Vancouver’s Next Great Chefs: Angus An

“You don’t eat enough vegetables,” Angus An tells me, laughing. He’s shopping for produce amid the jostling tumult of Chinatown’s markets. “When I was growing up, vegetables were always a crucial part of each meal.” He gathers fistfuls of asparagus lettuce and sawtooth coriander. “Most white kids I knew didn’t eat many vegetables. I don’t know why.” (I think of the side dishes I struggled through as a kid: broccoli boiled mercilessly into submission, sometimes buoyed, unconvincingly, by Cheez Whiz.)

An trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York, where his routine was gruelling even by chef standards: commuting each morning from New Jersey (where he bunked with relatives), attending cooking school all day, then riding a rush-hour subway to the Upper East Side, for an externship at Jean-George Vonderichten’s JoJo, where he worked in a basement kitchen that was hot as a boiler room. “I was so nervous,” he recalls. “I remember cutting myself so many times.” The pace seemed to strengthen him: he graduated first in his class.

An’s next stop was Montreal’s Toqué, which he credits with building his confidence and creativity. During a stint in the U.K. at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck—a mecca for molecular gastronomy and one of the most innovative kitchens in the world—An was underwhelmed. He saw chefs using ostentatious techniques just to show they could, with no respect for ingredients. “I saw frozen foie gras, frozen truffles, ready-made fruit purées,” he recalls, “and I thought, ‘This is the best restaurant in the world?’”

An does employ avant-garde techniques at his minimalist Fourth Avenue eatery, Gastropod, but he maintains that “food should be about ingredients first, not technique for technique’s sake.”