It was supposed to be a slow Tuesday for the staff at West Point Grey’s newly-opened Wildlight Kitchen + Bar. But fans of Scottish singer Lewis Capaldi, who was performing at UBC’s Thunderbird Sports Centre on the evening of April 25, had other ideas.
Large groups on their way to the gig were in the mood for a pre-show bite, and decided to check out the neighbourhood’s newest hub for premium casual eats. According to general manager Brenton Smith, patrons poured into Wildlight and gave its staff, operating on a skeleton crew, their biggest surprise rush yet.
“We forgot to look at the events calendar at what was going on at UBC,” admits Smith, in a conversation with the Straight. “That was a bit of an eye-opener. It turned into Chambar before a Canucks game.”
In retrospect, the blitz may have been practice for the surge in interest the three-month-old eatery can pretty much count on now that it’s been recognized in six categories in the Straight’s 2023 Golden Plates Awards. The prize haul, which includes wins in the New Restaurant and Pacific Northwest categories, is unprecedented for the annual awards, now in their 26th edition.
Wildlight is the first restaurant venture for Pattison Food Group. It opened in early February under the culinary helm of Chef Warren Chow. A French-trained chef with a CV that includes Bauhaus, the Pear Tree, and Juniper, he’s fresh off a gold medal win with Community Catering Team Canada at the ExpoGast 2022 Culinary World Cup. And although he is quickly burnishing his reputation as an individual local culinary star, both he and Smith credit the restaurant’s early success to the organization’s entire team.
The awards are “a good testament to the talent that we brought aboard the team,” Smith explains. “From our bar manager [Aman Nijjar] to the executive chef and his sous chefs [Tim Hui and Jack Ma] and my AGM and sommelier [Mike Cooke]—I keep telling all of them they’re the talent. I’m just the agent. I think that when you bring a lot of people together that have that kind of experience and passion for the industry—and for what we do all together—we gel, and we’ve created this wonderful product.”
The product is an unapologetic celebration of British Columbia, from the Salt Spring Island mussels steamed in Sheringham’s Seaside gin to the pan-roasted Rossdown Farms chicken. And from the Two Rivers beef and Fraser Valley duck to the produce secured a stone’s throw away at the UBC Farm, Wildlight aims to champion everything BC has to offer.
“We want to embody the West Coast belief of using local regional ingredients because [they’re] so bountiful, and also pay a nod to our local and regional growers and distributors,” Smith shares.
Chow adds: “Whether it be from vegetables to seafood to gin to syrah to everything, it’s right in our backyard.”
In the planning process, Chow’s proposed dishes laid the foundation for a nearly 100 per cent local menu. When Smith joined the group, he accelerated the team’s move in that direction.
“I just saw how everyone was going with the food menu and with the cocktail menu and with the wine list, and I just said, ‘Hey, look, this is what we’re doing now: completely West Coast regional,’ ” Smith says.
Kudos for Wildlight extends beyond where it sources its provisions. The Golden Plates votes were also for how chef Chow and his sous chefs have transformed raw materials into a range of sophisticated, yet approachable dishes. Even common menu items that patrons can typically find in other eateries have been elevated by chef Chow, argues Smith.
“We’ll offer a burger or wings,” he says. “But he can’t help himself. It’s gonna be the best burger you’ve tried, or the best wings you’ve tried.”
The votes bear this truth out: the restaurant was runner-up in the Chicken Wings category, and secured bronze for its Burgers. In addition, Wildlight got the silver and bronze nod for Continental and Seafood, respectively.
Chow’s dedication to his craft is what piqued Smith’s interest in the restaurant project when they first met.
“We sat down and I immediately got a really good vibe,” Smith recalls. “I liked Warren’s food and his passion for food. I’d been looking for something to dig my teeth into for some time. But it had to be the right opportunity. I didn’t want to find something that I didn’t believe in, just for the sake of being back in management.”
When asked if accolades were a part of their collective goals, both insist their aim has simply been to make delicious food.
“I think for the both of us,” Chow states, “we’ve been in the industry for so long that anything less than striving for perfection is unacceptable. When we got together to lead this project, we just kind of put our best foot forward and, naturally, everything just fell into place.”
It’s clear that food comes first. Anything else is a bonus.
“Awards weren’t even a topic of conversation,” Smith adds. “We just really appreciate dining out ourselves and love a good experience and love great food, and we just wanted to bring the best experience and food forward to our guests.”
Wildlight Kitchen + Bar is located at #107-5380 University Boulevard.
Check out the rest of our Golden Plates 2023 coverage here.