Restaurant of the Year 2014

When David Gunawan opened Gastown’s Wildebeest last year (with owners Josh Pape and James Iranzad), the city instantly understood the project: personality-driven cooking that made stars out of bit players like marrow or an unsung radish. Way beyond farm-to-table, his cooking decluttered precious, precarious plates, zeroing in on a few bursts of pure flavour and attention-getting texture to deliver a consistent experience of whole-animal, micro-local excellence.

That precision and confidence made all the difference as this year’s judges considered Gunawan’s new room, the recently opened 28-seat The Farmer’s Apprentice. From a field of contenders-Andrea Carlson’s similarly chef-driven casual boîte Burdock & Co.; Best Upscale threepeat Hawksworth-they were moved to single out Gunawan’s daily drama of transforming the morning’s black box of area ingredients into a coherent, edited menu. “It’s a complete game-changer,” said one judge. “The food really has a sense of discovery and curiosity, but grounded in hyper-local ingredients and formal techniques. There is an underlying Asian restraint that brings forth flavours awash in nostalgia. The room and service set the tone that this is more than a restaurant meal, but a dialogue between Gunawan and the diner.”

Chef wasn’t always so restrained. In his 20s, he dropped out of civil engineering to yoke himself to the kitchen, where hard work could take a rebel far. Youth’s ego-in his early years at Vancouver’s Gastropod and Chicago’s Les Nomades-finally calmed, first at West and Wildebeest, and especially now at 2014 Restaurant of the Year, The Farmer’s Apprentice. “It’s about purity of ingredients,” Gunawan has said. “Not masking its essence with tricks. A plate that has just two or three delicious ingredients is more impressive to me than one with 15. That’s courageous cooking.”