MONTECRISTO

Marika Richoz Private Dining

The world’s most famous chefs and celebrated restaurants offer a heightened culinary experience, presenting more than just food the way we understand it. Innovation is as important as continued quality when it comes to palatable excellence, and the globe’s top dogs are recognized for their ability to continue pushing the boundaries of what food is and can be.

Marika Richoz is not that kind of chef.

While the Vancouver-based private cook appreciates and admires heightened fine dining as much as the next foodie, she doesn’t set out to serve it herself. In fact, what she creates is almost entirely the opposite: it’s classic, comforting, nourishing, home-style grub. Perhaps the only thing she has in common with the Michelin starred-chefs is that her creations taste entirely fantastic.

“It’s like art, it really is: your senses are being turned on,” Richoz says of the advanced molecular gastronomy found in the world’s best establishments. “But what I find is really interesting, and this is why I’m very different from that sort of chef, is I don’t know if it’s food you crave. I don’t know if you’d go, ‘I really want that foamy liquid nitrogen from that high-end place.’ People crave often what their mother cooked them, and I think there’s that element to my food. I want it to feel nurturing.”

Richoz never set out to prepare food for a living. She was an executive assistant at a real estate development company when she took a trip to Buenos Aires and had an unforgettable meal at an underground restaurant located in the chef’s house. She fell in love with the concept and, having been a long-time hobby cook, decided to try the model herself back home in Vancouver.

She kept her nine-to-five, hosting weekend dining clubs out of her picturesque, Pinterest-worthy South Granville apartment. But soon word began to spread, and one year later, she quit the real estate firm. A couple flew her to France to cook for them for a summer; she served a meal to a famous Irish musician when he was in town; she made dinners at Northern B.C.’s Bearpaw Heli-Skiing resort. Now she packs her days with private brunches, lunches, and dinners, catering to anyone interested: lovebirds, colleagues, celebrities, even tables full of strangers. “How I like to cook is to make it feel very homey, no matter where it is,” Richoz explains. “I feel that food and meals are such a connector for people, and I want to be part of that. I don’t just want to be putting food on a plate—I want to hear the stories, and I want to connect with the people. That’s always been the part that I enjoy the most.” It’s not about finding new ways to prepare celery; it’s about clearing the best paths to form bonds with the people she’s serving.

Her food is simple, artful, wholesome, high-quality, and bursting with flavour; it’s the culinary equivalent of your favourite cashmere sweater. There is crunchy vegan kale Caesar salad; a poached egg atop a latke of beets and yams; homemade bread perfect for dipping in broccoli and cheese soup. Richoz’s unpretentious offerings are often vegan and gluten-free, but they won’t taste as such. What she presents is a simple yet truly delightful menu, which changes daily, that is fresh and modern, but at the same time approachable and relaxed.

It’s a comfort evident in the atmosphere just as much as the food. Dressed casually in jeans and Converse sneakers, Richoz runs the entire operation herself, doing all of the cooking and serving. She likes it that way. “That’s why I always like to keep things small and have that connection with the people I feed,” she explains. “Because I think if you’re in the back there’s this cut-off, and you really don’t know who made your food—and it can taste great, but there’s such a difference when you see that person and they talk to you about it.” She takes time to converse with guests, asking for feedback and making sure all needs are met. It feels like going to a friend’s house for dinner, and in a way that is exactly what it is.

With no formal training, Richoz rose from hobby chef to professional cook with nothing but the apron around her waist and the vision in her mind. Though at times she does feel insecure around traditionally-educated chefs, she has firmly julienned a place for herself in the industry. “When people find out that you are following your passion and you have a positive attitude about it, they really want to help out,” she says. “I found that’s been one of the really beautiful things, is seeing how much people are willing to help you get there.” She mentions the network of people she has been introduced to, and the effect that word-of-mouth has had on her business. Going forward, she says she hopes to collaborate with other chefs on special dinners, and to continue the intimate, welcoming private dining events out of her rustic little home. “I’m lucky,” she says of her foraged path. Then, with a smile: “Everybody seems to want to eat all the time.”

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