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Fat Guy

Fat Guy Eats Canada

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Note: This is part one of six of the "Fat Guy Eats Canada" series, covering the Canadian portion of our cross-continent road-trip. These stories were originally published in the Southam newspapers, a Canadian syndicate that includes the Montreal Gazette, Vancouver Sun, and others, as part of a multimedia project that also included television and Web components. You will notice a couple of differences between these installments and the U.S. trip installments: These are shorter on account of the newspaper page limitations, they feature quaint Canadian spellings of words like "colour," there is some over-the-top humor, and there is a bit more of an overt focus on me as a personality-- that's how the newspaper people wanted it. For this reprinting, I've added additional photographs as well as recipes. The stories are, of course, reprinted with permission.

Fat Guy Eats British Columbia

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

They wake up early in Vancouver.

As the first rays of sun hit downtown, the packs of cyclists, runners and beachcombers emerge. Whereas in most of the civilized world at 7:15 on a Sunday morning you'll find deserted streets and perhaps a few people relaxing at a café, in Vancouver I was almost stampeded by 5,000 marathoners. And during that same week, a headline in the Province proclaimed that, thanks to the healthy and energetic lifestyle of its residents, "B.C. Is Beating Obesity Epidemic."

The statisticians who assembled these data clearly didn't include me in their surveys, because given all there is to eat in Vancouver - and I ate it all - I'd surely have tipped the scales.

Vancouver is today one of the world's most exciting restaurant cities, though it wasn't always this way. A frequent traveler to Vancouver since childhood, when my father was a visiting professor (subsequently I have called upon Vancouver for my honeymoon, vacations and journalistic assignments), I've always loved the city for its people, its natural beauty and - despite vicious rumours to the contrary - its hospitable climate.

But not for its food.

Not that the food was bad. Dining in Vancouver was never a chore in the sense that dining in London was for most of the 20th century. Still, while acceptable nourishment was always available, Vancouver dining was long something we tourists merely tolerated - lacklustre, generic restaurants were the price we paid for everything else that was good about Vancouver.

To be sure, in the past couple of decades things have steadily improved, as they have in most North American cities (a pity the trend in Europe is now running the other way). There have long been exceptional Vancouver restaurants here and there, most notably Bishop's, Tojo's and, more recently, Lumière. Plus, the local Asian restaurants were always years ahead of their Western counterparts. But no unifying restaurant culture existed, and restaurants were for the most part relying foolishly on imported ingredients rather than the marvelous bounty of the Pacific Northwest.

That is, until now.

Spearheaded by new restaurants like Ouest, now in just its second year of business, Vancouver's dining scene has turned the corner. A certain critical mass has been reached; there is suddenly energy in the air. Dining around Vancouver today, you get the sense of being a witness to something - something that is happening now, all around you: a collective decision running all along the chain of supply, from farm to kitchen to table, to get serious about food.

What makes a restaurant like Ouest so exciting is that it offers an experience that can't be reproduced anywhere else. Any billionaire with a dream can build an expensive kitchen and import a big-name chef to, say, Las Vegas - and such a restaurant can indeed be good. But at the world's best restaurants the cuisine is firmly tied to the land and the sea.

At Ouest, chef David Hawksworth (who trained with the top chefs in Europe) brings together sophisticated old-world culinary technique and unparalleled Pacific Northwest ingredients to create a restaurant that's on par with any in North America.


A tasting of chocolate desserts at Ouest

The whole farm-to-table concept is nothing new, and today most top restaurants worldwide talk the talk of local ingredients. But they don't have these ingredients - Salt Spring Island lamb that tastes of the salt marshes as does the lamb in Brittany, local spot prawns sweeter and meatier than any I've tried anywhere, wild mushrooms with deeply concentrated woodsy flavours, and farmed produce running the gamut from peaches to purple potatoes.

Vancouver is chock full of restaurants at every level that correctly focus on the best of what is available in and near British Columbia. At the Raincity Grill, the cheese course is a lesson in B.C. geography, and every wine on the list is from British Columbia or the West Coast of the United States. At the deceptively casual Joe Fortes (named for Vancouver's first lifeguard), you'll find the local seafood on display in dizzying variety - and a chef who knows how to cook it. A few more like these, and they'll be saying Vancouver in the same breath as Paris, New York, and London.


A cheese plate at the Raincity Grill


Chef Brian Fowke of Joe Fortes garnishes a few platters full of local specialties

I'm not sure when they find time to work in Vancouver (perhaps they don't do much of this, since the evening rush hour seems to be at 3 p.m.), because the restaurants are full round the clock. Wander into the trendy tapas bar Bin 942 at midnight and you'll likely need to wait half an hour for a table. Don't bother driving, though, because you can easily hit a traffic jam in Vancouver at any time, and there are few shortcuts. (Have you heard the one about the sign at a Vancouver traffic intersection: "No left, no right, no straight ahead.")

Though Vancouver can be proud of its fine-dining establishments, perhaps my favourite thing to eat for a casual meal in town is Asian food. Vancouverites dine well at every level, and many have eschewed burger joints and junk food for noodles, sushi, and potstickers (Chinese dumplings). Vancouver is, in my experience, the best place in North America to eat Asian food, but if you want the best you need to do a little driving: the action now is in the satellite Chinatown of Richmond, near the airport, where I've had the best dim sum and seafood I've experienced outside of Asia. And throughout Richmond, there are shopping centers and supermarkets that evoke today's Asia so strongly it's no wonder they call it Asia West.

A ferry ride and a world away over on Vancouver Island, it seems they wake up in time to place wake-up calls to downtown Vancouverites. Not only are they all healthy on the island, they even have suntans. The people are so casual they call eggs Benedict "Benny." They're so politically correct they call the bike path the "Multi-Use Path," presumably so as not to offend those who choose to skateboard. And when they hear my nickname, Fat Guy, they cringe self-consciously.


Vancouver Island's interior

But they know how to eat. It's a sure indication of a world-class culinary destination that, in British Columbia, you can eat as well in the small town at the end of the road as you can at the center of the province's metropolis. In Tofino, population 1,400, there are enough exceptional restaurants that you can eat without compromise at a different place every night for a week. Well, maybe a five-day week. But it's impressive nonetheless.

The most renowned of Tofino's restaurants is the Pointe at the Wickaninnish Inn, where I challenged chef Jim Garroway to prepare an entire meal using ingredients only from British Columbia. He did me one better and used ingredients only from Vancouver Island, including baseball-sized oysters and a Dungeness crab the size of a small dog. I must confess I couldn't eat it all, though I came close. Nearby, at the brand-new Long Beach Lodge, open just one month, Texas-born chef Lisa Ahier has assembled a menu that focuses so clearly on local ingredients that her sous-chef is also the farmer who grows most of the restaurant's vegetables.


Fat Guy gets a baking lesson from chef Lisa Ahier of the Long Beach Lodge

The cuisine of British Columbia is all about ingredients, and they come from the sea as well as the inland valleys.

As you drive west from Vancouver through Agassiz, the self-proclaimed Corn Capital of Canada, and Hope, which claims to be the Chainsaw Carving Capital, and then you pass by the Hansel & Gretel Chinese Restaurant in Penticton, you'll be forgiven for thinking the culinary riches of the province are about to end. But the inland regions of British Columbia are the source of some of the world's best fruits, vegetables, and meats - most notably duck from the Fraser Valley. And the wines of the Okanagan region, which were for a long time an international joke, are now putting a stop to the laughter.

The folks in the British Columbia interior are - to a great extent - farmers, which means they wake up even earlier than Vancouverites or Vancouver Islanders. Chef Brian Fowke of Joe Fortes restaurant in Vancouver - no slouch himself in the early-rising department - drove me just out to the suburb of Surrey where we met farmers TJ and Ron Brar, brothers and owners of Evergreen Herbs Ltd. By 11 a.m. everybody was going home - they had been picking and packing since the middle of the night.

If a restaurant in Vancouver places an order with Evergreen in the evening, the herbs and baby vegetables will be hand-harvested early the next morning, packed, and shipped to the restaurant before lunchtime. You can taste the difference on the plate: such freshness creates almost the vegetable equivalent of sashimi.


An Evergreen Herbs employee in the nursery


Chef Brian Fowke of Joe Fortes and co-owner TJ Brar of Evergreen Herbs survey a greenhouse

But surely nobody rises earlier than the fishmongers along the coast. They begin their workdays around midnight, cutting and carving all night in preparation for morning delivery. When chef Fowke and I arrived down by the docks at 8 a.m., almost everybody had already gone home. We were, luckily, able to snag a just-caught 38-pound halibut from a straggler. It was the best halibut I've ever tasted.

Just when I thought I was the only person in the entire province who knew how to sleep, I ran into Vancouver chef Pino Posteraro. He's European; he knows how to relax, and sleep. He also knows how to cook: His restaurant, Cioppino's, is as good as or better than any Italian restaurant in New York or Toronto. Even his desserts are delicious, which you can't say about many Italian restaurants - unless you want to eat tiramisu with every meal.

We agreed to meet for brunch the next morning. "Should we say 11?" he suggested. We eyed each other knowingly:

"Better make it noon."




The Skinny on Fat Guy

Name: Steven A. Shaw

Age: 32

Height: 5-foot-10

Weight: 250 pounds

Residence: New York City

Professional experience: Gave up career as lawyer two years ago to pursue food writing (and eating) full time. Had already started his Web site, www.fat-guy.com, in 1998. The site has up to 300 restaurant entries.

Clippings: Articles in such publications as Food & Wine magazine, The Gazette, National Post and the New York Times. Winner of James Beard Award for culinary journalism.

TV: Featured in the U.S. documentary The Hot Dog in America. Was the star subject when, for some reason, New Zealand television did a feature on New York cuisine.

A book: The Menu New York (Ten Speed Press) comes out in fall.

Why he calls himself Fat Guy: "It's because I celebrate the tastes and attitudes of a fat guy who shamelessly enjoys eating despite fat or calories." (He points out that while he's not that huge, he's obese by U.S. and Canadian health guidelines.)

His eating strategy in Canada: "I'm pacing myself: I'm eating as many different things as I can at the fastest pace I can. I'll stop when I've eaten everything there is to eat in Canada, or I explode - whichever comes first."



Braised oxtail with honey roasted root vegetables and fingerling puree

David Hawksworth

Ouest Restaurant, Vancouver

Serves 4


1 oxtail cut into 6 equal cuts

1 lb pig’s caul

1 bottle of red wine (full bodied)

3 carrots

1 onion

1 garlic head

2 celery sticks

1 leek

1 tsp crushed black peppercorns

1 sprig of thyme

2 bayleafs

1 gallon veal stock

¼ gallon chicken stock

½ creamed horseradish

For Garnish

12 large fingerling potato’s

2 carrots

2 parnips

4 salsify stalks

4 golden beets ( small )

16 baby onions

1) Warm the red wine to just above room temperature

2) Marinate the oxtail and mirepox into the wine with the herbs & peppercorns for 24hrs

3) Remove the oxtail and in a hot pan colour all the surface of the meat, at the same time slowly cook the mirepox till soft. Once the mirepox is cooked add the red wine and reduce by 4/5, add the oxtails and cover with the veal, chicken stock. Cover with a cartuce and place in a medium oven for several hours till the meat begins to fall off the bone.

4) Strain off the braising liqour and separate the vegetables from the meat, reduce stock till sauce consisteny.

5) Remove the meat from the bone and combine with the carrots from the braising. Add the horseradish and a few tablespoons of the sauce, season with salt and pepper.

6) Form into a ball shape and let set, wrap in the caul and re-heat in the remaining sauce.

7) Cook the fingerling potato’s in boiling salted water with the skin on till cooked, peel the skin and push through a fine sieve, seperately warm ½ cup of milk in a large sauce pan and then mix potato’s and desired amount of butter till you have the right consistency.

8) Peel carrots, parnsips, salsify, into triangluar prism shape approx 4 inches in length. Saute the root veg till 75% cooked and then add 2 tsp of honey finish cooking. Seperately roast baby onions till lightly brown.

9) To serve, warm the oxtail in the jus then place a quenelle of the pomme puree to one side of the plate, place a spoon of sauted spinach on the other with caramelized veg around the spinach. Centre the portion of oxtail and pour sauce around it.


Even dogs dine well in Vancouver: The doggie room service at the Sutton Place Hotel


Photos by Ellen R. Shapiro

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No. 1, it's so nice to have these posted here at last. The photographs in the online newspaper versions looked so...diminutive. And those posted here, taken by Ellen, at the new resolution, are fabulous.

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Nice writeup Steve, and great pics.

But when are you going to finish the american part of the tour?

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Thanks, Jin.

And Jason, I'll finish the American part of the tour when you stop giving me so much damn work to do!

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That was marvelous. I'm proud to sorta know you.

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Jinmyo thank you for your kind words about my photos, however I should explain that they are not up to the standards I'd wished for them. The original plan was to shoot slides with my Leica R equipment for the duration of the project, but the newspaper folks changed gears early on and asked that we do all digital photography. This left me with several unusable bags full of film-camera equipment and one Kodak DC4800 digital camera that is only a small step above the point-and-shoot level and takes photos nowhere near as good as my Yashica T4 and Rollei Prego film point-and-shoots.

Don't get me wrong, the DC4800 is a decent piece of equipment by the standards of one year old "semi-pro" digital cameras. With nice natural light and a composition that supports the camera's lens characteristics you can get a 3.1 megapixel photo that blows up well enough to fill half a newspaper page as we did on several occasions and Kodak digitals render realistic images sometimes more so than film cameras under some conditions. Equipment is overemphasized by photographers on the whole as you can see if you look at the great photos the photographers of old took with crappy cameras and film but still for me on this project with one lens and a tiny on-camera electronic flash, every photo especially indoors was an uphill battle given the camera's super-slow shutter and horrific performance at close range. This combined with my skillset (I usually shoot adventure-travel stories, not food stories, and all my formal training has been in nature/outdoor photography) made it a big pain. Not to mention we had no time to do digital image manipulation on the road and neither it seems did the newspaper people for the most part so what you see here are almost all straight-from-the-CompactFlash-card-images.

There was also a question of focus and I mean that in the literary sense. We spent two weeks in British Columbia shooting aimlessly until just a couple of days before the deadline we got some clear instructions as to what the photo editors at the newspapers were looking for. Watch the progression of the photography as the series travels across Canada. At first the emphasis is on food photos because we thought this was food journalism, then you will see a migration to a lot of photos of Steven with his trademark goofy smile raising a glass to the camera surrounded by food because it became clear early on that Steven was to be the story and the food was to be fodder (remember we were also doing television cross-promotion the entire time), then you will see some attempts at more interesting compositions but still with him in the shot, and at the end you will see the signs of exhaustion!

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I just purchased the Nikon Coolpix 5700 5 megapixel  to replace my aging Olympus D340L. Let me know what you think.

Sexy looking piece of equipment.

Big-ass Zoom lens. :wacko:

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Looks like a good product but I'd like to see some photos taken with it. Maybe you'll post some on another thread. Should we start a digital cameras for food photography thread? You probably didn't need 5 megapixels (!) and of course you're giving up the convenience of a small camera. When you unsheath that thing in a restaurant people will run! But I wish I had one.

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My reasoning behind the 5MP was so I could ditch my SLR.

I havent gotten the unit yet, but dpreview.com has samples in the discussion forums that look really impressive.

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Even on the low-end some of the recent Nikons are damned impressive.

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Yeah, I was pretty much between the Canon G2, the Nikon 4500, and the Nikon 5700, and the Sony D7. At the various price points, and considering I wanted the telphoto capability, and the 5 megapixel, I was pretty much sold on the 5700.

It would have been nice to have a digi cam I could pocket in Rachel's handbag, but it would have sacrificed too many features and I wanted a serious leap above what I already had.

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Ellen, the migration to Steve as the focus for the pictures and the coverage was something I noted in looking at the online materials. I guess we (Canadians) were just so darned impressed by your both being from New York! Eating our food! And saying pretty nice things about it! Wow, made us feel pretty good about ourselves. :unsure::blink:

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GordonCooks: Just to clarify, this is all past tense. I was in Toronto last month. I'll be posting what I wrote about Toronto, probably sometime next week.

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Oops, I'd better start checking in a little more often.

Kudos to you and the staff on one - no, THE most interesting and thought provoking site about food and wine I've enjoyed.


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