As Tofino’s restaurant scene continues to flourish, the town’s first vegetarian and vegan restaurant is going strong.
And the same team behind Bravocados—which is just steps from Clayoquot Sound—is about to open a new spot in Port Alberni.
Chef Dave Thielmann began his cooking career in a 250-seat pub in Mission. There, he met and became good friends with Colin Minions, who owns Bravocados along with his wife, Sharie. The couple are hoping to launch Port Alberni’s Brie & Barrel this summer.
Thielmann worked at other restaurants and pubs throughout B.C., before landing roles at Cin Cin Ristorante and Bar and later Sienna (now closed), among other spots. At Cin Cin, he began experimenting with vegan cuisine, creating an “eggs” benny that was a hit. That’s where he realized the potential to create inventive, delicious dishes without meat.
At Bravocados, he has developed a plant-based menu that he says even meat-eaters will love, and he speaks from experience.
“My secret weapon is that I’m not vegan,” Thielmann says in an interview at the Tofino restaurant, pointing to a pulled pork-inspired dish of pulled jackfruit as an example. “I know what it’s supposed to taste like. Other chefs might not have tasted pork in 20 years. Whether it’s vegan butter or sauce for [cauliflower] wings: I love the challenge of finding substitutes.”
He has also deliberately chosen not to include certain ingredients on the ever-changing Bravocados menu.
“There is no kale or quinoa,” he says. “That’s a conscious decision. I don’t think you’ll find any other vegan restaurant that can say that. We want to do things differently.”
A standout dish is his Faux Fish and Chips, made of sea-brined, panko-crusted banana blossom.
His kelp-brined, pan-seared king oyster mushroom “scallops” that come with a lemon-and-thyme vegan aioli made with aquafaba, local sea asparagus and caper tapenade. Then there’s “bacon” made of Japanese eggplant, paprika, maple syrup, tomato paste, soy, and other ingredients in a labour-intensive process that involves baking, dehydrating, and flash frying.
The chef sources produce from the Tofino Ucluelet Culinary Guild, a community food-sourcing organization that operates as a social enterprise. Headed by Bobby Lax, it supports regional growers and brings in local ingredients to the residents and restaurants of the towns that bookend Pacific Rim National Park.
Thielmann also likes to feature other foods from local suppliers. The Bravo Caprese Toast, for instance, consists of toasted sourdough from Summit Bread and sea salt from Vancouver Island Salt Company, along with roasted heirloom tomatoes, cashew cream cheese, avocado, basil, extra-virgin olive oil, and 20-year-old balsamic vinegar.
At Brie & Barrel, Thielmann will highlight hand-made pasta, a passion for which he developed while working at Cin Cin.
The Port Alberni resto will also focus on whisky and wine. Look for it on your drive through town enroute to Tofino later this summer.