When the shaking started, his eyes were drawn to his bookshelves, which hold hundreds of cookbooks. Every single one was quivering.
“I thought my cookbooks were going to topple over,” Dang says in an interview at the elegant South Granville dining establishment.
One of his favourites in that collection is Marque: A Culinary Adventure by Sydney, Australia’s Mark Best, who’s considered a leading kitchen talent worldwide.
Best was an electrician in his home country’s gold mines before he accidentally discovered a passion for cooking in his mid-20s while helping out at a friend’s restaurant in a pinch. He trained in Paris before going on to open Marque, which has earned scores of awards; today he’s viewed as a symbol of new Australian cuisine.
Best will be joining Dang at West when he comes to town for Tourism Vancouver’s Dine Out Vancouver Festival, the two collaborating on an eight-course dinner inspired by their respective corners of the map.
It’s one of five World Chef Exchanges that will see the 14th annual fest stretch its boundaries this year, with other guest appearances by culinary masters from New York, Los Angeles, Puerto Vallarta, and Copenhagen.
The series is a terrific opportunity for local food lovers to get a taste of cooking styles from abroad without having to buy a plane ticket. Dang says he’s excited about working side by side with a chef he admires.
“It’s cool doing these types of events because each guest chef shows a different angle in dining and cuisine and food; it’s so much fun,” says Dang, a former national-level field-hockey player who himself fell into cooking after considering a career in engineering. “West will turn into a different restaurant for the night, with different styles and smells. It’ll be fun to see what he [Best] can do with ingredients from our region. It will open up a world of different flavours.”
Consider some of the items Best and Dang have planned for the January 17 dinner ($185 including wine pairings, tax, and gratuities). Dang will offer marinated scallop and albacore tuna with fresh local wasabi and watercress; quillback sea perch à la plancha; and braised pork cheek with sherry and celeriac, among other dishes.
Meanwhile, Best—who’s become something of a celebrity on Instagram with his gorgeous food photos and who used to employ West’s current pastry chef, Rhonda Viani—plans to whip up numbers such as fermented shiitake and geoduck in a mushroom broth; rabbit with sea urchin, cashews, and seaweed; and lacquered squab with beetroot oil. Best’s dishes will be paired with B.C. wines, while Dang’s get matched with Australian vintages.
“Dine Out is often perceived as a cheap way to eat out, but the point of Dine Out is to showcase more restaurants and make it more of a festival of cuisines,” Dang says. “I like how it has evolved over the years. It’s refreshing to have guest chefs. It’s nice for them to travel, and it’s good for the [local] cooks too, to offer them another learning experience and the chance to see what other chefs are doing. It adds to their work and their experience.”
Latin American flavours will get the spotlight at another World Chef Exchange dinner hosted at Ancora Waterfront Dining and Patio, which specializes in Pacific Northwest cuisine with Japanese and Peruvian flair.
On January 20, Ancora executive chef Ricardo Valverde, who hails from Lima, will join forces with Nacho and Poncho Cadena, the father-and-son duo behind La Leche, an acclaimed restaurant in Puerto Vallarta known for its contemporary fare, which is influenced by France as much as Mexico.
“Vancouver has a strong connection to Mexico, and this event will be very unique because it’s the first time we’ll have a Peruvian and Mexican chef working together here,” Valverde says on the line from Ancora, on the False Creek seawall. “We’re from different countries, but our way of thinking is very similar. I’ve talked to Poncho on the phone a couple of times, and we’ve had a lot of fun; we throw jokes at each other. I’ve told him he needs to bring me a nice bottle of tequila.
“We’re coming up with the menu together, and even our bar manager [Matt Cooke] is going to play around with the drinks, using tequila and pisco,” he adds, referring to the amber-coloured Peruvian grape brandy. “I can see something really, really amazing happening. I’d like to be at this dinner!”
Former chef de cuisine at Blue Water Cafe, Valverde—who’s worked at Diva at the Met, among other places—says that although specific items were still being finalized at press time, the Cadenas are looking way back for inspiration for the Dine Out dinner, as far back as Mexico prior to the Spanish conquest.
For his contributions to the multicourse menu ($185), Valverde will likely include his spin on a traditional starter called causa, which will consist of purple Peruvian potatoes, avocado mousse, and scallop ceviche atop a piece of uni, which is the edible part of a sea urchin; diners may also see something akin to a lamb chop with black-Peruvian-mint chimichurri alongside Moroccan-spiced quinoa tabbouleh as well as eggplant baked with house-made lemony ricotta.
The World Chef Exchange will also feature David Hawksworth welcoming Los Angeles chef Sang Yoon, owner of Father’s Office and the upscale Lukshon; David Gunawan pairing up with Denmark’s Rasmus Leck Fischer for a dinner at Royal Dinette; and Daniel Burns, chef at Brooklyn’s Luksus, teaming up with Wildebeest’s Pekka Tavela.
Also turning his attention globally for inspiration during Dine Out is Bauhaus executive chef Stefan Hartmann, who’ll pay tribute to two chefs whose restaurants have each earned three Michelin stars—the highest rating. Hartmann, whose eponymous Berlin restaurant acquired a Michelin star before he moved to Vancouver, is dedicating three nights each to two unique six-course dinners ($95), one honouring Marco Pierre White (January 20 to 22) and the other celebrating Juan Amador (January 28 to 30).
Once known as the enfant terrible of the food world, White is the youngest chef to earn three Michelin stars, at London’s Restaurant Marco Pierre White. He trained Gordon Ramsay, among many other celebrated kitchen talents, and is considered a culinary god among chefs worldwide.
“He almost single-handedly made becoming a professional cook, once an anonymous and lowly profession, something the best and brightest (and frequently the most malcontent) now aspire to,” Dwight Garner wrote in a 2015 New York Times article about White Heat 25, an updated edition of the chain-smoking, wild-haired chef’s first cookbook, 1990’s White Heat.
“I wanted to do a tribute to some of the most inspiring chefs of all time,” Hartmann says in a phone call from the Gastown restaurant. “I was 18 when that cookbook [White Heat] came out, and everyone was like, ‘Oh my god. That’s how I want to be.’ At that time, he was like a rock ’n’ roll star—here was this longhaired guy getting three stars. His is one of the best cookbooks ever, not just because of the recipes but because of him.”
Hartmann met Amador—a German native born to Spanish immigrants—several years ago in Baden-Baden, where the latter was working before opening the standout Restaurant Amador in Mannheim. Amador has been described as Germany’s most avant-garde chef.
“I don’t want to say ‘molecular’, but he has a very unique style,” Hartmann says of Amador. “It’s very modern. It’s totally different than my style, so it will be a lot of fun.”
New styles, new flavours, new experiences: Dine Out is raising the bar this year with its international reach. As in past years, the 17-day festival also gives diners the chance to choose from hundreds of restaurants offering multicourse prix fixe meals for $20, $30, or $40 per person, in addition to cooking classes, chef lectures, street-food markets, and more.
There’s another reason West’s Dang is excited about the World Chef Exchange and Best making the trek all the way from Down Under: “At least I’ll be able to get my copy of his cookbook signed.”