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Among our Green Award panellists, there was immediate consensus: “Jeff Van Geest has quietly but consistently championed local ingredients since he first opened Aurora’s doors. Not only that, but he was one of the first chefs in the city to step up and look at his whole operation, and what impact it had on the environment.” Beyond the local, seasonal products on Aurora’s menus, you’ll find recycled-wood tables and flooring, energy-efficient lighting, and a complete recycling program, including a compost bin. “He sets a wonderful example for other young chefs.”
Van Geest, who trained at Vancouver Community College, completed an apprenticeship at Bishop’s Restaurant, where he worked as sous chef for many years. Long before 100-mile diets and ethically sourced proteins were fashionably trumpeted on menus, Van Geest and fellow Bishop’s alums (including Vikram Vij and Scott Kidd) were rigorously schooled in West Coast seasonal and the use of local, organic, sustainable ingredients elevated by both French and Asian cooking techniques. At Van Geest’s Aurora Bistro, which he opened to great acclaim in 2003, that ethos plays out in wonderfully executed dishes like tea-smoked Polderside duck with truffled Okanagan goat cheese, and Hazelmere Farm beets marinated in pickled-plum vinaigrette.
“A proprietor’s bottom line often wins out over a chef’s passion for quality ingredients,” says food critic Deana Lancaster, “but the discourse is far more interesting when owner and chef are the same person. Van Geest truly believes that food quality and the environment suffer when we import out-of-season ingredients, so he simply doesn’t do it. Best of all, he’s as good at cooking as he is at finding local produce, sustainable seafood, and non-medicated meat.”
Thanks to our panel: André LaRivière, executive director of Green Table; Herb Barbolet, founder of Farm Folk/City Folk; and John Bishop, owner/proprietor of Bishop’s and winner of this magazine’s inaugural Green Award.