With new Table One Dinner Series, Vancouver's Iron Chef Alex Chen breaks the fourth wall

The intimate, extravagant meals at Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar give diners front-row seats to a modern take on "dinner theatre"

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      It’s one thing to watch a masterful chef in action on a TV show like Iron Chef Canada. It’s quite another to witness their work during a meal from start to finish from a few inches away, especially when the feast consists of 12 to 15 courses.

      Table One Dinner Series is a new dining experience at Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar that brings the cooking show to you. With just eight seats at the oyster bar itself, the counter becomes an open kitchen for executive chef Alex Chen. Maybe it’s to cook celeriac en vessie (in a balloonlike pig’s bladder); poach halibut in duck fat, so that the fish takes on the silky texture of sablefish; or plate a terrine of beef tongue, foie gras, and hamachi.  

      Alex Chen says there are no limits at Table One.
      Gail Johnson.

      A decade in the making, Table One is a way for Chen to showcase his cuisine in ways that designing menus for large restaurants simply doesn’t allow. Chen says guests can expect his most intense, most fiercely focused work at the event, where he has the chance to interact with diners and open up about his culinary creative process.

      Akin to seeing a musical act at a small venue instead of BC Place, the intimate setting allows for a much more personal connection. While he’s cooking in front of this small crowd, Chen can answer questions (Where did your passion for food come from? What was it like competing with Team Canada at the Bocuse d’Or? Where do you source pig’s bladder, anyway? Where do you and your family like to go eat in Steveston?) and share cooking techniques and tips.

      He also sets the pace, meaning he has more time to execute complex dishes (each plate carefully inspected, edges wiped clean) before serving them. Guests get to witness how dishes come together and catch the little things chefs do to ensure they look spectacular and taste just as fine. You can see the concentration on their faces, the way chefs communicate with and maneouvre around each other in a small space, and how much cool is required in the heat of the makeshift kitchen.    

      Gail Johnson.

      The gastronomic experience launched earlier this year, with Chen joining forces with chef Darren MacLean of Calgary’s Shokunin.

      For its second iteration on November 21, Chen will collaborate with long-time partner and Boulevard chef Roger Ma, who’s competing at the forthcoming Canadian Culinary Championships in Ottawa. While both chefs are trained in classical French technique, the evenings give them a chance to think outside la boîte—and break the fourth wall.

      “We go outside our comfort zone,” Chen tells the Straight. “We have fun, create, and innovate. We push ourselves. We can talk to guests and make eye contact—there’s that energy there."

      Pastry chef Kenta Takahashi (right, with assistant) trained in his native Japan.
      Gail Johnson.

      The upcoming menu will focus on the flavours and mood of fall. In addition to truffles, uni, squash, sunchoke, and beets, think Great Bear scallop crudo, bison heart, Spanish king prawn paella, slow-cooked salmon, rabbit wellington, hay-smoked dry-aged duck, charcoal-grilled lobster, and more. 

      Gail Johnson.

      With canapes and at least a dozen generous courses made of seasonal ingredients, the meal also consists of more than one dessert (plus petit fours) created, prepared, and served by pastry chef Kenta Takahashi, whom Chen calls a magician. Perhaps that’s because he can do things like make crystal-clear “pears” out of sugar or his very own plates using somalt, a sugar substitute, adding a hint of pale green food colouring so they resemble blown glass. 

      It's hands-on for JP Potters (far left), Roger Ma, Alex Chen, and Kenta Takahashi at the Table One feast.
      Gail Johnson.

      Details and tickets, $500 per person including wine pairings, are at Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar’s website.