Vancouver’s Next Great Chefs: Jean-Christophe Poirier, Chow

September 2, 2008

At Chow restaurant on South Granville, every second Wednesday is Pig Day and every week a whole pig is delivered to the restaurant. On delivery, Chef Jean-Christophe Poirier, with help from his crew, muscle two massive hog sides from a reefer truck. The animals, from Sloping Hill Farm in Port Alberni, are laid out on stainless steel tables, where each side is tidily disassembled, sectioned, and sorted. Poirier moves from cook to cook, offering guidance, then sets to work on the trotters with a hacksaw. Nearby, a cook strops his knife and hovers over the pig’s cloven head.

In-house butchery is a cornerstone of the market-cooking philosophy that Poirier absorbed during his time at Montreal’s Toqué under chef Normand Laprise. “Butchery makes stronger cooks,” Poirier says. “Young chefs need to learn that a cut of meat isn’t something that comes in a bag.” Sloping Hill pork is a mainstay on Chow’s menu, the cut changing every few days as the kitchen works its way from nose to tail.

Poirier grew up in St–Jerome, Quebec, and attended culinary school in Montreal. After a year of working at a classic French restaurant he landed at Toqué (cooking shoulder to shoulder with Angus An). His next stop was Vancouver and Lumière’s vaunted million-dollar kitchen, where he assembled 10-course tasting menus and a dozen more à la carte items for the bar. “Toqué was never slammed,” he recalls. “Lumière was slammed.”

When Poirier was ready to open a restaurant of his own, he chose to stay in Vancouver. “I saw fine-dining restaurants and casual chains,” he says, but the small, neighbourhood eateries he remembered from Montreal, that served fresh food at affordable prices, were missing. “I felt I could bring more to this city,” he says. “The kind of place I would want to go to eat with my friends.”

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