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Incredible Lego, handmade furniture and sentimental menus highlight the Maenam chef's living room.
Angus An has a lot of Lego. Even a quick scan of his cozy East Van abode yields detailed models of quaint neighbourhoods, intergalactic transportation and historic structures (the massive Colosseum is a standout). And upon closer inspection, there’s even more. The delicate pink orchids? Lego. The tiny dinosaur skeletons? Lego. The typewriter? Also Lego—and with working buttons.
“We don’t have a kitchen table, so we eat every meal in this room,” says An. It’s appropriate that his favourite space in the family home is where they eat—after all, the chef/owner of some of the Lower Mainland’s most obsessed-over restaurants (including our 2023 Best Thai Restaurant Award winner Maenam, New West gem Longtail Kitchen and two locations of casual fave Fat Mao Noodles) knows the value of sharing a good meal. “Food brings people together—that’s one of the reasons I got into cooking,” he says.
But when it comes to design, much of An’s dining room actually came together during a time when there wasn’t much cooking to be done (at least not in his restaurants). “During COVID, I started teaching myself woodworking… and for a year and a half, I was pretty much a full-time furniture maker,” he says with a laugh. It started with an LED wall sconce made from wood offcuts. As time went on, his projects became more meaningful and more complicated—from a liquor cabinet honouring a late carpenter friend to the room’s centrepiece: a bookmatched curly walnut dining room table. “With every project, I wanted to learn a new technique,” says An.
The craftsmanship may be traditional, but the building that takes place atop An’s furniture creations is decidedly more modern: the dining room is also where the chef and his 15-year-old-son Aidan build impressive, colourful, intricate worlds out of blocks. “Our holiday tradition has always been building Lego together,” he explains, “and each one of these modular houses represents one year of my son’s life, and the memories we share.” Every year they get one big Lego set and put it together as a family.
Whether gathering for a celebratory meal, doing math homework or building the next colossal Lego masterpiece, this is where it happens. “This is the room we use the most,” says An. “It’s more than just a dining room.”
“It was my dream to have a set of Bocci lights at home. After I finished my dining table, I felt like the room had finally come together, and I spoke with Bocci about what would work best—together we decided on 21.21. I absolutely love these lights.”
“My liquor cabinet was the first complex piece of furniture I built during COVID. My dear friend Jim was a great carpenter, and we always talked about building this piece together. Unfortunately, he passed away from cancer and I never got the chance to do this with him. During COVID I took the opportunity—and the inspiration from him—to teach myself, and this piece led to many others.”
“My dining table is one of the last pieces I built before work got busy again,” says Angus An. “During COVID, I became obsessed with furniture making, more specifically hardwood and traditional Japanese joinery. This table is inspired by the late Japanese architect George Nakashima. I had so much fun making this project, and from start to finish this piece took several months.”
“This painting by Derek Dunlop was a piece commissioned for the opening of Gastropod [the West 4th restaurant that eventually rebranded, becoming Maenam]. Derek was a former student of Ken Lum, my former teacher and my business partner at that time. It’s an abstract painting of people feasting, and it always reminds me of the Gastropod days.”
“We have way too much Lego in our house. I have donated a ton, but kept the ones that are meaningful. In our dining room, we have the Super Star Destroyer (pictured above—it was Aidan’s first Mega UCS (Ultimate Collector Series). When it was completed, it was actually bigger than him.”
“I love this series of work, Ginseng Roots, from Evan Lee—the prints have so much detail and life. It’s important to support local artists. Evan is a friend of another artist I love, George Vergette. I have a couple of George’s pieces in the living room.”
“I had dinner at Michel Bras [in France] back in 2005—I was visiting one of my best friends, Hans, who was on the pastry team there. It was by far the most memorable meal of my life. Every piece of food had a purpose; everything was so simple, but so meaningful and so well-executed. I ended the dinner with a one-hour dessert course in the kitchen while they were cleaning up. The next morning the team took me porcini picking, and then we cooked breakfast with our trophies. It was the best culinary experience I have ever had. Michel signed both a cookbook and the menu for me.”
“I love the souvlaki and paidakia at Loula’s Taverna and Bar (1608 Commercial Dr., loulastaverna.com). Another favourite is Merci Beaucoup Cafe (1468 Commercial Dr., mercibeaucoupcafe.com)—I was sad when Au Petit Café closed, but also happy to hear that their chef was opening a place near me. The crispy spring rolls, beef stew rice and signature pho are all great.”
“I cook a lot at home, and love to go to Persia Foods (1730 Commercial Dr., persiafoods.ca) and La Grotta Del Formaggio (1791 Commercial Dr., lagrottadelformaggio.com) for ingredients. At Persia Foods, you will find fresh herbs and vegetables as well as imported and rare spices. I go through a ton of olive oil at home—La Grotta has some of the best selections in the city, as well as really good dried pastas. I often finish my shopping off at Liberty Wines (1622 Commercial Dr., libertywinemerchants.com) for a bottle of champagne (or two) for dinner.”
This story was originally published in the July/August 2023 print issue of Vancouver Magazine—find the digital issue here and subscribe now for free!