An Interview at Pendray

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.


An Interview at The Guild Freehouse

guild

/gild/

noun

 

- an association of people for mutual aid or the pursuit of a common goal.

 

If there was ever a restaurant that was so aptly named, so literal in it’s nomenclature, it would be The Guild Freehouse. Located on Warf Street in Victoria’s picturesque Inner Harbour The Guild is the embodiment of passion and commitment to quality. We sat down with owner, John Watson to discuss what makes The Guild such a hub of like minded foodies.

 

TASTE MAG: I understand that owner of The Guild is a fairly new role for you, what was it that drew you to this place with so many restaurants in the city?

JOHN WATSON: “A guild is really what this place is – it’s a group of passionate people that want to support each other to make something really great. I was drawn to that idea and have really found an incredible team here – everyone has strengths and weaknesses and here at The Guild we really compliment each other by recognizing that and working together as a unit. I think the moment I really fell for this place though, was when I ate The Rueben. I seriously devoured it and was blown away when I found out that the reason it tasted so great was that the sauerkraut was made in-house. It really made all the difference. After that I was a quality convert – you can actually taste the passion and care behind the food.”  

 

TM: I hear that The Guild is becoming a bit of a hot-spot for functions! it’s certainly a beautiful space, but what is it that makes it such a go-to place as a venue?

bar chalkboard and light.jpg

JW: “Yeah! Seems that way! We’ve hosted a lot of private functions so far, and each party has had rave reviews about their experience. It’s great because the building we’re in means that our function capacity is really malleable.  Like, we’re able to accommodate parties from 10 to 220 people because we’ve got an 80 person capacity down stairs and a 140 person capacity upstairs. With a fully functioning kitchen and bar upstairs too, you can book out the top section, the bottom or both, depending on your needs. We’re also more than happy to work with the client and make a customized menu, and we’ve got an event planner on staff to help you along and make sure it goes off without a hitch. Just give us a call and we can set up the rest!”     

 

TM: Looks like I’ve got my next birthday spot then! Let’s talk food: I know that you have a fantastic brunch menu, so this may be tough to answer, but if you had to choose, which brunch dish would be your ‘Must Try’?

JW: “Definitely the Mushrooms on Brioche Toast. It’s so delicious and simple, but decedent at the same time. Plus, the brioche is made right here so you can’t really go wrong. If I’m being honest though, all of our menu items are really fantastic and well thought out. I mean, our bacon is smoked and cured in house, so we’re involved in every stage of the culinary process which ensures that our guests are really getting top notch quality, every time.”

 

TM: Being a part of a relatively small downtown core and being a business in a heritage building must make you really community minded:

JW: “Oh absolutely! If there is one thing that I’ve learned from being in this industry and in this community is that giving back and taking care of the community that you live in is really, really important. In the past we’ve donated to Cops for Cancer, but honestly, I really want to kick it up a notch. I’ve got a charity poker tournament in the works so stay tuned for that!”

 

TM: What can you tell us about John Watson that not many people know?

JW: “Well I grew up in New Zealand and when I was 18 I moved to Victoria with my Mom. She moved back a few years later, but I decided to stay. I have to say, it was pretty tough. I was working as a line cook for minimum wage, I didn’t have a family support system and I was…well…not exactly responsible. I was pretty reckless with my money and I wound up in some sticky spots, more than once. But on the other side of the coin, it was a great learning experience, I had a lot of fun, and made some incredible memories. And now I’m at The Guild and loving it…I just sometimes wish it didn’t take 10 years to get here!”

 

TM: So you’ve been a Victorian for a long time!

JW: “Yeah! I definitely consider myself a local for sure. My first place was on Grant Street and since then I’ve moved all around the downtown core. I can’t imagine living anywhere else, I mean, in my opinion, Canada is the best country in the world and we live in the best city in Canada, so really, I’m living in the best city in the world. Like right now, I’m looking out my window at the Inner Harbour and I can’t help thinking “wow”. It may be expensive, but it’s worth it.”

 

TM: You must know the city like the back of your hand, so when you get the day off, which I’m sure is rare right now, what do you do?

JW: “Oh man you’re so right, it’s rare to get the day off, but when I do I like visiting other places in town. This is a great city for that, you can make almost anywhere a home away from home. You can usually find me at hanging out with Lee at Fiamo’s, or Willis from 10 acres. North 48 is another favourite – those are the places that for me are all about good food and good people. And I suppose I should fess up – I’m a gamer and a movie watcher. Sometimes there is nothing better than just hanging at home.”

 

TM: Is there anyone that you would consider your ‘foodie guru’?

JW: “It’s funny, my passion for food really comes out when I’m in my own kitchen, way more than it ever did as a cook – that’s just me though, I am fueled by interacting with people and looking at food from this perspective really inspires me. If I had to pick a ‘foodie guru’ though, I’d have to say that right now, it’s Chef Sam. His talent, ability and yes I’ll say it again, passion, is infectious. The other person that springs to mind though is John Waller from the Oak Bay Marina. I used to work with him and he was so inspiring to work with.”

 

TM: How does being a part of the Victoria community inform your plans and menus for The Guild?

JW: “There’s no doubt, Victoria is one of the most competitive cities to open a restaurant in – and I think that is what drives us. You have to be on top of your game all the time because if you aren’t you’ll get slaughtered. We really want to be a place where locals can come and have fun in a refined but cozy atmosphere. Sure, having a busy tourist season is a bonus, but having the support of our community is what is going to make or break any restaurant. As far as our food goes, our menu showcases as much local food as we can get. Living on Vancouver Island means that we have access to amazing, local products, so why not take advantage of that! I think also though, our menu can sometimes look a little heavy for health-minded locals with things like Fish Pie being showcased. But what is really important is that, yeah we make comfort food, but even the ‘heaviest’ dish isn’t going to leave you feeling awful and that all comes down to the ingredients. We use fresh whole foods and everything is made in house, so sure we cook with butter and cream but there isn’t anything processed on our menu, and that really makes all the difference.”

 

TM: What do you love about being a part of the Victoria dining scene?

JW: “Passion is the key to success in Victoria for sure and so we’ve aimed to hire and collaborate with people who have that level of passion that is going to make everything about The Guild great. From the food to the service and the cocktails, we want to make sure that our customers really feel and taste how important great quality is to us.”

 

TM: In your opinion, what has changed in the Victoria dining scene in the last 10 years?

JW: “People in Victoria are so knowledgeable and so aware of making sure they know what they’re eating. They want to know what the ingredients are and where they come from – and so do we. Being a part of the local food movement and seeing how people are responding to it is really cool.”

 

TM: What do you picture the next 10 years looking like for the Victoria food scene?

JW: “The food truck movement is exploding and I think that it’ll only grow. Victoria is a walking city, so it would make sense for food trucks to be everywhere soon.”

 

TM: If The Guild were a person, how would you describe it’s personality?

JW: “Oh man…that’s a tough one. OK here it goes:

The Guild would be a really dapper guy, always chivalrous and makes everyone feel at ease. He knows a ton about food and drink, can order a scotch like a connoisseur but can also bro down with a beer. He’s tons of fun, but knows when it’s time to call a cab. A gentleman through and through.”   

You Down with ICC? How Vancouver Island’s Chefs are keeping it Regional

Recently, the global community celebrated Earth Day – an event that attracts everyone from idealists and empty-gesturers to activists and bona fide eco-warriors. But agendas aside, the perennial message remains consistent: it’s time to take responsibility for the wellbeing of our planet!

If we’re being completely honest, involvement for most is relegated to well-meaning posts, tweets and likes (spread the good word, right?) and of course, semi-vigilant domestic composting and recycling. Bottom line? Most of us go to bed at night, safe in the knowledge that in some small way, we’re doing our part.

Sure, some Vancouver Islanders are doing more than others. Salt Spring Island Coffee’s multiple conscious, sustainable programs, or the City of Victoria’s Sustainability Action Plan. Then there are the green minded merchants like The Good Planet on Fort Street – but one of the biggest shifts in the Capital Region over the last few years in the proliferation of the sustainable food movement – a philosophy that has evolved into an industry standard. Where did this delicious green groundswell start? Let’s rewind to the late 1990’s…

Once upon a time, a group of top Victoria chefs came together to create the Island Chef Collaborative or ICC. The common denominator? A commitment to regional food security, the preservation of farmland and the development of local food systems – a vision that would grow into Vancouver Island’s booming sustainable food system. Fast-forward to the present and the ICC are raising funds to generate microloans that enable local farms to grow more food and better connect with local merchants. How have they become so effective?

By maintaining a broadly based membership of chefs, food industry professionals and individuals who share their values and concerns, the ICC achieves a collaborative working style that empowers those committed to actively accomplishing their goals. In doing so, they have succeeded in increasing awareness of locally produced foodstuffs by promoting them in the city’s businesses and featuring them on local menus, while also educating the public about the ecological and economic benefits of buying locally.

Now more than ever, people are recognizing the importance of locally sourced food – something that’s reflected in the ever-increasing demand. But there is a downside: many producers are finding it more challenging than they’d anticipated. Storage, processing and distribution make up one tall order and small operations simply don’t have the bankroll to stay in the game.

The Victoria Food Hub will change all that.

As early as this year, the ICC aims to provide a physical infrastructure for local food banks, farmers and distributors. The Victoria Community Food Hub Society will create the inertia (and resources) required to create locally sustainable food systems on the Island.

But there’s more to the big picture: the ICC is investing in tomorrow’s ecologically minded gourmands by teaming up with the Vancouver-based Growing Chefs! Chefs for Children’s Urban Agriculture program. Since 2005 Growing Chefs! has been educating children, families and communities about healthy, sustainable food practices.

Not only does Growing Chefs! provide an in-class, hands-on environment to teach children about growing and cooking food; it also provides an avenue for chefs and growers to engage more of their community in the promotion of urban agriculture.

Earth Day might be just one square on the calendar, but it serves as a good reminder to keep it green the other 364 days. And no one’s leading the charge quite like the ICC.

Bravo!