B.C. Wine Culture

Suyo is just one of a cluster of exciting new chef-driven restaurants in Vancouver

At Suyo Modern Peruvian, chef-owner Ricardo Valverde puts the finishing touches
on a chocolate tres leches cake. Photo courtesy of Suyo Modern Peruvian

It’s been a big year for chef Ricardo Valverde. On January 8, his son was born. Seven months later, on August 25, so was his second baby. That’s the day he opened Suyo Modern Peruvian, a passionate homage to his South American homeland.

“Opening a restaurant is one of the craziest things you can do,” says Valverde. “But there’s a great sense of accomplishment. It is a dream come true.”

Valverde is just one of several of Vancouver’s best-known chefs who are opening their own establishments and making the city’s culinary scene infinitely more delicious. 

Durbach on South Granville

In July, Andrey Durbach opened Impostori Trattoria + Negroni Bar, a casual “Italian with a twist” restaurant on South Granville. Best known for his previous chef-owned restaurants Pied-à-Terre, La Buca, Parkside and Sardine Can, Durbach had spent the last few years owning and operating Il Falcone, an upscale-ish Italian restaurant in a charming little yellow house in Courtenay.

But Vancouver called him home and he couldn’t resist opening one more restaurant. He partnered with wine pro Gordon Ritchie, who shares his love of all things Italian. He is a genial presence in the cheerily colourful front of house, which features an impeccable service team that has worked in some of the city’s best dining rooms, from Boneta to Bishop’s.

Durbach, meanwhile, is cooking up the kinds of classically inspired Italian dishes he loves best: daily housemade pasta, bistecca Fiorentina for two, osso buco, zuppa inglese. His longtime fans—and there are many in this city—couldn’t be happier to welcome him home.

Feenie’s long-awaited return

The big opening on the horizon is Rob Feenie’s new restaurant, his first since 2007 when he left the elegant, ground-breaking Lumière, which he’d opened in 1995 as an ambitious 29-year-old, and its more casual sibling Feenie’s. 

Lumière forever elevated the fine-dining scene in this city. Between 1997 and 2008, Lumière was named Vancouver magazine’s Restaurant of the Year seven times (West won the distinction the other five times), and Feenie’s departure after a dispute with the owners sent shock waves through the foodie community. So did Feenie’s next move—for the next 15 years, he was the Cactus Club chain’s “food concepts architect.”

But he was getting bored, and has said, “All I want now is to get back to food.”

That’s just what he plans to do at the new restaurant, which will be called some version of his name and will most likely open sometime in 2023. He hasn’t revealed the location yet, but has mused about the west side or possibly White Rock, where he lives. Wherever it is, we can’t wait to experience Feenie’s 2.0.

At Suyo, chef Ricardo Valverde puts a modern spin on traditional Peruvian dishes, such as, from top: crispy prawn causa; a plant-forward Italian squash ceviche; and ensalada Rusa. Photo courtesy of Suyo Modern Peruvian

Valverde hits main street

And then there’s Valverde. Originally from Peru, he came to Vancouver as an 18-year-old and cooked his way through some of the city’s finest restaurants, including Blue Water Cafe, CinCin Ristorante and Ancora, where he was executive chef until COVID threw everything into disarray.

“After Ancora, I was just doing gigs here and there,” he says. Last year, for instance, Valverde spent eight months working as a sous chef at Cioppino’s. “I learned so much from [chef-owner Pino Posteraro]. The things that I did to start my restaurant, I learned from him.”

After searching for several months, he and his business partner found the perfect location in the old Slickity Jim’s Chat ‘n’ Chew on Main Street. Evoke International Design transformed the space into an elegant, 49-seat slice of South America, inspired by Incan gold and the pre-Incan geoglyphs known as the Nazca Lines. 

Phot courtesy of Suyo Modern Peruvian

It’s small, which is good when you have the kind of staffing issues restaurants are dealing with right now. And it’s right in the heart of Vancouver’s busiest restaurant scene, which is even better. “We wanted to be in Mount Pleasant. It’s the new Gastown, it’s the new Yaletown of the modern era,” Valverde says. “It’s such a welcoming melting pot culture of food. It excites people. I was like, this is it.”

He describes the food as a modern take on classic Peruvian fare, prepared by a Peruvian kitchen staff. “Some dishes, probably two or three, are as they are. Like the ceviches are exactly like you’d find in Lima,” he says.

Peruvian food, of course, is global food, with Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Spanish and African influences, as well as the bountiful ingredients of rainforest, mountains and ocean. It is the sort of cuisine Vancouver’s palate likes best, especially when it’s paired with a drinks list that is just as diverse. It features exciting local wines and intriguing international ones, mainly from South America. And cocktail aficionados will be thrilled by the creative concoctions of award-winning bar manager Max Curzon-Price (most recently of Botanist Bar). 

And Valverde is not done yet. The plan is to open a few more small places, perhaps focused on plant-forward cuisine or dishes cooked over charcoal.

“We’ve got to leave a legacy,” he says. Funny, seems to us he already has.  

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