Alvin Pillay knew he wanted to be a chef while attending high school at Vancouver Technical Secondary, but the Donnelly Group’s research and development chef says that his interest in food and cooking started much earlier.
“I grew up cooking with my mom, by her knees and watching her cook,” Pillay tells the Georgia Straight while seated at Killjoy Barbers Cocktail Tavern, one of many properties owned by the Donnelly Group. “One thing that we always had in our house was pickles, whether it be lime pickles, lemon pickles, carrot pickles, chutneys, and relishes.… You could be having the simplest meal, like dal and rice, but you fire a couple pickles on there, and it’s like the greatest thing ever. To this day, condiments are my favourite.”
Pillay started his career at Sprinklers restaurant (now called Shaughnessy) at the VanDusen Botanical Garden before working in kitchens at C, Nu, and Fuel. A three-month trip to Italy enabled Pillay to help open Campagnolo, and he worked for the Heather Hospitality Group before joining the Donnelly Group last year. After more than a decade of working in the restaurant industry, the 31-year-old chef values his relationships with local producers most.
“The connections with farmers and fishermen, that’s really why I enjoy cooking,” he says. “It’s that kind of greater respect for our suppliers that I really enjoy, and I try to translate that to my cooking—really simple, really ingredient-driven, and really tasty.”
When the weather starts warming up, Pillay enjoys pickling seasonal vegetables, such as carrots, baby onions, and bell peppers. Unlike store-bought pickles, Pillay’s quick pickles are not canned or jarred and only keep in the refrigerator for about two weeks. Often, Pillay combines the pickles with roasted fish and leafy greens for a fresh, healthy salad. To drink, he recommends pairing his go-to spring and summer dish with a classic gin and tonic garnished with a few slices of fresh cucumber.
Alvin Pillay’s slow roasted sturgeon and pickled spring vegetable salad
2 heads Gem lettuce (or butter lettuce)
6 ½ Tbsp (100 mL) lemon juice
1 ¼ cup (300 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
Pickles to taste (see recipe below)
1 lb (454 g) roasted fish (see recipe below)
Sprigs of basil, parsley, chives, or dill
1. Wash and dry lettuce. Tear into bite-sized pieces.
2. Whisk the lemon juice and oil together in a small bowl.
3. In a large bowl, gently toss together lettuce, pickles, and roasted fish. Lightly dress with oil mixture, and add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Divide salad among 6 plates. Garnish with herb sprigs.
1 cup (250 mL) white-wine vinegar
12.3 oz (350 g) sugar
3 cups (750 mL) water
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp (1 mL) balsam fir tips (or spruce tips)
¼ tsp (1 mL) juniper berries
¼ tsp (1 mL) whole cloves
¼ tsp (1 mL) whole black peppercorns
14 oz (400 g) baby carrots
1 fennel bulb
1 bunch (about 1 lb/454 g) asparagus
7 oz (200 g) cauliflower
3.5 oz (100 g) ramp bulbs
1. Place vinegar, sugar, water, and spices into a pot and bring to a rolling boil.
2. Cut carrots into sticks and fennel into thin slices. Snap woody ends off asparagus and chop stalks into 2-inch pieces. Break cauliflower into small florets. Leave ramp bulbs whole. Place all vegetables in a bowl.
3. Pour hot liquid over vegetables and cool to room temperature; refrigerate. Pickles will be ready to eat after 24 hours.
1 lb (454 g) sturgeon fillets (or halibut, black cod, or any firm white fish)
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1 tsp (5 mL) pepper
1 Tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 200°F (90°C).
2. Rub fish with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until fish is flaky.
3. Remove fish from oven and cool to room temperature. Break into bite-sized chunks for use in salad.
Yield: six servings.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.