By Greg LaychakBlack Press
Placing a single, impeccably arranged scallop on the table in front of his guest, head chef Brent Gillis describes in detail what his patron is about to eat.
Apples, compressed then infused with lemon juice and fennel accompany the scallop.
Together they sit in a butternut squash juice with dots of parsley oil circling the main bite.
There is chervil—a relative of parsley—in the dish as well. Though the guest has never heard of this herb, the sprigs on his plate are grown locally in an aquaponics system.
It could easily be mistaken as a scene from the world-class Danish restaurant Noma, and there is good reason for that.
Moments before serving the scallop dish, Gillis emerged from the kitchen of 293 Wallace Street where the owner Hiro Takeda had just concluded a meeting with all of his employees, going through all of the dishes to be served that night.
Many of Takeda’s recent decisions for 293 Wallace, including the pep talk circle (complete with each person sharing two “positives” from their lives) and his Monday night tastings are strongly influenced by his time as an intern at Noma.
“It really helped fortify things that we were doing at the restaurant and it helped bring new ideas to the restaurant,” says Takeda. “Foraging is a big thing that we bring to the restaurant, using ingredients like Douglas fir, wild mushrooms, and different herbs that people generally wouldn’t use.”
The list continues: sheep sorrel, ground elder, dandelion and stinging nettle are all examples of unique (but often naturally ubiquitous) ingredients in the revamped 293 cuisine.
Over his 13 weeks in the Copenhagen restaurant, in an experience that was “very intense,” Takeda spent valuable time in the production kitchen and the service kitchen where he was thrown right into the fray with the full team and some of the other two dozen interns, doing lunch and dinner service.
But more than half of his time was spent in the fermentation lab at Noma alongside Lars Williams, head of research and development, an opportunity few of his counterparts were fortunate enough to get.
“That’s where they’re creating new flavours and new products essentially,” Takeda says. “They’re creating their own misos and soy sauces and kombuchas and vinegars and such.” The inventive restaurant uses Danish or other Scandinavian ingredients as a base for those ferments.
“Miso traditionally is made with soy beans but since that’s not native to the region, they’re using yellow split peas and rye bread and different ingredients that way,” Takeda says.
Locally sourcing and fermenting were important before his time in the coveted intern position, but they have taken on a new fervour since his return in June.
And with many foods at 293 Wallace made on site as well, prep time for Takeda’s staff is lengthy.
“We set out to try to create a restaurant that was special for [Hope], that not only did it provide food that was all made from scratch and had a creative twist to it, but also our investment into our team, into our staff,” he says. “It goes far beyond the daily operations. We do our best to make sure that our team members feel like part of the family.”
It’s always been that way for Takeda, influenced by his many years as a chef when he returned to his childhood-favourite Camp Squeah.
But Takeda has also borrowed a page from Noma, holding a daily staff meal cooked by himself or another chef where everyone working that day will sit and eat together.
And he credits his passion for people and community building to his own path of success.
“I was very fortunate to have a lot of chef mentors very early on who invested heavily into me and really helped me out,” Takeda says. “I was given many opportunities to succeed.”
He doesn’t just want to provide a unique dining experience for the people of Hope, but also wants to give a great learning experience to his staff.
One of the reasons Takeda started the 293 Wallace Monday night tastings was to have a creative outlet for his team and to give them the opportunity to come out of the kitchen and talk with restaurant guests.
“Our team is one that spends a lot of time thinking and pondering ideas and creating things on their own,” he says. “And that’s fantastic to see but it’s a shame if nobody else gets to see it.”
Even the front end staff gets an opportunity to add to the creativity. Dining room manager Nicole Craig adds a twist to the constantly-changing bar fresh sheet.
And Monday night is the new avenue when staff can take all of that energy and funnel it into one evening, where diners and cooks interact over the experimental dishes of the week.
A full-flavoured history
Takeda remembers sitting with his peers for lunch at school when he was young.
He would pull out a bento box his mother prepared while his classmates were eating roast beef or ham and cheese sandwiches, perplexed at their friend’s meal.
“Growing up I was exposed to many flavours that most of my friends were never exposed to,” Takeda says. “The flavour profiles that I’m used to and that I’m able to dabble into have been broadened because of that upbringing.”
His parents immigrated from Japan and eschewed fast food, preparing every meal from scratch and placing importance on a TV-off family meal every night.
And that influences Takeda’s restaurant to this day. He places utmost importance on the ingredients and the details of food—and the people who make and eat it.
But he also took a strong work ethic from his parents, something he says made him who he is today: a 30-year-old fine-dining restaurant owner who has trained with some of the world’s best chefs.
“I was taught to be very hard working I was taught to put work above almost everything else,” Takeda says, adding that his father was also a chef at one point in his career path.
It’s not just drive and values that the young entrepreneur inherited from his parents.
Some of the dishware a customer might see on the Monday tasting nights are from his parents’ hand-made artisan collection.
“One bowl that I’m very fond of is a bowl that I used to eat out of as a kid,” Takeda says.
That same child growing up in Surrey fell in love with the Hope area at summer camp, not knowing that he would return as an adult to lead his own family and teach a marriage of life skills and cooking skills.
Takeda admits it’s a bit more of a serious platform at a restaurant than working at a camp, but the core values (and some of the employees) are still the same.
“We still have people who don’t want to become chefs but they’re working in our kitchen,” he says. “They value it here because they’re learning life skills and because they’re part of a team that’s creative and has a cool dynamic to it.”
“We all get along very well and we all create together, and we all make people happy together—and we do it as a team.”
•293 Wallace Street restaurant takes seatings for Monday night tastings from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Reservations are not necessary, but strongly recommended. Two meal options are available: a four course option for $35 and a six course meal for $50. A holiday Festive Tasting Menu is also available every night until Dec. 31.