Take a stroll around the Inner Harbour and you’re sure to find it: The Gatsby Mansion. It’s a beautiful, romantic heritage site and a peek into Victoria’s past. Now imagine stepping inside and enjoying one of Victoria’s most decadent, elegant menus in the warmth and comfort of the old world. We were fortunate enough to get behind the scenes with Chef Travis Rawluk about the recent revitalization of the property, his food inspiration and what it’s like being a Chef in this incredible gastro-city.
TASTEMAG: The Gatsby Mansion is one of my favourite buildings in Victoria and it’s been revitalized recently! Can you tell me a few details of the project? What was the inspiration for the changes?
TRAVIS RAWLUK: Our goal was to bring the manor back to life. We wanted to bring the heritage of the building and the legacy of the original family to the forefront. Naming the restaurant Pendray to honor the family who helped shape Victoria was the first step, but we’ve also put a lot of work into the property. The garden is a focus of mine and I’m happy to say it’s literally coming back to life! There is something really satisfying about having a part in such a successful revitalization.
TM: That sounds incredible and it’s so great to hear that such an important part of Victoria’s heritage is being taken care of! Was there someone in particular who helmed this project or was is more of a collective effort?
TR: All the credit goes to our General Manager, Erin Cassels. With her vision and tireless passion, the Gatsby Mansion is entering the 21st century while maintaining all the integrity that a heritage property like this deserves; it’s really inspiring to be a part of the team that is helping her make it thrive. Here’s to Erin!
TM: Your menus are wonderful! I get so hungry just reading them. The holiday menus also look incredible! Tell me what inspires your menu and which dish do you most highly recommend?
TR: Wow, thanks! Yeah, I’m very pleased with the menu and the responses we’ve been getting are all really positive! I’d have to say that the one thing that inspires me most to create is just going for a walk around this beautiful city. All of the colours and smells of the city are so fresh and vibrant I just try to replicate all that in my dishes. If I had to choose one dish to recommend though…it’s not easy…but I’d have to say the seafood stew. It’s a great West Coast dish and a perfect way to warm up on these winter nights.
TM: In a city of so many dining choices, Pendray is in the top of the league; what makes it such a destination?
TR: You’re right, here in Victoria, we’re so lucky to have so many incredible dining choices. As much as I’d like to say that I think it’s my food, in all honesty I think what sets us apart are our servers. They are so amazing at their job and make all of our diners feel more like guests rather than just paying customers. The great service, combined with the old Victorian charm of the dining room and you’ve got a recipe for a great night, no matter what you order.
TM: Being located in a historical site, must make you so aware of the importance of community. Because of that, are there any local charities that you support?
TR: Yes, we take being an active part of the community really seriously. We support the Mustard Seed, Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, Veteran’s Association, and Art’s Reach. These are just a few of the incredible charities that are making this city a better place and we’re very proud to support them in their efforts.
TM: Ok it’s personal question time!
TR: Uh oh.
TM: I promise it’ll be painless! What’s something not many people know about you?
TR: I guess the first thing is that I’m not such a huge fan of personal questions! Only joking! Ok seriously, I was born in Edmonton, which means that I am and always will be an Oilers fan. I keep a special place for the Canucks in my heart because I love B.C. so much, but yeah, Oilers all the way. That being said though, who I cheer for depends on what city I’m in for sure.
TM: How long have you lived in Victoria and been a part of the hospitality industry?
TR: I’ve been in Victoria for…wow 17 years now! Since 1998...it’s weird to do the math. I’ve been in the hospitality industry since I was in high school but it wasn’t until I moved to Victoria that I really put my head down and started taking the culinary world seriously as a career I could excel in.
TM: When you get a day off, what are your top five things to do in Victoria?
TR: It’s tough to choose just five! But (in no particular order) I’d have to say the museum because there is always something fun going on there. Walking though the parks and enjoying the simple things in the city is always a great way to enjoy a day off. Then there are the Harbour Ferry rides. They’re such a great way to see Victoria’s waterfront from another angle and it makes going to places like Fisherman’s Warf even more fun. Fishing is another one of my faves. I mean, living in Victoria, on the water, how can that not make the list? Plus, it doesn’t get any fresher than cooking the fish you just caught. Then, there’s just strolling around the Inner Harbour. We have such a beautiful city that you can’t go wrong just wondering and looking at what this city has to offer. Often, I’ll finish the walk with a tour of the gardens at the Huntingdon Manor.
TM: Who is your foodie guru?
TR: My foodie guru…that’s a hard one. There are so many people who I could thank for having a hand in training me that I don’t think I could pick just one. There are the celebrity chefs that I have followed over the years who are great, but they come and go and I pick up a few things from one and a few from another. Then there are the guests that I have cooked for who’ve given me advice and feedback…not all of whom I’ve agreed with, but then again, there are those guests whose feedback has really made an impact. I guess my answer really, is that I can’t choose just one. It would be wrong to single out one when so many have inspired me and shaped who I am and how I cook. All that said though, my Granny is pretty close to the top.
TM: How does being a part of the Victoria dining scene inspire the menus at Pendray?
TR: I think being a part of Victoria dining really keeps me one my toes. You have to make sure your food is not only delicious and the flavors well balanced, but your plates have to be attractive. You have to have dishes that are exciting, but comforting, flavour combinations have to be unique but classic and appeal to so many people at the same time. It’s really a career that is a combination of tradesman and artisan, it’s tough, but I can’t think of a better fit for me, or a better city to be working in.
TM: What do you love about being a part of this community?
TR: The one thing I love the most, is just going out on the town and seeing what other places are offering. From food trucks to little tucked away gems to the bigger, well known places. Everyone really excels in this city and it’s not hard to go out and be inspired to take your game to the next level.
TM: If you had to predict the next big food movement in Victoria, what would it be?
TR: In the last ten years, food and dining has changed so much both in Victoria and on the Island as a whole. We’ve really taken the farm to table concept to heart and realized how important it is on so many levels; from the enhanced flavours and freshness to aiding the local economy it’s just such an integral part of our dining culture now. I mean, the Island has so much to offer it would be crazy not to take advantage of the great food grown and raised right here. Most restaurants worth their salt will source as much local product as possible and it has become so commonplace it sometimes doesn’t even specify ‘local’ on the menu – which is really great to see. I think the next step would be sourcing products from urban gardens to boost the interest and economy of local urban farming organizations.