Precocious Teen Hosts Natural-Disaster-Themed Pop-Up Dinner
Obviously you should get a ticket.
August 6, 2015
If you, like us, are obsessed with MasterChef Junior (and how could you not be? SO. CUTE.), then you likely have a soft spot for kids who cook. And if you, like us, have a soft spot for kids who cook, then you’ll understand why we were so excited to sit down to a private seven-course meal last month cooked by Vancouver’s own culinary prodigy, 15-year-old Victor Mangas. On the menu: caviar on beet geleé, tea-infused pastry cream, and deconstructed lemon tarts. You know, all your classic teenage-boy dishes. Sure, he’d be too old to compete on MCJ (we are too, Victor, and we know it hurts), but he’s still young enough for the depth of his knowledge and laser-sharp focus to be more than impressive.
Meet the boy behind the sous-vide machine yourself at his first public, ticketed pop-up dinner August 15, hosted in his family’s cozy heritage home in South Cambie, which focuses on the theme of natural disasters (appropriate, as forest-fire smoke continues to billow in the valley and that New Yorker earthquake article spreads on Facebook like, well, wildfire). It may well be the city’s most exclusive dining event—his mom’s dining room table can only seat eight. Snag your spot here.
Q&A With Our Favourite Teen Chef
Have you always been interested in food?
It’s kind of funny, because from the age of three to 11, I wouldn’t really touch anything interesting, food-wise. I would go to restaurants and be like, “I’ll just have pasta, plain.” But we had a school project [when I was 11] and we were given these beets for a school Iron Chef-style competition. And I was like, “I don’t know how to use beets,” and started doing more and more research into how to cook with different vegetables and different things you can do with beets. I made a beet Bundt cake and got really into cooking from that.
What was the most time-consuming item on the menu during your last pop-up meal?
The lamb dish. It required a lot of different sauces to make and each was pretty difficult to do. Since I wanted to play off of Picasso, I wanted to integrate a cubistic style, and I also wanted to do a play off of classic lamb pairings. So I made some sauces—saffron goat’s-milk sauce, mint pomegranate sauce—and essentially spread those along a sheet pan and froze them, and then broke them into cubistic shapes and then they melted back into their soft form. Then I garnished that with braised pomegranate.
Cooking a dish like that for a table full of people must take a lot of prep.
I like to use sous-vide, which is a very efficient and time-effective way of cooking because you can prepare it ahead of time, and then the day of you can sear it and it’s perfectly cooked on the inside. It’s like a water oven, so it uses water instead of air.
How do you learn about these sort of tools and techniques?
I always try to find good cookbooks that use some of these techniques that most people don’t buy because they’re hard to use. I do a lot of research, too. There’s some chefs nowadays that use centrifuges and really laboratory-like machines, but it turns out that some of the techniques you can replicate with household materials. So I like to do research into what I need to get, and what I can do at home with the materials I already have. I do a lot of research.
It’s almost like it’s more science for you than about food.
I always have been really interested in chemistry and physics. I like learning about that kind of stuff, for sure. But then I got into food and discovered this whole sort of science and cooking mash-up. That was really interesting.
What’s your favourite restaurant right now?
Tojo’s sushi is really good. But I was in Chicago recently, and there was this amazing restaurant called Alinea. And when we were travelling this summer in Italy, we were at this restaurant, Osteria Francescana. It was all booked up for the next three months, but we got a tour of the kitchen, which was nice.
Who are your culinary heroes?
When I started cooking, I got into Chuck Hughes, because his stuff is really, really, really cool. Also I binge-watched all of Good Eats a couple summers ago—that was really good. I find that show quite interesting… it teaches you a lot of techniques and theory.
What’s sparking your interest right now, ingredient-wise?
I’m really getting into exotic mushrooms. I found a mushroom picker at the farmers’ market, and they have cool mushrooms they pick from the island. I really like playing around with those, and I’m considering growing some in my backyard.
As if you don’t have enough hobbies to fill your time… How many orchestras are you in, again?
I got into two over the summer… so that’s five, plus concert band. I play the clarinet. I like doing math. And I love learning languages. I’m learning Italian and Russian, and I’ve been in French immersion since preschool. We went to Italy this summer and we went to a lot of different places where nobody spoke English.
Where do you like to do your shopping?
If I’m doing a big project, I like going to various farms. They have really good prices for really good ingredients. I also like the farmers’ market. And I’m a regular at Gourmet Warehouse—most of the employees know me by name.
Your last dinner-party menu was based around Picasso’s Blue period. What’s the theme for your August 15 dinner?
Each dish is loosely based on the concept of the natural disaster—the aftermath and the build up to it—using ingredients and aromas and textures designed to remind you of that. I was thinking about some dishes I could come up with, after that Picasso dinner, and I thought of one dish based on a forest fire that could have smoke and heat from a chili pepper. And I was talking to my friend Charles, and he said, “What if you came up with a whole dinner based off of disasters?”
How long does it take you to plan a menu this complex?
It’s a bit weird because usually for me, I get pretty decent ideas for dishes, but then it’ll turn out it’s going to be way too difficult to make, so then I’ve got to figure out what I can do in order to accomplish what I want that’s still possible to do. And then it can change up until a couple days before the meal in minor or more major ways.
Is there anything you wanted to do for this meal, but couldn’t?
Most things are pretty possible if you’re willing to change it up. But I had a lot of ideas initially that involved liquid nitrogen, and then I realized how much that would cost… Nah.