Chef Mark Best

To West.

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Not so far from the famous Opera House and Sydney Harbour, on Crown Street, sits Marque Restaurant, where star chef Mark Best has made his place in the local culinary scene, but with plenty of international recognition along the way. He worked with such luminaries as Raymond Blanc and Alain Passard, before opening Marque in 1999; his cooking shows a remarkable flair for French technique, locally-inspired ingredients, and a definite Asian influence.

During a recent personal visit to Vancouver, chef Best, along with local culinary guru Nathan Fong and Tourism Vancouver’s Lucas Pavan, decided to visit restaurants and meet a few local chefs. In West’s Quang Dang he found something of a kindred spirit, in terms of being adventuresome on a plate. A special dinner was born.

“I love Vancouver, and this region,” says Best, as he takes a few moments before dinner prep really kicks into high gear. He has recently re-acquainted himself with West pastry chef Rhonda Viani. “She was my first pastry chef at Marque,” he marvels, as he picks up his espresso. “There are quite a few similarities with our own local resources in and around Sydney. Seafood, certainly. And clearly, clients are expecting local, sustainable.” Chef Dang nods in agreement. “We were excited to have chef Best here, it is a great learning experience,” he says. “No doubt we are on the same page, sourcing ingredients, being sustainable, and open to influences from other world cuisines.” They have just finished prepping geoduck for one of the evening’s courses, and Best says, “Just take that geoduck as an example: five years ago it might not even be available here. The product would have all been purchased and shipped to the East.” Quang agrees, and notes that “we have to get up pretty early in the morning sometimes, to get the products we want. It is competitive, for sure. We are just learning how important it is to keep a portion of our local ingredients here.”

All the more reason for diners to appreciate what they can eat. “These days,” says Best, “there is a multitude of influences, but you don’t want the menu to read like an atlas.” He pauses, adds, “Canada is a great brand when it comes to food. It means quality, and on the international market that is so important. Consumer knowledge has never been keener, and at the restaurant level, that means they are driving the demand for local and sustainable. But I think there is a trickledown effect from there, from fine dining and its fairly affluent niche, to everyday consumption, and how the entire food supply chain works.” Dang agrees, adding that “you can see the difference just in the number of farmers’ markets that thrive around here. It used to be really only one, but now there are dozens.”

It does not take much for both chefs to engage with each other on their common grounds and similar approaches to the issues of the day. The conversation runs hot, and the passion is obvious. But then a call comes from the kitchen, and it is time to get back to the real work at hand: prepping, cooking, and sharing food with the lucky guests who will begin to arrive in less than 90 minutes. After all, talk is one thing. Actually cooking according to extensive knowledge and a detailed plan, well, that is a whole other thing.

Photos courtesy of Tourism Vancouver | Coast Mountain Photography.

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February 3, 2016