Secret Suppers of Vancouver documentary explores world of underground restaurants

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      Vancouver is often lauded as a foodie city, with diverse restaurants, acclaimed chefs, and good food. In homes and apartments across the Lower Mainland, however, there’s a secondary restaurant scene emerging—underground restaurants that operate on a hearsay basis without restaurant licensing. This is the focus of Secret Suppers of Vancouver, an hour-long documentary airing on CBC on July 19 at 7 p.m. PT.

      “I found out that a friend of mine does this in Richmond. He ran an underground restaurant out of his home,” director Jordan Lee told the Georgia Straight during a recent phone interview. “It was just his rental suite, so he didn’t even own the place, but he had people over, took their money, and made nice, gourmet meals.”

      The film produced by Vancouver-based Georgia Street Media explores the world of Vancouver’s underground restaurants through four chefs.

      “When I talked to people about underground restaurants, a lot of people had a very vague idea—if any idea at all—as to what it was,” Lee said. “So I wanted to make this documentary to say, ‘Hey, here’s a cool thing going on in Vancouver that you probably don’t know about. Let’s showcase it a little bit.’”

      One of the underground restaurants featured in the documentary is Tom’s Kitchen, a small operation in Richmond. The owner and chef, Tom—who goes only by his first name in order to remain anonymous—is a recent graduate of the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. He creates French-style tasting menus for up to six diners several nights a week.

      “It’s amazing watching somebody like Tom. He’s super young, he’s relatively inexperienced, and yet I’ve never met anyone who can talk about food as much as he can,” Lee recalled. “He’s just one guy doing this out of his basement. He didn’t want his address or last name used in the film, so we kept that out.”

      Farm 2 Fork in Gastown offers diners an off-the-beaten-path fine-dining experience.
      Jordan Lee/Georgia Street Media

      Nicolas Hipperson, who is also featured in the film, is less concerned about anonymity. The executive chef of Raincity Grill creates fine-dining meals at his underground restaurant Farm 2 Fork in Gastown.

      “Chef Nicolas is quite open about what he does, and he wants to see underground restaurants grow and expand in Vancouver,” Lee said, adding that Farm 2 Fork operates with a catering licence. “Underground restaurants are in a legal grey area. Some of them are more legitimate than others, and some are shadier than others. That’s kind of the fun aspect of it as well.”

      For the film, Lee interviewed a representative of Vancouver Coastal Health, who asserted that because many of the city’s underground restaurants operate without restaurant licences, health regulations don’t apply and the onus is on the diner.

      “It’s one of those situations where until someone actually makes a mistake and gets in trouble, you’re pretty safe in terms of running these things,” Lee said. “As far as I know, there haven’t been any major issues with health violations or any sicknesses.”

      The two other chefs featured in Secret Suppers of Vancouver are Robin Kort and Mérida Anderson. Kort runs culinary company Swallow Tail Canada, which stages elaborate pop-up dining events called the Culinary Circus. Anderson, who's now based in Montreal, started Vegan Secret Supper in her apartment in East Vancouver.

      Lee, who is a recent graduate of the TV Broadcast and Video Production program at BCIT, acknowledged that while underground restaurants aren’t for everyone, they can provide a unique dining experience for adventurous diners.

      “The idea of being able to bring a bunch of strangers to a table over food and getting to bring community together is an important thing,” Lee said. “It’s pushing the boundaries in a good way.”

      Watch the trailer for Secret Suppers of Vancouver


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      Truth Hurts

      Jul 15, 2014 at 8:03pm

      Boring Bourgeois twaddle.

      Underground Restaurants??

      Jul 16, 2014 at 9:49am

      Huh... ya like that sounds appealing. No Thanks.

      collarbone o'hare

      Jul 16, 2014 at 1:21pm

      yeah, let them eat hake!

      Who woulda thunk

      Jul 16, 2014 at 1:29pm

      Apparently, there are chefs without restaurants to work at, and restaurants claiming they 'can't find chefs'...looks like the assumptions that a) restaurants do not look hard enough, and b) they do not offer reasonable pay are correct!


      Jul 16, 2014 at 2:42pm

      To Who Woulda Thunk... Thats why we have the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Keep wages low. Why hire a local chef when you can get an indentured chef from overseas.


      Jul 16, 2014 at 3:41pm

      ...just to play devil's advocate here, but what happens if someone gets ill/injured at one of these events? "Underground Restaurants" aren't exactly insurable.

      Pat Crowe

      Jul 16, 2014 at 5:03pm

      Japadog{mmm/yum, fish flakes on a pork sausage}kill me.
      And what ever happened to those 600 buck for two, 12 course teaspoon sized portions at Lumiere?
      Trending now....dinner for four hipsters in Beardo's moms basement suite.
      Disregard the cat hair.

      Ron Y

      Jul 16, 2014 at 6:55pm

      @Pat Crowe

      Oh my god, that Lumiere tasting meal destroyed my interest in French food completely. Yay, a lump of fat. Next, a lump of fat. Followed by a fatty lump on a smear of fat. And then some chunked fat, on fat, with fat spheres crystallized on the antigriddle. And then some fucking fat.

      This was right before Rob Feenie lost the place for not having enough customers who want to pay $600 for small blobs of fat.

      Japadog makes me angry, though. It's insane to pay eight bucks or whatever for a hot dog. Paying $1.50 at Costco and having a pop with refill with it, that's a hot dog.