The lauded Vancouver chef Jefferson Alvarez recently left the Secret Location Tasting Room to follow his dream of creating a new Canadian West Coast cuisine.
“Farm to table is one thing,” says Alvarez, a self-taught, Venezuelan-born chef who spends his spare time foraging for seaweed. “Using wild products that are 100 per cent local is something else.”
As the West Coast restaurant critic for the Globe and Mail, I have been a fan of the avant-garde chef since he moved to Vancouver from Toronto in 2009. At Divino Wine Bar, I admired his ability to spin magical dishes out of a kitchen so tiny it didn’t even have a grill. At Fraiche, he dove headfirst into the surrounding West Vancouver forest and came up with innovative Douglas fir powders and juniper syrups used in so many experimental ways. At Secret Location, he honed the modernist Spanish dialect that he picked up while working stages at the three-star Michelin rated Arzak and Akelare restaurants.
And at recent pop-up dinner I saw all those elements come together with exquisite finesse, wild experimentation and true passion. If this is Alvarez’s dream, it tastes a lot like Noma, Rene Redzepi’s internationally renowned Copenhagen restaurant – Canadian style.
Into The Wild was a culinary collaboration between Alvarez, Rasoul Salehi of Le Vieux Pin Winery and Robin Kort of Swallow Tail Culinary Adventures. We asked the chef to walk us through the dinner, as captured in gorgeous photography by Luis Alberto Valdizon of When They Find Us.
Duck pate & reindeer moss
“We used every part of the duck – the legs, the liver, the heart. I picked the moss in Tsawwassen, near my house. I used it instead of bread. It was coated with gluten-free flour and fried for crunchy texture. The wild rose petal added a strong floral flavour.”
Spanish Goes Wild
Wild berry gazpacho & pine infused farm house cheese
“The gazpacho was made with salmon berries (they look like raspberries, but are more tart), a little bit of tomato and tiny Indian plum berries. We used a few green, unripened salmon berries to bring up the acidity. The cheese is local, from Agassiz. I blended it with Douglas fir tips, which we picked on Cypress Mountain. The Douglas fir has a bit of citrus and pineapple flavour, but is very delicate compared to other firs.”
Let Me Tell You A Story About Sturgeon
Sturgeon marrow salad, sorrel & false lily
“I’m doing research for Northern Divine [the Sunshine Coast company that farms sturgeon for caviar]. I’ve discovered that you can use a lot of different parts for amazing ingredients. Besides marrow, I’ve cooked with the fat, the liver, the heart and the fins. The marrow comes out of the bones as big and thick as a garden hose. I simmered it for five hours until it looked like translucent jelly. The flavour is very neutral, like jellyfish or sea cucumber. I’ve made desserts with it as well. I kept it refreshing, with salt, pepper, sprouts and olive oil. People have a love-hate relationship with this ingredient. It all depends how adventurous you are.”
The Cat Tail Is In The Shell
Celeriac purée, scallop chips, seared cattail
“This was such a headache. It was late in the season. The cattails had already grown dry. It was really tough to get them soft. I had to cook them sous-vide for 48 hours. I added a little bit of the sturgeon marrow to add moisture, and some of my homemade vinegar with fermented green apple. It took a week [of experimentation] to make it work. The scallop chips are cooked in a microwave. It’s just pure scallop with a touch of rice flour. The microwave has very intense heat for drying, without frying.”
The Wild Ground
Fire morels, fiddleheads, ramps, yolk sauce
“Robin picked most of the morels. The fire morels grow in the ground after a forest fire, but they don’t taste like smoke. I did smoke them with a little alder wood, but not too much. I didn’t want to take the natural flavour away. I made the purée with fiddleheads and some other ferns, and wild spring onion. The yolk sauce was just duck yolks and salt, to make it more rich.”
The Duck Smoked In The Woods
Fraser Valley duck breast smoked with alder wood & huckleberry juice
“I already had the duck for the pate, so we decided to use the breast as well. It was lightly smoked with huckleberry juice, for floral flavour, and Indian plum berries, for fermented flavour.”
Cheese honeycomb & elderberry
“We used local Brie and aerated it so it’s porous and looks like honeycomb. I have my own little honeybee hive, so I did some harvesting and used honey as a sweetener instead of sugar. The syrup was made from honey, elderflowers and fermented vinegar. We used NextJen gluten-free pancake mix to make the sponge cake. It’s kind of like a cheesecake, but not too sweet.”
Which dish looks best to you? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.