Vancouver’s Best Restaurant Suppliers

Two Rivers Meats

Call it farm-to-table, call it gastro-accountability: the chef’s insistence on knowing exactly where his provisions come from, the diner’s on protein free of the factory regimen. Jason and Margot Pleym became part of this trend when they opened Two Rivers Meats in North Van in 2008. Jason, 37, had been working in the meat trade for Hills Foods, seeking to grow the business using exotic proteins (like muskox and kangaroo). Margot’s dad had co-founded Pemberton Meadows Natural Beef, and they started talking about how to get better protein from more common livestock. Cows calve early in the year, so what if, instead of auctioning them in the fall for shipment to feedlots in Alberta, they carefully controlled the animals’ diet and environment and finished the beef themselves? Soon another farm signed on, and they were off to the races. Four years later, Two Rivers sources protein from dozens of small farms (like Sloping Hill and Fraser Valley Farms) to sell to many of the best local rooms (Bishops, Raincity Grill, Oru, Chambar, Hawksworth, Cioppino’s, Habit, Wild Rice, Cibo, Ensemble, etc.). Business has grown by as much as 80 percent each year, and the original husband-and-wife operation now has 26 employees. Old-fashioned? Whatever you call it, it’s a success story that speaks to our desire to understand where our food comes from, and the Pleyms’ belief that a free-range, hormone- and antibiotic-free approach to farming animals would pay off on the plate,
and the palette.

Organic Ocean

When Steve Johansen created Organic Ocean 10 years ago with lifelong friend Dane Chauval, he began with a simple idea: he and a half-dozen independent fisherman believed in dealing directly with their customers. Johansen, 44, often delivers the product himself to the local kitchens he supplies (like C Restaurant, Blue Water Cafe, Raincity Grill, Campagnolo, and Vij’s), though in recent years the number of rooms has grown to over 100 in North America. He and partners harvest and sell only OceanWise scallops, albacore tuna, salmon, halibut, lingcod, and, most famously, the heroes of Vancouver’s wildly popular Spot Prawn Festival in early May. Johansen dreamt up the fest five years ago with the Chefs’ Table Society of B.C. and C Restaurant executive chef Robert Clark. “Steve fished sustainably before it was even a concept,” says Clark of his longtime colleague. “With Organic Ocean, he’s done a lot for increasing the quality of seafood in Vancouver and elevating awareness of the sustainably harvested seafood movement.” “We’re very proud of what we do,” says Johansen. “Spot prawn season is coming, and I’m counting the days like it’s Christmas.”

Origin Organics

At Raymond Wong’s greenhouses in Delta and Langley, Origin Organics grows 23 acres of bell peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes to distribute to restaurants and grocery stores across North America. The slow economy affected sales in recent years (no crop in the South Surrey greenhouse this season), but the cost premium for organic (the company, founded in 1997, was certified in 2005) has been shrinking and sales are again on the rise. Wong, 37, a UBC grad who studied agricultural engineering and biotechnology, is constantly tweaking irrigation methods, fertilizers, and growing medium. The company’s profitability depends on a complex equation involving natural gas prices, the U.S. exchange rate, inventory control, and shipping costs. One thing, though, is constant: quality and flavour. “Tomatoes are a staple in my culinary world,” says Pino Posteraro of Cioppino’s, where Origin produce is a mainstay. “They make consistently excellent ones—organic, local, sustainable—and for a very long season, which is great when there is uncertainty around the weather. We’ve been having difficult summers for field tomatoes, with no sun to ‘kiss’ them, so these green-
houses are a godsend.”

Farm House Natural Cheeses

The washed-curd, washed-rind Farm House Alpine Gold cheese greets you with a pungent nose. Don’t be fooled: it gives way to a surprisingly soft flavour, perfect for noshing with a glass of Gewürztraminer. Chef Adrian Beaty of Seasonal 56 in Langley uses it to stuff a chicken breast, elevate a potato gratin, and goo-ify a humble grilled cheese. In fact, 90 percent of the cheese Beaty uses comes from the Farm House Natural Cheeses dairy in Agassiz. “All of our cheeses are made with milk from our own cows or goats, using simple, traditional recipes and methods,” says Michael Pollan-quoting head cheesemaker Debra Amrein-Boyes, who grew up on a beef and grain farm in Hoosier, Saskatchewan; her father and uncles are in the Canadian Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, but it was only during a 10-year stint in Switzerland (her mother was Swiss) that she learned about cheese and cheesemaking.
Farm House produces a dozen or so styles: firm, soft, blue, goat. The cows (Brown Swiss, Guernsey, and Holstein; they produce a more flavourful milk, with higher solids) and goats feed on naturally good hay and grain in the winter, and fresh green grass in the summer (lending bright flavour to their Heidi gruyere).
Andrea Carlson, chef/owner of the new Burdock and Co., has been a huge fan of Farm House since they came to her attention researching her first 100-Mile menu years ago at Raincity Grill. “I frequently go back to St. George, La Pyramide, and Castle Blue for cheese plates as they are always aged beautifully. For cooking I enjoy goat Caerphilly—it provides robust, tangy, nutty, and rich flavours that really come through and add to the finishing of a dish like gnocchi.” Happy cows and goats make for premium cheese—and happy chefs. 

Helmers’ Organic Farm

When Pear Tree executive chef Scott Jaeger represented Canada in the prestigious Bocuse d’Or competition in 2007, he hauled Helmers’ Organic Farm celeriac and potatoes all the way to France. West restaurant’s executive chef Quang Dang is also hooked, and roasts the buttery Sieglinde variety on a bed of salt until the skin is crisp. Dang attributes the potatoes’ quality and taste to nutrient-rich soil and the hard work of farmers Doug and Jeanette Helmer, who handle their veg with kid gloves and treat their buyers like adoptive parents. In the ’80s, the two cleared land (originally homesteaded by Doug’s grandfather) in Pemberton; the glacier-silt soil had never been contaminated with fertilizers, making the Helmers the first in the area to grow organic potatoes. They explored numerous varieties, and now grow up to 18 kinds of potatoes on seven acres, selling them at farmers markets (at stalls run by their daughters) and the Cambie location of Whole Foods. Just don’t mess with them too much after you’ve bought them. Says Jaeger: “When a potato is that good, it’s a matter of cooking it right and leaving it alone.”