Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.
Occupation: Executive Chef, Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar
Years worked as a chef: 15
Years lived in Vancouver: 13
Accolades: Best Chef, Western Canada Notable Awards (2014)
Top 10, Bocuse d’Or (2013)
What do you love best about Vancouver’s food scene?
I think Vancouver has the best Chinese food in North America, no question. It’s very authentic and the skills of chefs here are better than anywhere else I’ve seen. I also love that the food is diverse and of very high quality.
Name the top restaurants and dishes that you think every visitor to Vancouver should try.
Seto Japanese Restaurant: Although not in Vancouver, Seto Japanese Restaurant in Richmond is a family-owned, traditional Japanese restaurant with consistently good food that’s done well every single time. We’ve been going for 15 years, and our kids love the chawanmushi (an egg custard dish).
Oyama Sausage Co.: Oyama, located in the Granville Island Public Market, has long held a reputation for producing the finest quality charcuterie from quality ingredients and ethically raised meats. I would estimate we spend at least $60 a week on their saucisson sec for my daughter. The jambon de bayonne and duck prosciutto are also some of my family’s favorites.
Maenam: I love all of the dishes at Maenam. Their cuisine is tasty, modern and progressive, and they always focus on fresh flavors and local ingredients.
Homer St. Café and Bar: This stunning restaurant is located at the intersection of Homer and Smithe, and as soon as you step in, you feel like you’ve been transported to another place and time. I’m a big fan of the rotisserie chicken – it’s cooked to perfection.
Describe your “perfect dining out day” in Vancouver.
For breakfast, I would start with the double-baked almond croissant from Thomas Haas Chocolates & Patisserie. It’s one of my favorite things to have when I’m craving a treat. For lunch, I recommend dim sum at Fisherman’s Terrace in Richmond. And for dinner, there’s nothing like Le Crocodile, which is one of my family’s favorite spots for traditional French fare. Chef Michel Jacob is one of the city’s most respected chefs and he consistently serves dishes that I love and admire.
What’s your favorite neighborhood to dine out in?
I like to eat in Richmond (where I live) because it’s convenient to take the whole family, and there are a wide variety of cuisines available.
If you had to pick one personal favorite at Boulevard, which would it be and why?
The Bouillabaisse. I love classic French cooking, and the Bouillabaisse perfectly exemplifies what we like to do at Boulevard, which is to take a classic dish and make it as authentic as possible using local ingredients.
There’s no shortage of great seafood options in the Pacific Northwest, and Boulevard is a favorite among chefs interviewed on Eats Abroad. But what other seafood restaurants in Vancouver have impressed you or given inspiration?
I’m partial to YEW seafood + bar at the Four Seasons Hotel, partly of course because of my Four Seasons background in Chicago and Toronto, and also because they have a huge selection of quality seafood. Executive Chef Ned Bell is extremely passionate about sustainable seafood and a champion of Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise Program, and that’s something I really admire.
What other cuisines do you enjoy eating and cooking most?
I enjoy cooking all types of cuisines, but I particularly like Asian food. I suggest trying Phnom Penh on East Georgia Street in Chinatown, which holds a special place in my heart because it was the first restaurant that I visited in Canada after leaving my childhood home in Malaysia. This Cambodian restaurant offers truly delicious and authentic Southeast Asian favorites like pho, trieu chau steamed dumplings and spicy garlic seafood options.
What food is your guilty pleasure, and where do you go to get it?
I’m a huge fan of HK B.B.Q. Master in Richmond, which has some of the most succulent BBQ pork, duck, soy chicken and char siu, as well as consistently efficient and friendly service. The chefs and kitchen staff here are simply the best in Vancouver!
Are there any foods native to Vancouver or B.C. that you particularly like?
Matsutaki mushrooms, which are the equivalent of truffles for the Japanese and are foraged in the mountains and forests around Vancouver from late August to October. I’m also a huge fan of sunchokes, which I pick up from Mikuni Wild Harvest.
Finally, what would you say every visitor must see or do before leaving Vancouver?
I love driving friends over the Lions Gate Bridge to the Capilano Salmon Hatchery in North Vancouver. It’s just a few minutes from downtown, but here you can understand how pristine and wild the West Coast is. It’s also nice to show people the important connection between the river and salmon.
Chef Chen’s Shortlist:
Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar, 845 Burrard Street (Downtown); seafood, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Seto Japanese Restaurant, 8460 Alexandra Road, Richmond, B.C.; Japanese, lunch and dinner Wednesday-Monday, closed Tuesday.
Maenam, 1938 W. 4th Avenue (Kitsilano); Thai, lunch Tuesday-Saturday, dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Homer St. Café and Bar, 898 Homer Street (Yaletown); comfort food and rotisserie, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner Monday-Saturday, brunch Sunday.
Thomas Haas Chocolates & Patisserie, 998 Harbourside Drive, North Vancouver, B.C.; chocolates and pastries, open Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.
Second location: 2539 West Broadway (Kitsilano); open Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.
Fisherman’s Terrace, 4151 Hazelbridge Way, Richmond, B.C.; Chinese (Cantonese), breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Le Crocodile, 909 Burrard Street, Suite #100 (Downtown); French, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Phnom Penh, 244 E. Georgia Street (Chinatown); southeast Asian, lunch and dinner daily.
HK B.B.Q. Master, 4651 No. 3 Road, Suite 145, Richmond, B.C.; Chinese (Cantonese), open for lunch and dinner Thursday-Tuesday, closed Wednesday.
Capilano River Hatchery, 4500 Capilano Park Road, North Vancouver, B.C.; open daily.
About the Chef: Vancouver is a city where seafood is abundant and the people’s love for it runs deep. It’s no surprise, then, that the July 2014 opening of Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar in The Sutton Place Hotel was met with open arms (and it’s a popular recommendation among a number of chefs interviewed on Eats Abroad).
Its kitchen is run by Alex Chen, who jumped at the opportunity to work there and return to his beloved hometown. The offer came after he proudly represented Canada at the prestigious Bocuse d’Or culinary championship in 2013, where he competed against 23 other top chefs from around the world and finished an impressive 9th place. The entire experience – from the selection process, to the actual 2-day competition – is one he’ll never forget.
Born in Malaysia and raised in Vancouver, Chen’s cooking style draws upon a range of life experiences, from his childhood days cooking with family, to his training with skilled chefs throughout the Pacific Rim and West Coast, including Chef Robert Sulatycky of the Wedgewood Hotel for more than a decade. After kitchen stints in Beverly Hills, Toronto and Chicago, he’s excited to be back in B.C. and feels incredibly lucky to have access to amazing ingredients and passionate farmers and fishmongers.