Originally from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Chef Chris Whittaker has been in the industry for 22 years. Starting as a dishwasher at 14, Chris worked his way up and really enjoyed his journey growing as a chef. His experience working at the largest convention hotel in northwest Ontario allowed him to learn making everything from scratch, building a great foundation for what he has become to be.
Chris moved to the west coast in 1999 and worked for several large hotels and restaurants. In 2007, he landed a job at the Listel Hotel, a boutique hotel on the West End which strives to be the greenest hotel. Chris has been there ever since.
“I hunt, I fish, I garden; we keep two honey bee hives at home. We compost all food waste and we recycle. That’s also how I operate my kitchen. The progression of my career and the shift to local cuisine 8 or 10 years ago just made this a natural fit,” says Chris.
On June 2, 2012, O’Doul’s Restaurant & Bar at the Listel closed its door, and a new restaurant was in the works. Taking the hotel’s green practices to the next level, Chris and his team worked with partners and suppliers such as BC Hydro, LiveSmart BC and Garland Canada, and successfully created a restaurant concept that reduces 30% of its overall energy consumption. Forage was open six months later.
The restaurant has also transitioned into a small plate concept, with a focus on local cuisine. The team makes their own jams, ketchup, mustard, etc. “It costs more, of course, but we still want to keep the price reasonable. We want it to be approachable for locals, so they can come here three times a week without breaking the bank.”
Not only has the loyal O’Doul’s customers returned since Forage’s opening, it also attracted new clientele given the new restaurant concept.
“I want customers to feel that by dining here, they’re contributing to helping the environment. They’re eating at a restaurant that consumes far less energy than most restaurants, while realizing that the menu is a good representation of BC.”
Where does Chris get his inspiration?
“Farmers bring in these beautiful products that inspire us to put them on the plate, to put a smile on each customer’s face. We don’t make things too complicated, keeping it simple. I love the products we’re getting and I want them represented on the plate. I want us to be the first one serving the seasonal product — this excites my brigade and hopefully the customers, too.”
Chris is a Board member of the Chefs Table Society of BC, an organization whose goal is to support the local food industry while celebrating what the culinary industry in BC has accomplished.
“One of the reasons why cooks and chefs get into this industry is because we love what we do. It’s a hobby. And we’re fortunate to be able to do it. It doesn’t have the best hours, it may not have the best pay, but you love it everyday. It keeps you motivated and inspired.”
Chris and his culinary team manages the kitchen for Forage, room service, a 4,000-sq ft catering space in the hotel and an off-site catering service. Everything is handled by just a team of 9 seasoned, and hardworking, chefs.
“There’s long hours involved, but it’s rewarding hours. It’s not work. I love it.”
On June 19, Forage will be serving nettle gnocchi with savoury brown butter, foraged and cultivated mushrooms with Okanagan goat cheese and grilled caraway rye, as well as a mystery flatbread. For more information about Dishcrawl’s “A Taste of Vancouver’s West End” or to purchase tickets, click here.