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Q: You’ve both had experiences on Top Chef Canada…
Trevor Bird: Except that he won and I lost.
Matthew Stone: The experiences on the last day were slightly different for us. But up until that, it was the same.
Q: What was the biggest breakdown you saw?
TB: I definitely picked up an anonymous fellow naked off the floor at 5 in the morning because I thought he was dead, with the shower just hitting him in the face.
MS: I don’t have anything to beat that — that’s pretty good. The only thing I noticed is that the guys who smoked had a pretty hard time, because you’re on someone else’s schedule. These guys are jones-ing for a cigarette and they’ve got to wait — that’s where tempers, I think, can run a bit high.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to work in restaurants? David Gunawan from The Farmer’s Apprentice said the kitchen is a place for misfits.
TB: Definitely. I mean, I didn’t fit in in high school. My marks were terrible, and the restaurant industry was just a way to get drunk and high, make some extra coin, flip some pizzas. And then it just turned into, “Hey, I’m kinda good at this.” And that’s the only job I’ve ever had.
MS: Originally I wanted to get into sports broadcasting, when I was 16 years old, and I took this chef training course just so I could boil an egg and survive and still enjoy some decent food when I left home. I guess the instructor saw some promise in me, and the rest is kind of history.
Q: Matt says he ate pretty well growing up. Trevor, what was your formative experience with food?
TB: I was with a single mom and she was never there, so I was eating peanut-butter-and-cookie sandwiches for breakfast. You need to cover the whole bread with peanut butter, and then take three cookies — break one in half so you get edge-to-edge coverage with cookie and bread.
MS: That actually sounds pretty good. There are a lot of kids out there who would love to eat that. There are a lot of adults who would love to eat that.
Q: We have quite high food costs in Vancouver. Seafood, for example. It’s expensive to get good ingredients. How much of a challenge is that?
TB: Vancouver has amazing product. Yeah, it’s expensive, but it’s still a little bit cheaper than everywhere else in Canada. If you can get over the fact that for $30 you’re getting a small piece of sablefish and some vegetables, then you’re pretty good.
Q: Have people gotten their heads around that?
TB: I think Vancouver is home to the most demanding group of diners I’ve ever seen in my life.
MS: Certainly the most value-conscious. I don’t think I’ve heard the word “value” more than in Vancouver, as far as what diners are looking for. You go to the East Coast, whether it’s Toronto or New York or Europe — you don’t hear it as much. Obviously you want to be well-fed for what you pay, but in Vancouver that’s at the forefront of people’s minds.
TB: It’s an expensive-ass city. But on the East Coast you go to a nice restaurant and a main course will run you $45. You go to Europe and you’re paying £200 for a tasting menu. You try that here and you’d get annihilated.
Q: Let’s talk about annoying trends. Gluten-free is a big one. What about diners who come in and want to take your menu apart, who say, “I’ll have this main with this side, with this vegetable…”
TB: I always thought it would be interesting to have a restaurant that’s just build-your-own menu, where there’s a board and you just point.
MS: “There’s a massive walk-in in the back. You name it, we got it!”
Q: Do you think that being choosy is a Vancouver thing?
TB: Yep. As I said before, they’re the most demanding diners I’ve ever seen. You do a dinner in Calgary and there is not one vegetarian. Everybody’s like, “Sure, gluten. Whatever.” But here, if you do a dinner for 60 people, guaranteed five are going to have very specific problems.
Trevor Bird was runner-up on Top Chef Canada, Season 2. he worked in the kitchens of Lumière and the Shangri-la Hotel before opening his own restaurant, Fable, in Kitsilano.
Matthew Stowe was executive chef of Sonora Resort (north of Campbell River) before winning Season 3 of Top Chef Canada. He now serves as product development chef for Cactus Club Cafe.