Ever since Betty Crocker convinced us that jello would go with everything and Irma von Starkloff Rombauer revolutionized the way cookbooks were written with her unconventional food bible, The Joy of Cooking, a lot has changed in the way recipes are shared and presented.
The internet is flooded with an infinite number of ways in which to prepare any kind of food available and many recipes suggest some truly bizarre ingredients and measurements.
For the first time ever, we have been blessed with a rare insiders view into the culinary wonderland that is Gastown. Brad Hill, professional photographer and now well-known writer and producer of an independent line of unique cookbooks called Foodie Books has painstakingly interviewed, (along with co-writer and producer Chris Dagenais) 37 of the neighbourhoods best restaurants and chefs, somehow convincing them to share their secrets to the food magic that is created every day here in Gastown.
So much more than a cookbook, The Gastown Foodie is almost an historical document, filled with the origins of the neighbourhood along with stories on the chefs, owners and restaurants that make Gastown the city’s leading area for independent restaurants. At home as much as on the coffee table as in the kitchen, the photos are beautiful and the recipes are diverse, refreshing and creative. When leafing through the big coloured, delicious pages, the Foodie would convince any apathetic recipe-phobe to convert to a bona fide chef de cuisine in no time.
Interview with Brad Hill – Co- Author of The Gastown Foodie
How did it all begin?
I moved to Vancouver in 2014 from Australia, having previously worked as a photographer on a number of similar books. I had always had the idea of creating my own collection of foodie cookbooks but could never find the time with my busy work schedule. When I settled in North Vancouver, I found the time I needed and began meeting and pitching the idea to restaurateurs and chefs on the North Shore. The response was very positive with many establishments willing to come on board. The North Shore was the ideal setting to test the concept to ensure restaurant owners, chefs and diners all liked the idea as well as discovering and developing my own method of gathering recipes and stories on the history, culture and people that make up each area’s food scene. The next Foodie book was the East Van Foodie (Commercial Drive) then Gastown. I had always wanted to create the Gastown Foodie from the beginning, yet I knew that by developing the concept in other neighbourhoods and honing and refining that process, I would be prepared to document and accurately present the incredible dining scene that exists in Gastown. Gastown has forever taken an important, prominent position in my mind, as it was the first neighbourhood I knew about even 20 years back.
What was it like creating The Gastown Foodie book?
The Gastown Foodie is a snapshot of the current foodie culture of Gastown told through stories, recipes and images. It’s a guide to the neighbourhood’s great places to eat and drink but also offers the back-stories and inspiration behinds its foodie businesses. (more than just a cookbook).
The format I use to create the foodie books allows chefs and restaurant owners to tell their stories in a longer, more intimate way – one that you wouldn’t normally find on a blog site or news source. Everyone loves to tell their story and in the Gastown Foodie, there are many personal histories that have never left the walls of the kitchen. Credit is due to my creative partner, Chris Dagenais by the way, who has worked very hard to make this part of the book happen. Everyone has an interesting story to tell. The trick is, that you just have to be a good listener. There are 80 plus recipes in the book with so much more to explore between the pages with the stories and photography. There are lots of cookbooks out there and one of my favorite right now is the Haida Gwaii Cookbook. It’s the books that present the background, origins, history and culture in which the food came from that seem to make the dishes taste better.
What makes Gastown different from other neighbourhood books (East Van, North Shore) that you have worked on?
It’s the combination of both history and future. We have a historical link to hospitality through Gassy Jack and his Saloon along with a renaissance of Gastown within the last two decades, which has also been led by the food & beverage industry. Looking at neighbourhood pioneers like Sean Heather (The Irish Heather) and Dom Sabatino (Water Street Café) who trail blazed the cobblestone streets, later attracting and influencing the restaurants and chefs who we see here today. With storied neighbourhoods like Gastown, the trend has been to have independent restaurants come to historic districts and break the mold of what higher end dining used to be with its white table cloths, chefs in big white hats and a banal sense of conformity. Now that areas like Gastown are becoming more established, it’s time to celebrate how far Gastown has really come. Because of the success we see here today, the rest of the city’s food scene has been heavily influenced by the creativity and constant growth of the food business that exists here in Gastown.
Is the Gastown Foodie book for pros or amateurs or both?
Yes and no. There are some easy, chilled out recipes and there are definitely some complicated ones. The unofficial guarantee is that I have personally attempted to make (in my little one bedroom apartment!) every single food dish, dessert, drink and cocktail that appeared in the Gastown Foodie. In terms of different skills levels required – take for example, Jules Bistro with their Mussel and Saffron broth which is super tasty and very traditionally French. The dish is actually really easy to make and only takes 15 minutes to prepare. We then have the recipe for Mosquito’s Coconut Bounty dessert that is literally a 3-day affair or the two dishes from Bauhaus that are complicated and tricky. But even the complicated ones can be made in part by amateur cooks, as there are key elements in the recipes, which can be made by all skill levels – for example Bauhaus suggests three different ways to prepare onion that goes with a steak dish.
Do you have plans for future books in Gastown?
The Foodie Series focuses on independent restaurants and that’s who I give preference to when it comes to selecting the right establishments for the book. I want my series to champion the independent chefs that are forever inventing and creating wonderful things to eat and drink.
A good example is Chef Eduardo Bilardello from Brioche who has owned and operated this Gastown haunt for quite a few years and is in there working hard everyday. The fact that the chef is also the owner and it’s their dream and passion and whole life that goes into the place and the food; knowing that, makes all the difference.
Sure, it’s nice sometimes to go to a chain restaurant and order the exact same Caesar salad just like the one you had a month ago at a different location. But when you go and spend your hard earned money at the independent places, everybody wins. The opportunity and potential to create further books about Gastown is essentially a no-brainer. as there is always something new worth writing about here. There will probably be many more places with lots of fantastic recipes and stories. Too many for just one book.
The Gastown Foodie can be purchased at the 37 Gastown restaurants listed in the book as well as on foodiebooks.ca
Price is $44.95 CDN