Mark Perrier of Osteria Savio Volpe in Vancouver, BC: Mav Chefs 2017
Every year, Quench profiles Canadian chefs who are contributing that elusive something to the food scene, helping to change it, helping it to evolve. This year’s lineup is (often unintentionally) helping to define Canadian cuisine, which is no mean feat. Mark Perrier of Osteria Savio Volpe in Vancouver takes Italian cuisine back to its purely local origins, transforming traditional Italian dishes into meals you can only find in Canada.
Perrier started out in forestry — he got his BSc from the University of British Columbia — but took a sharp turn into Vancouver’s Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, graduating at the top of his class. After years of working in upscale French kitchens, Perrier needed a break from the restaurant biz for a bit. He spent two-and-a-half years at Two Rivers Specialty Meats, mastering whole-animal butchery. All of this drive pushed him towards one goal — to run his own kitchen — which he does as Osteria Savio Volpe. If you’re looking for uncomplicated fare, look no further. Simply prepared vegetables. Fruit picked at the height of the season. Handmade pastas, cured meats and whole grilled fish. None of these descriptors truly shout “Italian,” but they are, especially after Perrier gets his hands on them. But they’re also truly Canadian — every ingredient used in his menu comes from the soil, trees, waters and farms of Vancouver and the surrounding area.
How did you go from a BSc in forestry to being a chef?
I was lucky enough to grow up in a family in which my mother cooked dinner every night. Nothing fancy, but always made from scratch with good ingredients. She made her own bread and canned in the summer. I always loved eating but never really cooked anything until second-year university when I moved out of residence and had to fend for myself. I started messing around in the kitchen and trying to figure out how I was going to feed myself while at school and realized that I had a knack for making food that tasted good. Soon enough, I was spending more time worrying about what to cook for dinner than my forestry studies. As soon as I graduated, I enrolled in cooking school.
Has your BSc in forestry influenced how you operate Savio Volpe?
I grew up hunting, fishing and camping in the Interior of the province so I’ve always had a close relationship with the natural world. More than anything else, my connection to nature influences my decisions when it comes to operating Savio Volpe in the most environmentally sustainable manner possible.
What is the style you’re going for and how do you achieve it?
My cooking style — and the food I make at Savio Volpe — is largely influenced by traditional Italian peasant cooking, la cucina povera. I cook Italian food from “here” — meaning Vancouver. I take the very best products available locally and prepare them in an Italian way, using traditional Italian techniques and restraint. We buy the best ingredients and do as little as possible to them to get them on the plate. To me, rustic food is cooked unpretentiously and in a way that honours the true, unadulterated spirit of the ingredient. A perfect example of this philosophy is our whole suckling pig, which is cooked on a spit over an apple wood fire, served with its crackling, dripping roast potatoes and cipollini onions, and a fresh salsa verde.
What is the “local perspective” and how does it change the traditional Italian dish?
I believe that, at its core, Italian cuisine is hyper-local. To simply copy a dish from Italy and try to recreate here in Vancouver is not only impossible — we have a unique climate and access to different ingredients — but it wouldn’t be adhering to cooking in the true spirit of the cuisine. You need to cook the very best of what is available where you are, and prepare it with an Italian spirit. I’m not Italian, did not grow up eating this type of food and have never been there so how could I cook “authentic” Italian food? When I use terms like “rustic” and “simple” to describe the cooking that we do at Savio Volpe, I see these as virtues.
Have you developed a sense of the essence of Canadian cuisine? If so, in your opinion, what is it?
Outside of Quebec and parts of the East Coast, I don’t feel that there’s really anything you could call a Canadian cuisine, except maybe Kraft Dinner! Our country is too new; we’re from too many places across the globe and came of age in the modern world. Traditional cuisines in other parts of the world developed slowly over hundreds of years because of isolation and cultures trying to make the most out of limited scarce resources. For a large portion of our history, there has been an abundance in variety of ingredients, travel between different geographic areas has become common and ingredients are shipped out of season from everywhere to everywhere. Canada is a multicultural country with a varied landscape and our cuisine reflects that diversity.
You worked as a butcher at Two River Meats. Has this changed how you approach preparing meats?
I thought I was pretty good a breaking down whole animals when I first got to Two Rivers, but soon realized that I knew nothing compared to the guys there. They were experienced machines, and I had to work very hard just to keep up. Almost all the meat at Savio Volpe comes into the restaurant as a whole animal (lamb, chicken, rabbit, all fish, squab, game birds, pigs, wild boar), halves (in the case of veal) or large primals (our beef is dry aged as long loins). Sourcing animals in this way has had a huge influence on the menu. We have to think creatively: How are we going to sell the pig skin, head and feet? What about the lamb offal? The fat off the dry-aged beef? The restaurant pays for the whole animal so we need to learn how to make money out of it. This is a much more interesting, challenging and rewarding way to cook compared to buying pre-cut steaks and chicken breasts.
Savio Volpe doesn’t have too many cocktails or “fussy” drinks — why choose this direction and how does your drinks list play into/complement the food you serve?
In my opinion, you cannot eat Italian food without wine — they are inseparable. We focus on developing a curated wine list and offer a few simple cocktail options, such as the Negroni or Aperol Spritz. For me, cocktails are for getting drunk, not for pairing with a meal.
Rabbit Cacciatore with Pine Mushrooms
Serves 4 to 6
1 whole rabbit (substitute chicken if you prefer)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 bay leaves
1 sprig rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup pancetta, diced
1 onion, finely chopped
Dry porcini mushrooms, rehydrated and chopped, soaking liquid reserved
2 cans Italian plum whole tomatoes (14 oz)
Chicken stock, as needed
Fresh pine mushrooms
Parsley and garlic, chopped together
Divide the rabbit into sections, chopping through the bones with a heavy knife when necessary, so you have two legs, two shoulders, two bellies, one neck, two ribs and two loin sections. Season with salt and pepper.
Pound the bay leaves, rosemary, thyme and garlic cloves into a paste. Add the olive oil and rub the herb paste onto the rabbit. Cover and leave to marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, lightly dust the rabbit sections with flour and sear in olive oil until golden. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add the pancetta and chopped onion to the pan. Cook over medium heat until the onion is soft and begins to caramelize.
Add the rehydrated porcini mushrooms and cook for a few more minutes. Add the wine and deglaze the pan.
Reduce the heat slightly, then add the porcini soaking liquid, tomatoes and rabbit pieces. Add chicken stock until the rabbit is half-submerged. Bring to a low simmer, partially cover and braise until the rabbit is tender — roughly 40 minutes — adding more brodo (broth) as needed.
Garnish with pine mushrooms sautéed with garlic and parsley. Serve with plenty of bread for the juices.