Not every chef is meant to be a business owner, but Trevor Bird thrives on it. “It has been the biggest learning curve of my life,” he tells the Georgia Straight during an interview at Kitsilano’s Fable (1944 West 4th Avenue), his farm-to-table restaurant. “But I’m super-interested in the business side. I love looking at spreadsheets and numbers and financials. I’m all over that like a spider monkey.”
Before opening Fable in 2012, the Montreal-born chef worked at 35 restaurants over 14 years, from chain restaurants to retirement homes to fine-dining establishments like MARKET by Jean-Georges. He believes that this diversity of experience helped him succeed in the second season of Top Chef Canada, in which he placed second just before opening the restaurant.
“The whole point of Top Chef was, ‘Here’s a really weird situation—figure it out,’ so I think I had an edge on that,” he recalls.
Bird says that he auditioned for the Food Network Canada show because he wasn’t satisfied with his career at the time. “I cooked my way through the ranks in every other city, and then I came to Vancouver and it was almost like a reset. For five years, I didn’t advance anywhere, and I was like, ‘What is wrong with me? Why is there no opportunity?’ ”
According to Bird, one of the most rewarding aspects of running Fable is hiring and teaching young chefs. However, one of the drawbacks is that with all his other responsibilities in running the restaurant, he doesn’t get as much time alone in the kitchen as he’d like.
“Just this morning, I came here at 9 o’clock just so I could enjoy two hours of straight cooking—not answering emails, putting down my phone, and just totally cook something,” he says. “It was really nice to be able to cook again.…I miss being a line cook at some points.”
On weekends, Fable’s popular brunch does keep Bird in the kitchen. One of his favourite brunch dishes is Fable Stew, a hearty mix of potatoes, mushrooms, and bacon topped with a fried egg and served with slices of sourdough bread. While the recipe below is for two servings, it can easily be adjusted to accommodate a larger number of guests for holiday brunch. The dish can be cooked ahead of time and reheated, with the fried egg cooked just prior to serving.
Bird advises doing as much preparation as possible before guests arrive. “Have your broiler on in the oven so you can toast 30 pieces of toast at once if you need to,” he recommends.
Never one to shy away from a boozy brunch, Bird suggests pairing Fable Stew with a dunkelweizen from Delta’s Four Winds Brewing.
Trevor Bird’s Fable stew
2 fingerling potatoes, scrubbed
2 Tbsp (30 mL) cooking oil
1 cup (250 mL) bacon lardons, or thick-cut bacon, chopped
1 onion, diced
2 cups (500 mL) mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbsp (15 mL) all-purpose flour
2 cups (500 mL) veal stock or beef stock
1 bunch thyme, placed in a cheesecloth sachet
Handful of arugula
- Bring a small pot of water to a rolling boil. Add potatoes and cook for 20 minutes or until fork-tender. Drain. Once potatoes are cool to the touch, cut into bite-sized pieces.
- In a large pan over medium-high heat, add oil and cook bacon for 5 minutes or until fat is rendered and bacon is crispy. Add onion and mushrooms. Cook for 20 more minutes or until soft.
- Add flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Add stock and thyme. Bring liquid to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 30 minutes with the lid off.
- Remove thyme and discard. Add potatoes and arugula and mix gently.
- In a separate pan, fry two eggs sunny-side up.
- Divide stew between two plates and top each with a fried egg.
Yield: 2 servings. Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.