Dino Renaerts isn’t a cook who likes to hide in the kitchen. The Vancouver-raised chef regularly hosts dinner parties at the North Shore home he shares with his wife—sommelier Nessa van Bergen—and their two young children. He and van Bergen own the Bon Vivant Group, a food and beverage consulting and catering company, for which he also cooks in front of large groups and interacts with diners.
“Part of entertaining is creating enough work so you can do a little show,” Renaerts told the Georgia Straight during an interview at a client’s house. “At the same time, you want to have enough work done so you don’t have to be with your head down in the kitchen, not being able to spend time with your guests.”
Renaerts’s interest in cooking started at a young age when he watched his mother and grandmothers create large meals for family celebrations. He attended the Dubrulle culinary school in the late 1980s and earned his Red Seal certification through Vancouver Community College’s apprenticeship program.
“I was supposed to go to Switzerland after apprenticing at the William Tell, but I broke my leg skiing the week before I was supposed to leave,” he recalled. “I ended up staying and going to work with John Bishop and at Le Gavroche. Then I spent eight-and-a-half years working for Fairmont [Hotels and Resorts].”
In 2007, Renaerts launched the Bon Vivant Group with van Bergen. The two work with hotels, restaurants, wineries, and companies such as Loblaws and Electronic Arts. He said he enjoys the variety of experiences his new job brings.
Three years later, while continuing his Bon Vivant work, Renaerts became the co-owner of two West Vancouver establishments: Fraîche and Beachside Forno, both of which are now closed.
“I’ve always been entrepreneurial,” Renaerts said. “Even as a kid, I would do the rounds in my neighbourhood—pop-bottle-collect, mow lawns, you name it. I was always finding ways to make money.”
Whether he’s cooking at home for family and friends or helping cater an event, one of Renaerts’s go-to dishes is bruschetta. The Italian appetizer consists of grilled bread rubbed with garlic and typically topped with chopped tomatoes and herbs.
“It’s such a classic. It’s really just three simple ingredients: tomatoes, a little bit of garlic, and a little fresh basil,” Renaerts noted. “Yes, there is some olive oil in there, and salt and pepper—supporting cast members—and then you can make it exotic as you want.”
Renaerts shares a recipe for classic bruschetta and another for a mushroom-seafood topping below. He said the earthiness of the mushrooms pairs well with scallops and prawns, which are given an Asian twist with a miso-soy marinade. A leavened Mediterranean-style bread, such as baguette or ciabatta, holds up to grilling.
“If you’re entertaining, prepare any components of the dish you can do in advance,” Renaerts advised. “If you’re doing the tomato bruschetta, cut the tomatoes an hour before serving and have your bread pre-sliced and ready to go. When your guests arrive, you can start grilling and putting the bruschetta together.”
To pair with the dish, Renaerts suggests pouring a glass of rosé, Pinot Gris, or Riesling.
Dino Renaerts’s bruschetta Two Ways
3 cups (750 mL) diced heirloom tomatoes
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
½ red onion, peeled and diced
⅓ cup (90 mL) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 baguette or ciabatta loaf
⅓ cup (90 mL) fresh basil, roughly chopped
Wild mushroom seafood topping (see recipe below)
- In a medium nonreactive bowl, stir together tomatoes, garlic, onion, and 3 Tbsp (45 mL) of the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Preheat barbecue to medium heat, or heat a large cast-iron pan on the stovetop over medium heat.
- Slice the bread on an angle into ¾-inch-thick slices. Using a basting brush, cover both sides of bread with remaining 3 Tbsp (45 mL) of oil. Grill bread for about 2 minutes per side, or until golden with char marks. Transfer to serving platter.
- Stir basil into tomato mixture.
- To serve, top half the bread with tomato mixture for classic bruschetta. Top remaining bread with wild mushroom seafood topping. Drizzle with olive oil to taste.
Wild Mushroom Seafood Topping
6 large sea scallops (about 170 g 6 oz] total)
6 peeled and deveined prawns (about 115 g [4 oz] total)
2 Tbsp (30 mL) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 lb (454 g) mushrooms (such as maitake, chanterelle, hon shimeji, and oyster), roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 tsp (5 mL) red or white miso
⅓ cup (90 mL) mirin
1 Tbsp (15 mL) soy sauce
1 tsp (5 mL) rice wine vinegar
- At least 12 hours before cooking time, soak 4 wooden skewers in cold water.
- At cooking time, thread 3 scallops on each of two skewers and 3 prawns on each of the remaining two skewers. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp (15 mL) of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Heat the remaining 1 Tbsp (15 mL) of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Sauté mushrooms for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid from the mushrooms is drawn out and they begin to soften. Add garlic and cook for 2 more minutes until garlic is fragrant. Set aside and keep warm.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine miso, mirin, soy sauce, and vinegar. Whisk together until miso has dissolved. Let simmer for 1 minute and remove from heat.
- Preheat barbecue to medium heat, or heat cast-iron pan on stovetop over medium heat.
- Transfer prawn and scallop skewers to barbecue or cast-iron pan. Brush seafood with miso glaze using a basting brush. Cook for 2 minutes and carefully flip skewers over. Brush with miso glaze and cook for 2 more minutes, or until prawns are pink and scallops are slightly golden brown. Transfer skewers to plate.
- Remove seafood from skewers. Slice scallops in half widthwise to make two rounds each. To assemble bruschetta, top bread with mushroom mixture first, followed by prawns and scallops.
Yield: 6 appetizer-size servings or 4 main-size servings.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.