Marc-André Choquette appears remarkably calm, sitting in the Voya dining room in the Loden Hotel. The place opened only two weeks prior, after much anticipation. Choquette, after all, had cooked at Lumière for some years, before coming to the Loden project, and had consistently wowed people with his impeccable craftsmanship and creative touch, while working in that kitchen. “I really wanted this challenge,” he says, “of running my own team, but also of doing a hotel restaurant, breakfast, lunch and dinner, room service, too.” There was, of course, plenty of discussion among the management group about what the dining room, the service, and the food would be. The challenge is most savoury for him simply because the food is made to be enjoyed. “It was never supposed to be a classic fine dining restaurant,” says Choquette. “It is a hotel, and it will attract a certain clientele, and we all agreed it would be quality first, but approachable, maybe even a bit of fun.” Still, there is an unmistakable elegance and precision to everything he does. Bacon and eggs in the morning, means house-smoked bacon, organic free-run eggs, the finest fingerling potatoes and a touch of frisée greens. Just about perfect. And that is only the beginning.
Lunch has a preponderance of light seafoods and white meats, with some presentations bordering on the fanciful, but the dishes are lighthearted and always focused. Dinner menus, which change frequently, incorporate what is now an almost obligatory deference to seasonal and local. And as the chef says, “This is part of being here, part of what living here is about. I don’t think I could even imagine a menu that did not take the local purveyors and producers into the picture.” In his role as executive chef at Lumière, and as someone who cooked under the Klieg lights of the Iron Chef America stadium, Choquette has perhaps a deeper appreciation than most both for how the outside world perceives our region, and for the provenance of its ingredients in the hands of such an accomplished cook. He smiles and says, “Well, in many ways, just like where I was born, in Québec, the whole point is to use what is available to you at a particular time. No use in forcing the menu, but instead, use things that are there, and make the menu reflect the season. This is what people want, and it is a pleasure to do that for them.”
The restaurant includes a bar, run by accomplished mixologist Jay Jones, and the room is overseen by general manager Robert Herman, who previously presided at the Metropolitan Hotel’s Diva restaurant with efficiency and aplomb. The wine program is young but developing nicely, and already features intriguing bottles from Alsace, the Rhône, and of course the Okanagan. Choquette says, “We do spend some time on how the dishes pair with certain wines, so we can help our guests to make good choices.” As a team, they make this particular space on the Vancouver restaurant scene attractive in a variety of ways, especially by putting the chef’s inventiveness and seemingly effortless flavours on a plate at the centre of it all.
In fact, Choquette has embraced the whole notion of what a hotel’s “lifestyle” positioning is. For example, he likes the room service challenge. “I wanted to make a separate menu for room service, actually. I think of how our guests would be feeling, what their needs would be if they are ordering room service, so I wanted to have more or less traditional items on that menu—burgers, clubhouse sandwiches, frites, with some different comfort food options also—all done extremely well. They can of course also order from the Voya menu if they wish, but I want them to have options.” It is a great illustration of how the executive chef has married his prodigious skills and culinary sensibilities to the realities of how his food is best enjoyed.
Another interesting example of this is the “share plate” concept. “This was something the ownership group brought forward, and I thought it was an interesting idea. When we were developing the menus, in the early stages, it was quite exciting, actually, to consider those big plates.” A sensationally tender, silky beef steak, a bacon-wrapped Cornish hen, a prawn and scallop bowl, all clear, precise flavours but with an aspect of heartiness that showcases the excellence of the food.
Dining at Marc-André Choquette’s Voya is a rare pleasure: exquisite presentations, great flavours, in a room that is both refined and comfortable, just like the food.