Dennis Peckham has been keeping busy since he joined Fairmont Hotel Vancouver as executive chef of Notch8 Restaurant & Bar last year.
Born in Williams Lake, he graduated from Dubrulle Culinary Institute in Vancouver in 2001 and went on to work at such acclaimed places as Lumiere Restaurant, West Restaurant, and French Laundry, a Michelin Three Star restaurant in California. A fitness enthusiast and dog lover who hosts charity dinners in his own home for the SPCA, he has a penchant for making fresh pasta.
We caught up with the Top Chef Canada competitor (2019) and Chopped Canada champ (2016) to hear more.
How did you end up pursuing a culinary career?
I was working construction in Victoria, and I hated it. I was building scaffolding and I was always wet and cold, and I was terrified of heights. I was laid off one winter, and a buddy was a cook at a private golf course in Victoria. He said ‘why don’t you come wash dishes for a winter?’ It was on the ground and it was inside, so I figured why not?
I really liked the culture of the kitchen. I started doing prep, then I started doing banquet prep, then lunch, and I always had a lot of fun with it. It was my mom who said, ‘Why not go to cooking school?
After working with Thomas Keller at French Laundry, Rob Feenie at Lumiere, and David Hawksworth at West, you landed your first chef job at Hart House. Then you worked at Glowbal Restaurant Group and Sequoia Restaurant Group, among other places. Looking back now, what would you say to your younger chef self?
I thought I was so good, but in hindsight I was so terrible. I was a good cook but a terrible chef. Being a chef is about managing people and running a business and ensuring consistency and making sure the culture is positive and fosters progression and ownership. Cooking is such a small part of what you do as a chef. You teach it, but it’s a lot more about the culture that you bring to the kitchen.
A lot of people complain about staffing issues, but the bottom line is if you give people a reason to stay, they’ll stay.
What was it like competing on Top Chef Canada?
I had applied probably five times in my lifetime; I was like ‘Finally!’. It was a bucket list thing. It was awesome. I loved it. I had so much fun.
You don’t have to worry about anything—staffing, scheduling; nothing. You just have to cook. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. The first time we cooked in the kitchen, I was nervous as hell. But elimination challenges were fine. But don’t try something new. If you don’t know how to make bread, don’t make bread. Ultimately, that’s what sent me home.
What drew you to Notch8?
I had worked at the Fairmont Waterfront before. When I got the call, I had also been working a ton running my own business [Fraiche Street Foods, with his former partner]. I was working 30, 35 hours straight. I was so tired I couldn’t think straight.
I met with the GM and the director of operations [at Fairmont Hotel Vancouver]. I really love the brand, I love the culture of the company, I love the hotels… There wasn’t much to think about.
Everything comes from the restaurant: room service, the lounge, the breakfast buffet, happy hour, afternoon tea, dinner… We describe the style as approachable sophistication. I’m just in the process of launching a new breakfast menu. I just love to cook. I love it here.
Happy Hour tip: Order the beer-battered oyster mushrooms with parmesan dip (also available on the lounge menu); stay for the DJ, who spins twice a week.
What’s this about you making dinner for random strangers in your home to raise funds for the SPCA?
I love making pasta, but I don’t eat it all. I have a freezer full of tortellini. A few months ago, I was at home with my dog [MacGyver, a Doberman pincher] and I wanted to cook five courses of Indian food. Five Indian courses for one person is just such a waste. Why am I doing to cook all day long to eat for three minutes. My friends are super busy. So I thought, I’m going to invite random people off my Instagram page to come over to my house for dinner. The first six people to get back to me and who can show me made a minimum $40 donation to the SPCA can come over to my house and I’ll feed you. You have to be okay with the dog, the house won’t be spotless but it will be clean, and it’s for charity. I went to bed, and the next day 300 people had asked to come to this dinner. The next one is in March. I feel I live a very fortunate life, and I want to support the work they do.
Besides your own home and Notch8, where else can local diners enjoy your food?
I’m at the Greasy Spoon Diner with a Better Life Foundation on Monday (February 24). I’m really looking forward to it. It's really important to me to participate and give back.
His three-course menu features My Dad’s Chef Salad with aged cheddar, green goddess dressing, ranch spices, and baby gem lettuce; quiche with chicken liver mousse, bacon glaze, and sherry vinaigrette; and key-lime pie for dessert.
Then for the Vancouver International Wine Festival, I’ll be at the Vintners’ Brunch.
Taking place on March 1, the signature event features some of the city’s best chefs pairing up with winemakers; Peckham is teaming up with Culmina Family Estate Winery.