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jamiemaw

Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards

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Where the Vanmag listing is not useful for me is when it gets into Asian foods - and in particular Chinese and Japanese.  Vanmag's selections are not so much 'bad' but the selected restaurants seem to be the most visible but not necessarily the best.  For example Sun Sui Wah and Hon's are proverbial winners, yet for me there are better places. I have never been a huge fan of Tojo's whose food for me seems overly handled.

I absolutely agree with you on your points, Canucklehead.

To many who are familiar with Asian cuisine, voting Hon’s as the Best Chinese Restaurant is almost similar to voting Domino Pizza as the Best Italian Restaurant. For those who look for large portions at good prices, and a relatively stress-free ordering environment, it may work. For those who are looking for something a little more authentic and are willing to be more adventurous, there are far better choices.

The challenge with most good Chinese restaurants in Vancouver is the culture and language barrier. It really helps to know both Cantonese and Mandarin to get the best deals. Perhaps that's our next school project, getting some of our international students to carry out an extensive menu translation project, and to act as food ambassadors!

How about a Best Dish contest?

While I respect the experience and opinions from the professional food critics, I find the "best restaurant approach" often oversimplifying the meaning behind food appreciation killing all the fun.

I know, we live in a world surrounded by easy to understand rating systems, 5-star hotels, Michelin 3-star, Zagat ratings, Penguin music guide scores, Wine Spectator or Parker ratings, Relais & Chateaux stars, and of course, the Vancouver Magazine Best Lists.

However, is it not time we focus more on the dishes for a change?

Instead of going to Vij’s because they’re voted the best Indian Restaurant 3 years in a row, I want to go because Jamie whom we share similar tastes recommends the lamb feugreek cream curry, and also the beef short ribs in red wine curry and honey paranta.

While it may be fun to go to a hip Indian restaurant like Vij’s, seeing folks pairing up their red wine with their curry(!), shaking hands with the friendly owner who wears those fancy slippers, it is also refreshing to have the traditional dishes such as shahi paneer, malai or butter chicken, and the lamb saag gosht every now and then at Indian Oven as recommended by Jason McRobbie?

Ok, Barbara-jo McIntosh may recommend West’s risotto but since she generally likes her food on the salty side, I may think twice before ordering it.

As we read more personal dish-reviews from various critics, we learn to discover more about ourselves, what we like, and which critics do we side. And that is the fun, in my opinion. Having a Best Restaurants issue may push the magazine sales, but for "good food addicts," we rather have a more practical tool!

Instead of blindly walking into a so-called rated best restaurant naively thinking that every dish will suit everybody’s taste, I want to hear what favourite dishes the different critics recommend. I want to go beyond the wine labels and learn to discover my favourite vintages; I want to go beyond composers and learn my favourite pieces and recordings; I want to go beyond designer labels and learn what actually suits me; I want to go beyond restaurants and focus on my dishes!


Edited by mangez (log)

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Here is a quick list of the judges from last year. Murray Bancroft, James BArber, Christina Burrudge, Sid Cross, Nathan Fong, Condrea Fung, Jurgen Gothe, Duncan Holmes, Judith Lane, Bill Jones, MArk Laba, Qubic Lam, Deana Lancaster, Barbara-jo McIntosh, Andre LaRiviere, The future husband of the person known as the future Mrs. Maw, Murray McMillan, Jason McRobbie, Caren McSherry, Robin Mines, Jane Mundy, Angela Murrills, Tim Pawsey, Robert Simpson, Mia Stainby, Lesley Stowe, Kasey Wilson, Stephen Wong, Stephanie Yuen and John Pifer.

That is quite a list. Not only hats off to the judges but hats off to the assistant who can book time with them and get them all in the room at the same time. A fair representation of all of the different writers and food personalities in town. I do not think that anyone is omitted and I heard the was a couple of additions this year.

Jamie - how many judges this year ? There was 30 last year. You have two additions this year - anyone not able to contribute this year ?

Twenty six. Their names will be published in the April edition of the magazine.


from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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mangez,Mar 8 2005, 07:32 AM]

As we read more personal dish-reviews from various critics, we learn to discover more about ourselves, what we like, and which critics do we side.  And that is the fun, in my opinion.  Having a Best Restaurants issue may push the magazine sales, but for "good food addicts," we rather have a more practical tool!

Instead of blindly walking into a so-called rated best restaurant naively thinking that every dish will suit everybody’s taste, I want to hear what favourite dishes the different critics recommend.  I want to go beyond the wine labels and learn to discover my favourite vintages; I want to go beyond composers and learn my favourite pieces and recordings; I want to go beyond designer labels and learn what actually suits me; I want to go beyond restaurants and focus on my dishes!

Virtually every year, mangez, we do run 'dishes of the year' as reported by the various critics, so as to lead you from Chopin prelude to Beethoven symphony. Personally, I'm a big fan of the Chopin Prelude in E Minor, rather like the first dish in a very good tasting menu. :biggrin: And I'll certainly admonish Barbara-jo to cut down on her salt intake immediately.


Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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This is just a comment on PR people and their influence on the Van Mag restaurant awards. Last year, a good friend of mine was working at one of the soon-to-be-award-winner restaurants. I bumped into him at the 39th and Cambie liquor store, where he asked me if we were also “doing the food critics thing” this month. I asked him what he meant, and he told me their PR person was entertaining food and wine writers in the restaurant almost every night in January. These dinners were the “absolute number one priority” for this restaurant, and the chef would have to attend, even on his night off. I’m not sure if everyone is aware of this practice.

Now, I’m not dissing PR people for doing their jobs properly, nor am I somehow insinuating that any of the critics are being bought. But not every establishment can afford to, or would like to, partake in this specific, very focused marketing strategy.

So, does this mean that these places get more critic exposure and therefore, are more likely to be awarded? If a food critic can’t write about a specific restaurant because he hasn’t eaten there, doesn’t that tip the scale towards the establishments employing a PR person?

I’m not saying that the VanMag awards are not valid. In fact they are excellent and a valuable, current guide to the scene. I’m just wondering if some valid, or smaller or “less interested in press” places may get overlooked. It also might partly explain why the same few places win the same categories year after year. Is that a problem?

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This is just a comment on PR people and their influence on the Van Mag restaurant awards. Last year, a good friend of mine was working at one of the soon-to-be-award-winner restaurants.  I bumped into him at the 39th and Cambie liquor store, where he asked me if we were also “doing the food critics thing” this month.  I asked him what he meant, and he told me their PR person was entertaining food and wine writers in the restaurant almost every night in January.  These dinners were the “absolute number one priority” for this restaurant, and the chef would have to attend, even on his night off. I’m not sure if everyone is aware of this practice.

Now, I’m not dissing PR people for doing their jobs properly, nor am I somehow insinuating that any of the critics are being bought.    But not every establishment can afford to, or would like to, partake in this specific, very focused marketing strategy.

So, does this mean that these places get more critic exposure and therefore, are more likely to be awarded?  If a  food critic can’t write about a specific restaurant because he hasn’t eaten there, doesn’t that tip the scale towards the establishments employing a PR person?

I’m not saying that the VanMag awards are not valid.  In fact they are excellent and a valuable, current guide to the scene.  I’m just wondering if some valid, or smaller or “less interested in press” places may get overlooked.  It also might partly explain why the same few places win the same categories year after year.  Is that a problem?

I think that "hosted meals" may have been a challenge in the past. PR people are often judged by how much press they generate. Awards might be said to enter into that equation too. And you're right, not every restaurant could necessarily afford this type of exposure.

Several years ago we became aware of the increase in this activity and have since discouraged it. I don't attend hosted meals (the exceptions being an important visiting chef, some charity and industry events--such as the BCRFA Hall of Fame dinner last night where I was a guest speaker-- etc.) or attend soft openings as a rule.

Thanks very much for your comments,

Jamie


from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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A couple of quick things -

As to the question / concern / statements about the Asian restaurants perhaps not getting notice or Hon's as the winner etc.

I think that this catagory suffers like the others in a certain way. Accessability and visability.

I found a copy of the judges last year ( and posted ) because it got me thinking on this same topic. There is a few asain judges on the panel and guys like James Barber would , I think , be in the know of all of the cool little off the beaten path places. Within the 30 judges, lets say each votes Hon's as the number three for 3 points, but each toss in the names of these cool little spots that they know ( lets say 3 judges each pick rest a, b, c, d, e, f, etc, getting that place 15 points in the scoring system, still not enough to beat Hon's at 90 points. ) It is the flaw in the system that the most accessable and visable get attention, although not as the top in the catagory, but gets them the #1 position. If you look at the spread of points in some catagories, the were probably lots of people who did not vote or put N/A etc as the #1 in the Casual Chinese got 52 points. The total votes published in this catagory last year was 104 out of a possible 450 possible. I do not know what this means exactly. perhaps there is a giant list of restaurants that got from 1 to 4 points, but not enough to get into the top five ( restaurant #5 only had 5 points ).

A great example of visability and accessability would be Feenie's in the Best New Informal. It had the highest point total out of any catagory across the board with 132. This means that more of the judges were able to get out and see this restaurant within the time frame of the awards.

This brings me to the second point. PR people.

Lots of restaurants have them. Lots of restaurants need them. Everyone uses their PR person for different reasons. Just so we are clear, I have one.

I was approached in my opening week by a PR person ( 8 years ago ). In all honesty, I did not know what one did and was not sure if I needed that. I thought that I could just throw open my doors and everything would be fine. I was right.

Seven years later, with my wife taking a smaller role in the restaurant having two little kids, I found myself streched a little thin and needed some help. I found myself ready and wanting to do specific events in house like wine dinners etc. I needed help not in doing the event , but communicating it. For my and my PR person, this is the main focus of what we are doing together. Communication.

Now back to the issue. I see PR ( and this only how I see it, others may have different thoughts ) people facilitating media people into a restaurant, giving gentle reminders of what restaurants are doing, any changes going on etc. Some restaurants have a huge budget to bring people in and entertain them. Does it create an unfair playing feild ? possibly. But the thing to remember is that the product and service have to be sound in order for that to have any meaning at all. If the food is shit and the service crap, it was just a big waste of time and money. And I would imagine that wasting time would create a media backlash.

I do not know all of the other jobs that PR people do - some work with Hotel Concierge, local businesses etc but I think for the sake of this disscussion, we are talking about what they do with the local media and how it affects the Van Mag awards. It is dangerous to host special; "events" for media that are perhaps a departure from your regular gig. The media people and judges are not fooled by Chef Gustav Von Asskicker standing at the door when they come in, when they know he truly lives up to his name and really does not care what they think, only what they can do for him.

With so many restaurants in town, sometimes there is a need for a gentle reminder about what is going on. This town is full of events and comings and goings etc. It is hard for someone in the business everyday with constant communicating to their peers to keep track. I could only imagine how difficult it must be for someone who food is only a part of their job, that they really have other gigs to pay the bills so that they can pursue , like all of us, their passion for all things culinary.

Ok, enough, off to work I go.

Ok, I would love it if my PR person got me a big TV show. That would change everything, wouldn't it ! :biggrin:


Neil Wyles

Hamilton Street Grill

www.hamiltonstreetgrill.com

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The commentary back and forth on this thread has been most illuminating. I certainly have a better understanding of the process and the steps that are taken to keep the judging fair and objective. There are always ways to improve the process - but as this thread proves - there are pitfalls to all methodologies. Things are never as simple at they first appear to be.

I myself always prefer seeing where informed judges' rank restaurants vs. readers polls (which ALWAYS seem to leave me baffled).

A quick scan of the names on the judges list reminded me how many people in Vancouver have dedicated themselves to raising the level of food quality and food knowledge and discussion to our city. I think Neil is right on both counts - that visibility has helped certain restaraunts but at the end of the day - the food has got to be good.

Thanks Jamie for taking the time to walk us through the process and addressing our questions and comments.

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I myself always prefer seeing where informed judges' rank restaurants vs. readers polls (which ALWAYS seem to leave me baffled).

The Georgia Straight Reader's choice awards are always fun as there is usually something attached and makes for a good read. It suffers the pitfall of ballot stuffing as the ballots are free and available all over town. I remember one year a disclaimer about obvious ballot stuffers would be shamed and ridiculed. I did not see that this year.


Neil Wyles

Hamilton Street Grill

www.hamiltonstreetgrill.com

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Virtually every year, mangez, we do run 'dishes of the year' as reported by the various critics, so as to lead you from Chopin prelude to Beethoven symphony. Personally, I'm a big fan of the Chopin Prelude in E Minor, rather like the first dish in a very good tasting menu.  :biggrin: And I'll certainly admonish Barbara-jo to cut down on her salt intake immediately.

Thanks for the reply Jamie! So what's your recommended dishes at Cioppino and Tojo's? I'm always fascinated by the popularity of the two yet fail to find a truly impressive plate.

TIA!

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Thanks for the reply Jamie!  So what's your recommended dishes at Cioppino and Tojo's?  I'm always fascinated by the popularity of the two yet fail to find a truly impressive plate.

TIA!

For what it's worth Mangez - I had a spring Quebec Lamb (there was a specific term for this lamb - but I cannot remember it now) dish once at Cioppino's that was spectacular. My friend and I ordered a saltspring island lamb for comparison and the Quebec lamb was better in subtle but fundamental ways.

It was a simple grilled dish but the flavours were so delicate the texture was like silk. Delicous!

I've been to Tojo's a number of times and have not really enjoyed it. It was pricey, the service so-so and as I have said before - the food has always seems over handled. It's like they should dial it down a little and not worry so much about impressing the diner with their chef-y skils but just letting the food do the impressing (am I making sense here?)

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I want to thank Jamie for all of the time that he has taken to repond to all of the questions and mine in particular. I realize that you are in production right now and time is a valuable thing.

It has certainly cleared up lots of points for me. I realize that the system, although not perfect, is as fair as can be. With so many people involved and such a clear process, the results end up being as unbiased and fair, without any one judges views counting more than any others. There are other publications in town that have awards etc., that although fun and flattering, are quite often based upon advertising. With the complete ( or nearly ) particiaption of all major food writers and culinary personalities in B.C., the Van Mag awards rises above all.

I look forward to seeing how this year shakes out, and look forward to actually reading all the little bits and pieces of extra stuff in the magazine about our food scene.


Neil Wyles

Hamilton Street Grill

www.hamiltonstreetgrill.com

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For what it's worth Mangez - I had a spring Quebec Lamb (there was a specific term for this lamb - but I cannot remember it now) dish once at Cioppino's that was spectacular.  My friend and I ordered a saltspring island lamb for comparison and the Quebec lamb was better in subtle but fundamental ways.   

It was a simple grilled dish but the flavours were so delicate the texture was like silk.  Delicous!

I've been to Tojo's a number of times and have not really enjoyed it.  It was pricey, the service so-so and as I have said before - the food has always seems over handled.  It's like they should dial it down a little and not worry so much about impressing the diner with their chef-y skils but just letting the food do the impressing (am I making sense here?)

Thank you Canucklehead, we'll try out the lamb next time.

Don't think we'll go back to Tojo's, it's not that we dislike new style Japanese restaurants such as Nobu NYC, like you said, the over handled, style over substance food just doesn't do it for us.

Leaving the thread back to you guys.

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As a user of the guide - the results of the Vanmag awards provide an excellent overview of what is good out there.

Yes I agree with you Lee, and with whomever made the comment earlier about accessibility (Neil?). I think these hit the nail right on the head. To read the magazine is to get an overview of what is happening in our amazing city. I enjoy it, as I do the Straight awards and all the rest of them. It keeps you somewhat plugged in.

But you have to take the Best Chinese / Asian / insert ethnicity here with a grain of salt, and the understanding that it is all about accessibility. After all, the readership is not going to be exclusively foodies, industry insiders, or even eGulleters. Everyone needs a starting point (throwback to the thread Sam started about Ethiopian) - you start on an entry-level restaurant, get familiar, then move into a deeper search for tastes...

So the Hon's example - easy entry level joint, try the BBQ pork, marvel at the ducks hanging in the butcher (okay so I don't even know if they're there, I haven't been to Hon's for years), aclimatize (sp?). Skip forward 6 months and maybe you're checking out the new place on Garden City and asking in broken Mandarin if they do that stewed slab of bacon (name escapes me at this critical juncture).

The question then becomes, So where do you go for reliable info on the "real" Best "insert specialty here"? I log onto eGullet of course!

Sorry for the ramble, I'll return to making bad quips and one-liners... :wink:

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The Vancouver Magazine 18th Annual Restaurant Awards competition is "now underway" and there's some changes to the list of judges, and to the process it seems, from previous years. In their own words:

The Restaurant Awards will see the addition of a number of new judges this year. We're honoured to welcome emerging food writers and experts to this year's jury, while thanking others who have contributed considerable time and experise in the past. This year, specialized teams will sweep the city and the province, recognizing excellence in food and wine, sustainability, service and decor categories.

I see at least three new people who used to contribute to this forum regularly: Meet the Judges

Do you think these changes will improve the process and the results? Or maybe you think they didn't need to be improved?


Cheers,

Anne

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Looking at a few of the judges this year, I sincerely doubt Pink Pearl will make an appearance. Definitely some serious chops when it comes to knowledge of Chinese in Vancouver.


Edited by annanstee (log)

The sea was angry that day my friends... like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.

George Costanza

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Indeed, that complaint from past years was addressed this year by Mr Maw by picking people who actually know something about Chinese food to judge the Chinese restaurant part.  Same goes for other areas/ethnicities, so I understand.

You are indeed correct BC- resources have permitted us this year to invite some additional and very knowledgeable people to the table. Spirited discussion ensued; no doubt the results (although blind to me) will be interesting.

FYI - because of the enormous size of the BC food service marketplace now, we also broke down many of the other categories so that they are now judged by specialist teams who judge categories in which they are expert--either by dint of geographic or ethnocentric proximity. :biggrin:


Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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^ Re-reading my post, it came off sounding harsher than I meant it to. I did not mean to imply that the previous judges knew nothing about food, just that this year the judges are assigned more appropriately. So even though the discussion may still be spirited (no doubts), it will also be better informed.

One other thing - the judges really have some serious gut power, to have to plough through so many places. Good job, and as of today why don't you wear your sweat pants for a while.

Edited for clarity and to add 2nd para.


Edited by BCinBC (log)

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FYI - because of the enormous size of the BC food service marketplace now, we also broke down many of the other categories so that they are now judged by specialist teams who judge categories in which they are expert--either by dint of geographic or ethnocentric proximity.  :biggrin:

Do I remember reading that the much maligned Barbeque category has been dropped? Because I don't recall receiving an invite to judge that one. Then again, my voicemail has been acting up ... and my email crashes often ... and my Treo battery dies ... there's always smoke signals though. I'm sure if the category still existed, you wouldn't have forgotten about me ... :cool::laugh:

A.

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