I do not write cookbook reviews very often but East Van Foodie absolutely made me stop in my tracks while walking the streets of downtown Vancouver. While perusing the book that day I knew I not only had to have it, I wanted to know more about it. I knew there was a story there so I contacted the foodie brain child of this book Brad Hill. Not only sent me this astoundingly gorgeous local cookbook but a copy of The North Shore Foodie as well!
I wrote Brad and asked him if I could learn more about East Van Foodie and he obliged, sharing his own particular foodie story so I could share it with you. The following is my interview and I will be publishing my review soon.
“How I came to self-publish 2 books in 2 years about a city I’ve only lived in for 2 years is just a combination of stubbornness, hubris and naivety… Moving to Vancouver in 2014 gave me the opportunity to restart my photography business from scratch and the North Shore Foodie and East Van Foodie are a part of that. They’re also a really great way to learn about my new home and meet amazing people. I can hide behind my accent and ask dumb questions.”
Was The East Van Foodie your project idea?
Before I moved to Vancouver I was the lead photographer for a winery magazine and a couple of cookbook/lifestyle books, and I shot for restaurants in Melbourne, Australia. When I moved to Vancouver and was re-establishing my photography business I had the opportunity (this is code for “the time” LOL) to implement a range of ideas I’ve had over the years about cookbooks that celebrate restaurants. The Foodie Books are the result of this.
I notice it is part of a book series that also includes The North Shore Foodie. Are they both your brain child?
Yes, I started on the North Shore. There were a couple of reasons for this; firstly I live on Lower Lonsdale so doing the Shore first was easy. Secondly, there is a great dining scene over here and it is often overlooked by foodies on the other side of Burrard Inlet, so the chefs and restaurateurs here jumped at the chance to be involved… even though I hadn’t published a book on my own before then. I still very much appreciate the trust they put in me!
In regards to The East Van Foodie, what is it about this area of Vancouver that inspired you to focus there?
In my home town of Melbourne, a lot of the really good, interesting and boundary pushing restaurants are in the inner suburbs. I’m thinking of Fitzroy, Richmond, Footscray, St. Kilda etc. When I finished the NS Foodie I had only been in Vancouver for a bit over a year and had been pretty busy so felt that I hadn’t explored the rest of Vancouver properly. East Van had been on my mind and the EV Foodie is the result of my exploration. That’s probably a theme of my books—that they are me discovering the details of my new home and meeting new people. Most of the places in the books are well known by long term locals but me presenting them through fresh eyes is a bit of a twist.
Do you have a special connection to East Van?
Mainly that it reminds me of Melbourne in places (as mentioned above).
What makes it special to you?
In the introduction to the EVFoodie I write, “[neighbourhoods like EV] are simultaneously fringe zones and crossroads, lived-in, mixed-use, gentrifying, cultural nexuses, and a canvas on which the next generation asserts itself. …these neighborhoods are a geographical focal point of a greater discussion.” Basically, it’s an exciting area. To be frank, rents are (or were) generally (a bit) cheaper so businesses can explore what their true passions are. Expensive areas become boring and generic because everything comes down to covering huge rents; as a result, fewer risks are taken. The risks taken in places like EV end up on the tables and in the cocktail glasses of more expensive areas… eventually. The best examples of this are micro-breweries, vegan and vegetarian food that omnivores hardly even notice is vegetarian and interesting and unique food from different cultures.
Where did you find the book’s writer Chris Dagenais?
Chris is the food columnist for The North Shore News and I first approached him to write the foreword for the NSFoodie. I was a fan of his reviews for two reasons. Firstly, he is one of the most knowledgeable people I know about food and drink and the hospitality industry in Vancouver and generally. And secondly, his style of restaurant review is always balanced, constructive and interesting from unique angles. When he wrote the foreword I saw that he is also an amazing creative writer—not saying that his columns aren’t creative, just that because the columns are for a broad audience they need to be a different style. My “directions” for him when writing for the EVFoodie were essentially just a word count. I didn’t want to get in the way of his creativity. As a photographer, that’s how I work best so it makes sense.
I noticed that the word “stories” is in the subtitle (Eating | Drinking | Stories | Recipes). Each section has a restaurant associated with it and the intel is so much more than just a who, what, when and where article. Was the storytelling a conscious approach? It is my favorite part of the book, by the way.
This question made my day! Eating is all about stories—stories of the food’s origin, the chef’s inspiration, the venue’s atmosphere, the recipe’s history and infinitely more. Also, meal times are one of the only remaining times we have face to face without screens or distractions so they are naturally the times that we tell each other our own stories—and while making eye contact to boot!
The books do cover the “who, what, when and where.” These are an important element but nothing that Google can’t provide. To be really engaging, to be really timeless and to be a book that people will show their guests or buy as a keep sake of a holiday, etc., it is the “why” that is the key. If a story in words or photos can convey the “why” of a thing (in this case restaurants) then it has real value. This is not always easy, Chris’s style of writing in my books isn’t in the style of a magazine or (most) blogs, it rewards a second read and taking a moment to stop and think about a bigger picture.
This goes for the photos too. I don’t over style the photos… you know… with designer crumbs tweezered into place on the counter and flawless produce scattered about in the background just so. I know when I cook at home my kitchen doesn’t look like that! All of the dishes are presented just like they would be if you were to visit one of the restaurants and order the dish. The photos of the dishes being made really are of the dish being made. This is tricky because commercial kitchens are not good photo studios. When you polish photos to the extent that everything is Type A designer perfect the first thing that is polished off is genuineness.
You are the designer, editor, photographer, and publisher of this stunning and fascinating book. How long did it take to complete?
…and recipe tester, distributor, marketer, dishwasher and storeroom sweeper! In short a bit under a year. I usually start researching and approaching restaurants in December and January, then production starts in February or March through until print deadlines sometime in August. When the book is at the printers I take a bit of time off and then switch to marketing and distribution.
When you were on location to take the photographs, did you get to sample any of the food that got into the cookbook?
Yes and no. It’s usually cold by the time I’m done shooting it! Also, because of my big bushy beard eating on the go in front of “clients” is less than professional!
Any fun stories about visiting the restaurants you care to share?
Lots. The ones I can tell are in the books. I was at a shoot at Bauhaus last week with tripods and reflectors all over the place and one of the reflector boards fell and knocked a full glass of wine straight into the dish I was shooting. Bauhaus’s dishes are so perfect and refined it couldn’t be re-plated and had to be prepped from scratch. The chef was super cool about it… good chefs never freak out!
Do you consider The East Van Foodie a cookbook?
One of the early reviews I got was “it’s a cookbook equally at home on the coffee table as it is in the kitchen.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
How often do you eat out in Vancouver?
At least weekly, but because I have been so focused on specific areas of Vancouver for the last couple of years there is a big list of restaurants that people are surprised I haven’t been to yet.
As a self-confessed foodie are you always on the lookout for a local hidden gem?
It is cool to be the person my friends ask where they should go. I’m not the “foodie” in the book’s title though, the reader is. It’s a small but important point!
Do you consider yourself a foodie in the kitchen too?
I’m not a chef but I am keen and enthusiastic and that’s the important part.
If so, have you made any of the recipes in the book? Which ones?
I test all of the recipes myself, so all of them. There are some that only certain elements within the recipe need to be tested though. I’m not a chef so it’s not one of the easy parts but it’s fun and a lot of the recipes or elements of the recipes are now in my and my wife’s and my weekly dinner rotation.
Are you planning on doing more books about other areas of Vancouver?
Yes! The Gastown Foodie!! It will be available this October. It has all the good restaurants, bars and cafes in Gastown and nearby. It’s been refined and tweaked in a couple of ways compared to the other books (I’m always learning and trying to make things better). After Gastown there will be more Foodie Books but I don’t know where yet. If you see me at a restaurant in a couple of months I will probably be there researching for the next one.
Check out foodiebooks.ca for a launch date and a list of participating restaurants—but not yet in need to get this book to the printers before I have time to update the website!
Thank you Brad for this fascinating interview. As someone new to Vancouver you are already amazingly connected to this city via food and I can not wait to check out The Gastown Foodie when you publish it this fall!