyaw, speaking on behalf of said parents, the owners of Amay’s House, winner of Best Other Asian. “And I skipped three classes to be here,” the 18-year-old added for cute, lighthearted effect. “Hopefully we’ll be here next year so I can drink something other than milk.”
Vancouver Island Sea Salt
“What can I say? I boil water for a living.” – Andrew Sheppard, Producer/Supplier of the Year
The pre-taped chef interviews were laugh-out-loud hilarious. But the chef of Bao Bei Chinese Brasseries (Best Casual Chinese and Best Gastown/Chinatown) stole the show in the final segment was when he posed with an intentionally ridiculous question: “Which would you rather… a three-star-Michelin restaurant anywhere in the world or a Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Award?” He paused, scratched his head, and replied, “You guys really are full of yourselves, aren’t you?”
What do you think of the winners from the 26th Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards? Let us know in the comments section below or follow us on Twitter at @ViewTheVibe!