Lifetime Achievement Award 2020: Scott Jaeger, The Pear Tree
Let’s be clear. Scott Jaeger is too young for this award. He almost certainly has another restaurant in him and, whatever genre it occupies, he’ll likely be back in these pages as an award-winner if he so chooses. But he also has a CV that is so monumental that maybe we don’t need to wait. He has as much high-end competition experience as probably any chef working in Canada today: representing the country at the Bocuse d’Or in 2008 and again in 2016, doing the same at 2013 World Hospitality Championships in Dubai. He was our Chef of the Year in 2007 and was given our Mentorship Award in 2014.
Photo by Carlo Ricci.
All of which makes him worthy. But even more importantly, we’re talking about his and business partner/wife/front of house manager Stephanie’s decision to open up a fine dining restaurant in a little loved section of Burnaby on New Year’s Eve 1997. The Pear Tree was at once a throwback to another era and a trailblazing newcomer that rejected the idea that downtown Vancouver was the only place haute cuisine could live.
Today, the word “fine dining” is avoided like the plague by restaurateurs anxious to ensure even the wearing-jeans-on-your-20th-anniversary-dinner diners feel at home, but from the get-go the Pear Tree was welcoming to all—with the proviso that they were going to cook serious food and deliver it at an immaculately high level of service every day that they opened the doors.
And it worked. It was beloved by both the neighbourhood and by those who travelled to that section of East Hastings for the first time merely to try Scott’s food. And rarely did anyone leave disappointed. It dominated its category in these awards with nonchalant regularity and still managed to feel like a hidden secret to patrons notwithstanding.
Sadly, we’re using the past tense in regards to the Pear Tree because, as we were finalizing the awards, the Jaegers announced they were closing the doors for good. It was the victim of obscene rent increases (although COVID didn’t help) that made the ability to operate a restaurant of such ambition and reach untenable—even in Burnaby. What such realities hold for the future of dining in Vancouver is not encouraging. But the sadness is tempered by the recognition that it took a pair of dreamers to make a go of it in the first place, and that against steep obstacles we were able to bask in it for 23 years (and we continue to be able to enjoy the skills of dozens of chefs still cooking throughout the city that Jaeger has mentored over the years).
So, it’s goodbye to the room, but not to the chef who brought it to us. For him, it’s this award, and passionate anticipation as to what comes next.