Story by Adrian Brijbassi
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — It’s the official opening night of Dave Gunawan’s newest establishment and he’s already enthused about what’s next. Gunawan, one of Canada’s most talented young chefs and among its most ethically conscious, has earned plenty of admiration for Farmer’s Apprentice, the tiny restaurant near Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood known for its strict control on the products it sources and its tight relationships with farmers and food growers. Last week, Grapes & Soda — a wine bar that serves only organic and biodynamic varieties — opened next door, providing a holding spot for guests waiting for a table at Farmer’s Apprentice. In one month, Gunawan will unveil Royal Dinette, an 80-seat restaurant that he says will be “awesome.”
“It’s taking things to the next level. With a larger restaurant, we’ll be able to do a lot more interesting dishes. We’ll have a pasta station and a pastry station. It’s going to be a really fun space and a chance for us to show more of the products from this area,” he says.
Royal Dinette takes over the bottom floor of Blackbird Public House, an unremarkable bar and restaurant operated by the Donnelly Group, a chain most often associated with night clubs and bar culture, not great food. Blackbird will continue to operate on the top floor of the massive property on the corner of Dunsmuir and Hornby streets in Vancouver’s Financial District.
Farmer’s Apprentice Mastermind Expands
Gunawan will draw foodies to the ground floor, for sure. He has worked at West and Belgium’s famed In de Wulf, was the first chef at Vancouver’s Wildebeest, and then launched Farmer’s Apprentice less than two years ago, receiving such high praise that it ranked No. 4 on the 2014 Vacay.ca Top Restaurants in Canada Guide, leading all entries from the west coast. It placed 18th in 2015. What sets Gunawan apart from most other chefs is his fierce dedication to serving in-season, organic cuisine that he has selected himself.
“When I go to the farmers’ market, I may have a relationship with the farmers but I’m still a customer. When Dave goes there, he’s their friend. I’ve never seen a chef with that much admiration for farmers and they feel the same about him,” says Ron Shaw, the chef at Grapes & Soda and the former executive chef at Bishop’s, one of Vancouver’s earliest fine-dining restaurants and a proving ground for many of the city’s culinary talent.
Though soft spoken, Gunawan exhibits an intensity when it comes to farmers and he expresses a firm belief that the food industry should be doing a better job of serving seasonal products that are of the best quality for diners.
“I think it’s something that a lot of people in my generation believe in. We want to make sure that we take care of our farmers and that we are aware of where the food we are cooking is actually coming from. It’s a moral issue in a lot of ways,” he tells me outside of Grapes & Soda, a restaurant that will benefit from Gunawan’s relationship with the area’s food producers.
He says he can significantly increase his bulk supply of certain ingredients because they can be used in both Grapes & Soda and Farmer’s Apprentice. While the menus will be different, with the small plates at Grapes & Soda prepared to match the unique wine selection, which features choices primarily from small vineyards in France and Italy.
“We’re a community restaurant in a lot of ways. We wanted to have another place to feed our friends who live in the neighbourhood,” says Gunawan.
And while Farmer’s Apprentice — which focuses on shareable vegetarian-forward dishes and sustainable meat and seafood recipes — is a neighbourhood gem, its reputation for distinct cuisine has also made it one of those restaurants that visitors to Vancouver put on their must-try list. With Royal Dinette closer to the heart of the city’s tourist activity, Gunawan will have the chance to introduce his cuisine to an even wider audience. For all of us concerned with the true source of the food we eat, it’s a good thing that he continues to broaden his footprint.
MORE ABOUT FARMER’S APPRENTICE
Address: 1535 West 6th Avenue, Vancouver, BC
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest
Telephone: 604-620-2070. Instagram: @FarmApprentice
2015 TopRestaurantsInCanada.com Rank: 18
Price Range: $4-$18; small plates
You Must Order: Menu changes weekly, but try the Curried Carrots ($13) if they’re on the menu.
MORE ABOUT GRAPES & SODA
Address: 1541 West 6th Avenue, Vancouver, BC
Cuisine: Wine and cheese, charcuterie
Telephone: 604-336-2070. Twitter/Instagram: @grapesandsoda
Price Range: $4-$18 for small bites; $10-$17 for 5-ounce glasses of red or white wines.
You Must Order: Chicken ballantine, anson mills grits, hazelnuts and morels ($12).
MORE ABOUT ROYAL DINETTE
Address: 905 Dunsmuir Street, Vancouver, BC; opening July 2015, serving lunch and dinner