by Lauren Mote
In a hip, food-lovers paradise just north of the US border, there only exists a small handful of “born and bred” Vancouver chefs that get catastrophic amounts of attention. After chef Rob Feenie, of acclaimed restaurants Lumiere and Feenie’s, was publicly ousted last fall, all focus has rolled back to the charismatic man who quietly changed the Vancouver restaurant scene over a seven year period. One can only imagine how difficult it is to be this all-star chef with the need for tenancy… if you haven’t already, please meet chef David Hawksworth, the Vancouver-born superstar behind the wheel of Top Table’s West Restaurant.
Since his departure from West in late 2007, David now finds himself in between dwellings – his baby, “Hawksworth” set to eventually open at the Hotel Georgia, at Howe & Georgia Sts in late 2009, still has a lengthy construction period ahead of them. Don’t let the circulating rumours fool you, this is one of the only Vancouver restaurants in the city that will push through on schedule, despite the crumbling global economy. Vancouverites were surprised to learn that other plans have caved unexpectedly; we couldn’t help but become anxious when all the promotional signs and John Deere trucks disappeared from a neighbouring site, once housing the framework for the Ritz Carleton back in October. A new trend seems to be forming in Vancouver’s restaurant scene, but is there really a connection between the global economic status and the downfall of west coast staples, Cafe di Medici and Aurora Bistro? Or were these restauranteurs trailing behind the edible trends for a while? Be as it may, if restaurants can survive until the 2010 Olympics, we will see the arrival of tens of thousands of people, including athletes and spectators; then the world will discover exactly what we’ve been hiding all along, the food.
David has been keeping extremely busy since his departure from West Restaurant almost a year ago. He has a private catering company, “Hawksworth Catering”. David’s services are acquired mostly by way of word-of-mouth, although the Globe and Mail recently published a Q&A with David regarding his current activities. More often then not, David’s catering clients are previous West diners or “in-the-know” Vancouver food enthusiasts, but some readers will be pleasantly surprised to learn that David travels well – doing an event here and there on Vancouver Island; perhaps the short trek to Seattle will become an option?
I have been privy to working with “Hawksworth Catering” since April. Generally, the parties that we have done together have been good – no twisted clients, and no disastrous kitchen facilities. However, I did have to build a BBQ at one event; but imagine all you had was a toaster oven and a blow-torch, now that’s frightening. With the help of Vancouver experts in certain genres of cuisine and fare, David has some valuable assistance in creating a themed dinner – an authentic all-Indian food and decor themed birthday party for 9 within a multi-million dollar compound? Yes this did happen. Even the simplest 5 course lunch for 8 with thoughtful wine pairings and a limitless budget, David offers something that not many others can – the presence of a celebrity chef cooking in your home – but he’s still “humble pie”. Speaking of humility, I especially remember working a catering event in a “staged home” in West Vancouver; the owner was looking to sell quickly. It was decked out top to bottom, and we weren’t allowed to wear our shoes. So there we were, a bunch of shoeless joes, David and his assistant working in the open kitchen with rather attractive socks, and myself and another server doing the same. It was funny watching David and his socks talk about each dish from behind the peninsula bar looking onto the dining-room crowd.
Going back farther, I recall the first party that I worked with David on. It was a 50th birthday party for a previous guest at West Restaurant, George Macintosh. An über successful lawyer, Mr. Macintosh had just moved into a beautiful house in Vancouver’s prestigious Shaunessey area. His new home was thoughtfully landscaped, inside and out. Although it was somewhat distracting with the repeat button jammed on some London Beat song, I still couldn’t lose focus on David and his assistant, Mark Perrier (sous chef at Cibo Trattoria), recreate some old classics from the West Restaurant days, like beet and goat cheese salad; roasted tomato and basil soup; some new innovations like a dungeness crab quenelle with red peppers; tarlets and mini quiche. Dessert never fails either, birthday cakes especially tailored by chocolatier Thomas Haas in West Vancouver; rich for the rich.
The catering events we do with David are high profile, fun and we get that craved social aspect – reconnecting with people we used to work with – back in the days of West and the original Lumiere; it made the conversation over Pisco Sours much more enjoyable afterwards. While eyeballing his book collection 3 weeks ago, I was mid-sentence asking about chef Marco Pierre White (former mentor), when out from the kitchen comes flying a container… low and behold, inside, lies an enormous white truffle; it stares back at me. The truffle would be the star ingredient for David’s 3rd course at the most recent event that we did together, where carnoli rice, golden chantrelles and Chablis Grand Cru welcome the white truffle with open arms. I call this the “industry’s risotto”; others call it expensive. Hogwash. There was a bit of struggle to get the truffle back from me, but boy was it worth it when I had my own bowl later that afternoon.
One secret to share in David’s ongoing success in Vancouver’s food scene is his dedication to teaching younger cooks to follow instruction and instinct. We would be hard-pressed to find a cook amongst a kitchen brigade in the higher quality restaurants in Vancouver today, that didn’t have a connection to David’s mentorship – whether on the line at West Restaurant, or in the audience at Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks watching a demonstration on “sous vide cooking”, or pulling up a bar stool next to him at the Irish Heather in Gastown for a pint, the guy has presence.
Friends and hungry people alike, we’re awaiting David’s return to the kitchen so we too may ask the chef to cook for us.