“At the end of the day, nature is the star. We just have to help it along.”
This is the foundation of any dish plated by Quinton Bennett, chef de cuisine at Hawksworth restaurant inside Vancouver’s Rosewood Hotel Georgia. Bennett, a South African who completed culinary education at the prestigious Noma in Copenhagen and at the UK’s Michelin-starred Northcote in Lancashire, sits amongst Hawksworth’s white tables and beige couches while reflecting on his seasonal BC Journey Menu. It is his debut tasting menu for the celebrated David Hawksworth-led restaurant since joining the team in January 2018.
“I’m in Canada. I want to cook Canadian cuisine,” shares Bennett, taking a sip from a cappuccino and placing his notepad down on the table. He is a long way from his native Johannesburg, where he grew up with his mother, a nurse (whose hospital gave Bennett the opportunity to work as a line cook), and his father, a marketing manager at a food company. He speaks endearingly of his early days spent in or around the kitchen. “I was always one of those kids licking the spoons on the doorstep,” he says, adding that he used to also bake crumpets on the weekends to bring to his friends at school. It instilled within him a great love of food preparation, which eventually led him to Noma and its revered chef René Redzepi. The BC Journey Menu, and in fact most of Bennett’s career trajectory, has been heavily influenced by Redzepi’s philosophies. “He made us look at our roots,” Bennett says, explaining the culinary locavore discourse: sourcing food only in one’s surrounding geography, and sourcing only what is in season. “I want to promote what is here,” he adds of his position at Hawksworth. “Hence the BC Journey Menu.”
A collection of seven plates and wine pairings, the menu is not unlike other fine dining options found in Vancouver—think pureed greens, free-range meats and fish, and fresh fruit from the Okanagan—but Bennett and his team (who he praises frequently) prepare it so exceptionally that each dish has its own story to be told.
“Everything’s from the Okanagan Valley,” says Bennett of the first course. “It’s kind of a tribute to them.” That means aerated goat cheese or “cheese rocks” paired with peaches and doused with lavender salt and oil, plus honey, caviar pearls, and a burnt leek ash. The second course, the Clam, was inspired by a recent trip with his uncle that found him on a sandy, remote beach off the coastline of Vancouver Island. “We started digging, and we came across a goldmine of manila clams,” Bennett says. It helped him dream up a beautifully deconstructed Canadian clam chowder. The base is made of sea asparagus pickles, then comes a layer of poached, squeaky manila clams and potatoes; on top is a crispy collection of dried tuna flakes, seaweed, and aerated corn and fennel foam, all paired with delectable fried bannock. As both Bennett and the front-of-house staff confirm, it is the standout dish for most diners.
The chef constantly pays homage to the world of fine dining (staying within the lines and catering to a certain level of opulence found in Vancouver), but he also creates dishes that can educate guests on what is sustainable and what should be eaten when living in this Pacific Northwest climate. “They have guys that have created amazing farms that are very low-impact on the environment,” he says in regards to his third dish: butter-poached, locally-sourced sturgeon served in a bed of creamy cauliflower blended with kale. Next comes pork jowl (or for the following two courses, pescatarian options like scallops and torched halibut). The pork is served with parsley crust and Dijon mustard, finished with a blend of greens including parsley, basil, and shallots; this is followed by juicy hay-baked lamb. The menu is rounded out with two dessert courses: sour cherry ice cream and then buttermilk pancetta, with an optional cheese platter for the savoury-inclined.
Bennett looks down at his notepad, on which a rough draft for his next seasonal menu is scribbled across the paper. Some ingredients he is excited about using next are foraged mushrooms, pine, spruce, and sea lettuces. But he is even more excited about being part of the future of Hawksworth. “I’m a firm believer that we’re cooking at a one-star level, and we can definitely compete with some of the best restaurants in the world—in the Michelin world at least,” he muses. “These are the environments I was bred in and born in, so I enjoy it.” Perhaps it is finally time that Michelin took note and came north.
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