Friday, August 28, 2015

Interview with David Gunawan, Executive Chef of Farmer’s Apprentice

--> The following interview was made possible by the NW Tastemaker, a culinary travel publication forthcoming from Northwest Travel Magazine. To read more interviews with the best chefs in the Pacific Northwest, visit Northwest Travel Magazine and TableTalkNorthwest.com.

Photo by Carlo Ricci
David Gunawan, Executive Chef of Farmer’s Apprentice

The name says it all. Opened in 2013, Farmer's Apprentice almost exclusively uses hyper-local ingredients, and Chef David Gunawan is inspiring diners and colleagues alike with his dedication to supporting local farms and farmlands.

It takes an environmentalist's appreciation of agriculture to understand how Chef Gunawan's version of farm-to-table dining is unique. It's the little things. For instance, he features meat from heritage breeds of pig to offer diners compelling flavors, and in so doing, he is simultaneously championing non-industrial pig breeds for future generations of chefs. These breeds of pig cost more, but surprisingly, Farmer's Apprentice is able to maintain mid-range prices for diners. Chef Gunawan would rather buy whole pigs and butcher them in-house than buy lesser breeds to reduce costs. Farmer's Apprentice is dedicated to sustainability and flavor over cutting corners. Before opening Farmer's Apprentice, Chef Gunawan cooked at In De Wulf in Belgium (one Michelin star); West; and Wildebeest.

1. How do you describe Northwest cuisine?

I think Northwest cuisine is broad. Northern California, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver each have their own identity. As a whole, we Vancouverites aren’t as strong in the farmer-chef relationship. We see a much stronger bond in Portland, and the unity of trust between farmer and chef down south is far more dedicated to the farm-to-table movement.

The Vancouver market is dictated by financial incentive for obvious reasons. The Portland style of restaurant is more based on austerity. The city also boasts a very dynamic subversive counter culture. Portland is an ecologically aware city. Sustainable farm-to-table cuisine is almost expected. The city boasts the most college-educated populous in the entire nation.

Seattle is guided by the standard of a large metropolis. It is a little more diverse than Portland, and there are a few lavish establishments to cater to the growing tech industry. It has a stronger Japanese influence than Portland. The food is still very much market-driven, as most cities are in the Northwest. Seattle is a very left wing city, and again, they also have a very strong chef and farmer relationship.

Vancouver is unique due to its ethnic diversity, especially the historical contributions made by Chinese and Japanese immigrants. As a small city, we seem to support an exorbitant amount of chain restaurants, and this makes it very difficult for an aspiring small-business owner to start a venture without a lot of capital. Hence, Vancouver cuisine is very safe, ubiquitous and predictable. We are less subversive. We have amazing Asian restaurants that are comparable in quality to those in Hong Kong, China, India and the like, but drawing from so many cultures has created a Vancouver menu that I think is confused in some ways. We have no adherence to one culture but, rather, many cultures. 

2. Who are six of your favorite purveyors that you regularly work with?

Solefood, for the quality of produce as well as its community initiatives.
Foxglove Farm— Michael Ableman is the pioneer of urban agriculture and also an author and a teacher in ecology. His produce is phenomenal. It is grown with intelligent care and intention.
Stein Mountain Farm Oreganics and Sapo Bravo Organics in Lytton, for all around solid produce grown with love and respect.
Outlandish Shellfish— They have amazing shellfish selections
Wu Wan Wo— This is my latest discovery: a phenomenal soy sauce from Taiwan aged in a terra cotta clay for two years and fermented in the mountains of Taiwan. They also use the salt gathered from the deep sea off of the coast of Taiwan.

3. When you go out for a nice meal, what are two or three of your favorite spots?

I love Long Noodle House on Main and 33rd.
Dynasty Seafood Restaurant on Willow and Broadway is also very good.
I love Maebam, as well as Nook Restaurant— both in my neighbourhood.

4. Who are two other Northwest chefs that you admire?

Joshua McFadden of Ava Gene. He understands vegetables and the quality of each ingredient. 

5. In your opinion, is there an area of Northwest cooking that doesn't receive enough attention?

Chinese. I think we devalue Chinese food and do not recognize the complexity and history of Chinese food. It is a very intricate and delicate cuisine, especially real Cantonese food. 

6. Looking toward the future, what are you most excited to do in the kitchen?

I think the term Northwest cuisine is very ambiguous. Every region has its own style, depending on the demographic and what the geography encompasses. Currently, we are fermenting and preserving a lot of things. I would like to serve more fish, after being in Japan. We do not have the same diversity in our seafood as Japan.

Farmer's Apprentice
1535 W 6th Avenue
Vancouver, BC V6H 3G1
Canada
www.farmersapprentice.ca

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