Chef of the Year 2008

May 20, 2008

 

Fork, knife, gourmet spoon!" Pino Posteraro barks to one of his servers from the open kitchen of his Yaletown restaurant; his voice carries through the dining room. It's a busy night and the next course is coming, but the server has no idea what it is. Nobody does. But if the plate is headed for your table, you're in luck. It means Pino's cooking for you.

Why did our judges vote him Chef of the Year? "The genius of his cuisine lies in its simplicity," remarked one. "Pino is incredibly smart. He takes an academic approach to his cooking. [He was studying to be a cardiologist before he turned his formidable focus to the kitchen.] He realizes that great food requires careful thought." Discerning diners who put themselves in Pino's hands are rewarded with legendary tasting menus prepared à la minute. In fact, his shouts of "Fork, knife, gourmet spoon" have become such a regular refrain that his employees have created a Facebook group of that name.

What sets Posteraro apart, besides his prowess in the kitchen, is his acute understanding of how a restaurant works. He holds his staff to an intensely high standard. He patrols the dining room every night and visits every table. He's praised by friend and contemporary Tojo for his passion and his tireless work ethic. (When a Japanese chef admires your dedication, you've truly arrived.) Wine expert David Scholefield marvels at his incredible palate: "He has an innate ability to pair food and wine. I've seen him taste a bottle he's never seen before and then head straight for the kitchen. Before you know it, he'll emerge with an astonishing dish that highlights elements of the wine that most chefs would never discover. It's absolutely remarkable, yet I've seen Pino do it dozens of times."

This was Posteraro's year. You couldn't walk past a bookstore without seeing his cookbook, A Lifetime of Excellence in the Kitchen. He hobnobbed with bad boy chef/author Anthony Bourdain and hosted Jennifer Aniston's birthday dinner in his private wine room. The Canucks make regular appearances. When celebrity chef (and Lumière's new headman) Daniel Boulud arrived in Vancouver, his first meal was at Cioppino's; the menu included spot prawn consommé, seared Qualicum Bay scallops with cilantro pesto, pappardelle with wild sea bass, and local lamb saddle with chickpea fries and ratatouille. Boulud, who's not easily impressed, was impressed.

Posteraro's crowning achievement was a Gold Medal Plate award for his most inspired dish yet: a roasted chestnut and porcini soup with foie gras brioche croutons, vanilla Chantilly cream, and shaved white Alba truffles. "I love to cook with chestnuts because they remind me of my childhood in Calabria," he says. The end result is a meticulous, ethereal mélange of tradition, inspiration, and smart spontaneity—much like the chef himself.

Cioppino's/Enoteca
1133 Hamilton St., 604-688-7466

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