Restaurant Awards 2024: Chef of the Year, Lee Cooper of L’Abattoir

The exec chef and owner of L'Abattoir brings both culinary prowess and cool to the Vancouver restaurant scene.

Vancouver magazine’s Chef of the Year for 2024 is… Lee Cooper, owner and executive chef at L’Abattoir

If you ask Lee Cooper about his culinary career, he might rewind a couple of decades and tell you about what it was like being the opening sous chef at the Shangri-La’s Market by Jean Georges, or sous for the legendary Scott Jaeger at the Pear Tree. Or he might jump back a bit more to his Europe days, when he was chef de partie at the much-awarded Fat Duck. Then he could think back further still and recall apprenticing under Rob Butters at Kelowna’s Fresco or Michael Allemeier’s sous chef at Mission Hill Winery. And before that? Working for his uncle Bernie (that’s Bernard Casavant, the first Western Canadian chef to represent the country in France’s Bocuse d’Or).

Or perhaps he could start at the very beginning, when he washed lettuce and sliced tomatoes at his dad’s A&W in Nanaimo. “I was, for better or for worse, born into this business,” Cooper jokes. His diverse resume explains, in part, why his Gastown restaurant, L’Abattoir, is so unique. “I still struggle to even describe what our restaurant is,” says the chef. “It’s got a French name… but it’s not really French.”

Chef Lee Cooper. Photo by Tanya Gohering.

Cooper opened L’Abattoir with Nin Rai (Truffles Fine Foods) and Paul Grunberg (Banda Volpi group) in 2010. And while elevated food in a laidback atmosphere might be a classic Vancouver restaurant archetype now, it wasn’t back then. “We wanted to provide the food and the service of a fine dining restaurant environment, but make sure you could be relaxed and have fun and maybe have one too many drinks,” says Cooper. “The whole thing was built around wanting this restaurant to be, like, fucking cool.”

Photo by Eric Milic Photography.

And cool it absolutely is—the chef’s creative, rule-breaking and elevated cooking makes it so. Our judging panel commended Cooper for “fine dining without pretension,” the “precision and sheer beauty of his plates” and “an unceasing focus in evolving his menu to reflect his huge technical talent and culinary imagination.” Take the steak tartare with bluefin otoro and fried shiso or the Gaspor pork loin with clams, chorizo-filled morel mushrooms and parsley sauce—everything on the plate is as thoughtful as it is tasty. A few choice dishes (like the baked Pacific oyster with black truffle oil and whipped garlic butter) have been on the menu for years, but otherwise the lineup changes often: with the seasons, with local produce, with the whims of the team. “Sometimes we’ll change something just because we’re bored of looking at it,” Cooper shares.

Photo by Eric Milic Photography.

L’Abattoir has grown up alongside its chef, and now Cooper is prioritizing paying it forward, offering mentorship, practicums and collaboration opportunities to up-and-coming chefs. The restaurant’s No.1 Gaoler’s Mews dinners benefit local charities (this year, they’re donating proceeds to the Downtown East Side Neighbourhood House). And in the kitchen, the chef continues to innovate and push himself and his team to the very top of their game. “We try to do things other people can’t, and we try to do them at pace,” he says. “If it was easy, it wouldn’t be fun.”

Photo by Eric Milic Photography.

By not catering to a strict set of rules and staying true to the soul of the chef, L’Abattoir has managed to at once be a restaurant that’s difficult to categorize but also easy to recognize—the restaurant is a mainstay on Canada’s 100 Best, the Michelin Guide’s recommended list and, of course, the Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards (L’Abattoir won two silver medals in this year’s awards—yes, one of them is Best French—and is a finalist in the Best Gastown Reader’s Choice Award). Forget standard classification: we can all agree it’s fucking cool.

217 Carrall St., Vancouver

Chef Lee Cooper. Photo by Tanya Goehring.

Find more of the best Vancouver restaurants on our list of 2024 Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Award winners.