Maverick Chefs 2011 – Bonus!

By / Mavericks / September 23rd, 2011 / 1

Bao_BeiCanadian chefs are a dynamic bunch. In fact in choosing this year’s Maverick Chefs, Tidings readers gave us so many fabulous suggestions that we couldn’t just stop at four. Along with Victor Bongo of Raven Hotel (Yukon), Martin Gagné of Restaurant La Traite (Quebec), Scott Geiring of La Carambola (Quebec) and Jesse Vergen of Saint John Alehouse and Smokin’ Pig BBQ (New Brunswick), we added Tannis Ling and Joël Watanabe of Bao Bei Restaurant (British Columbia).

Our picks for top chefs this year have a demonstrated ability to take the recipes, tips and traditions they learned from their families and turn them into something even more incredible. Each of the six arrived at the restaurant industry via very different paths. Yet, along the way, they all learned something particularly important — pay attention to your roots. That lesson continues to inform their relationship with the food they create, the people with whom they work and, above all, with us, their customers.

Tannis Ling, owner of Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie in Vancouver, is caught the restaurant bug while bartending in the Cayman Islands and London. “Both places were so sickeningly expensive,” she says, that she began to miss her mom’s home cooking. Rooted in that tradition, she decided that the rest of the world needed to know how fresh and delicious authentic Chinese food could be. Joël Watanabe, Executive Chef at Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie, may have grown up in Ottawa, but his diverse cultural background qualifies him as citizen of the world. A Corsican grandfather who was an incredible cook, a Japanese father who owns La Soyarie (a tofu manufacturer in Quebec) and a French-Canadian mother have influenced Joël tremendously. “I think that being from a diverse background has kept me open to all cuisines of the world. I have not come across a traditional cuisine that I do not love,” he assures me.

Our relationship with food reveals our roots whether or not we come from a family of chefs. These Maverick Chefs encourage us to examine our own life experiences and use it to spice up our meals. Stop in to visit any of these chefs. They will be more than happy to give you a taste of how it’s done.

Tannis_LingTannis Ling Owner, Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie, Vancouver, British Columbia

Where did you grow up?

How did your heritage influence your view of your own and other cuisines?
I feel extremely lucky to have been brought up by Chinese immigrant parents because they introduced me to the joys of eating different foods from a very early age.  As well as Chinese, we always had Japanese, Korean, Malaysian and as a result it really created a openness to try everything. I really value the diversity of cuisine out there and strive to seek out new eating experiences as much as possible.

How did you end up in bartending?
I moved to the Cayman Islands when I was 20 years old and got my first job slinging rum punch on a pirate ship that did sunset cruises every night.

Why did you choose to re-interpret traditional Chinese cuisine?
I have always felt that Chinese cuisine has, in general, been neglected as a cuisine to experiment with while others like French and Italian have evolved and have had many different interpretations over the centuries. Chinese food has, in large part, stayed extremely traditional with the only variations being just regional between dishes. I was excited about the idea of taking traditional dishes and utilizing other cooking techniques like French and Japanese as well as take advantage of the local ingredients to create a type of cuisine that stayed quite traditional in flavour but more modern in execution. As well, throughout my whole life I found that so many people had a skewed idea of what Chinese food actually entailed; usually ideas of sweet, MSG laden, squishy pieces of meat and overcooked vegetables. I never ate anything like this growing up and certainly not when I was visiting family in Taiwan. It was a serious ambition of mine to expose people to the flavours and textures that I was used and change attitudes towards Chinese food.

What’s your favourite country or region to eat in?
Vietnam, hands down. I love the food there. All you have to do is plop yourself down on the street anywhere and someone will serve you up a steaming bowl of goodness full of fresh herbs, vegetables and meat swimming in a pungent broth that was obviously made with love.

What’s your favourite bartending tool?
I love using a chopstick to stir my drinks instead of a barspoon.

What’s your favourite drink?
It always changes; but at the moment I’m into Penicillins done with a yellow flower tea syrup that we make in-house.

Is there something you refuse to serve in your restaurant?
Grey Goose

Is there a food you really don’t like?
I hate wraps.

What rule of conduct matters most in your restaurant?
To be professional but not be afraid to be who you are and have fun.

What skill does someone most need to work in your kitchen?
Time management and multitasking. This goes for the floor as well.

What’s the most embarrassing thing that you’ve done while bartending?
I got really overwhelmed one crazy night at my old job that I was at for five years and lost my temper. It was embarrassing because the costumers around me could see and hear me ranting and raving and cursing like a trucker!

What makes your restaurant stand apart from the others?
I think we stand apart because of the unique food concept but also because despite being casual in atmosphere and price point, we maintain a high level of service and food quality. It’s also significant that we haven’t let one aspect of the restaurant be less important then the others which means we’ve thought through every detail including the bar program, service, design, branding, lighting, and music. It is the full package, and I think you can feel that when you walk in. Because of this, Bao Bei appeals to people on a more personal level than most other restaurants so when they walk in it feels like I’m inviting them into my home.

What are your plans for the future?
Quite unsure of what’s next. I want to do some more traveling and will probably open up something else later, but I don’t want to limit myself to restaurants.

You’ve got 24 hours to live. What’s your last meal?
Peach and heirloom tomato salad from Chambar for an appetizer, my mom’s pickled cabbage and pork noodle soup for my main, and my friend Eleanor’s brown butter bread pudding for dessert.




Joël Watanabe Executive Chef, Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie, Vancouver, British Columbia

What was your first job in a professional kitchen?
My first paid cooking job was at a vegetarian camp for children as a prep cook, then as the chef feeding about 110 souls three meals a day plus snack.

What made you want to become a chef?
I’ve always enjoyed cooking since I was very young. I left home at a young age and needed a skill, cooking came naturally so after the summer camp I continued cooking. Almost 20 years later I still love to cook.

What inspired you to create Cartel Taco?
Cartel Taco was inspired by the new street food initiative proposed by the city of Vancouver, my two business partnersn(now one) and by the incredible success of Korean tacos in L.A.

Is cooking and serving food from a cart very different than doing those things in a “stationary” restaurant kitchen?
Street food in completely different in terms of mise en place and service. In a restaurant kitchen you prep, but not cook ahead of time so much. For the cart as per health regulations all the proteins must be cooked ahead of time and held at food safe temperatures. The menu on the cart is two items as opposed to 20 or 30 for the restaurant and the days are much longer in the restaurant.

What’s your favourite country to eat in?
Japan has to be my favourite country to eat in closely fallowed by Vietnam and everywhere that I have been.

Favourite kitchen tool?
It would still have to be a knife.

What’s your favourite wine or drink?
My favourite wine would be a good Pinot Noir, and my favourite drink would be a Negroni.

Is there something you refuse to serve in your restaurant?
The only things I refuse to serve in my restaurant are chemically laden foods whether meats or other. You will never se me use Cheese Whiz.

Is there a food you really don’t like?
I really don’t like durian, French’s mustard and natto.

What rule of conduct matters most in your kitchen?
A professionalism which encompasses all others.

What skill does someone most need to work in your kitchen?
Economy and efficiency of motion.

What’s the most embarrassing thing that you’ve done while cooking?
I burned my thumb badly on my first shift working for a revered chef after he told me to be careful while roasting mushrooms. I never said a thing, and kept cooling my thumb on a wet rag every chance I got.

What are your plans for the future?
To continually learn more in my craft and try to create more time for my family.

If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
I would be doing carpentry, silversmith, cobbler or something with my hands.

You’ve got 24 hours to live. What’s your last meal?
Duck noodle soup with burnt scallion and chili, empenadas Colombianas, yellowtail and albacore tuna sashimi, gyoza, my grandfather’s alpine à la moutarde, duck and porcini ragu with pappardelle, pizza with arugula and truffle and Thierry Bussets desserts.

Pick up a copy of Tidings‘ October issue to read about all the other chefs.



Rosemary Mantini has always loved words. When she isn't working as the Associate Editor at Tidings Magazine, she's helping others achieve their writing dreams, and sometimes she even relaxes with a good book and a glass of wine.

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