The Farmer’s Apprentice

I started as Food Critic over at VanMag last year. I’ll be posting my reviews here periodically after they’re published.

Chef David Gunawan’s restaurant Farmer’s Apprentice was my first assignment on the job. He captures perfectly the inversion of culinary values in the foodie west over the course of the past 30 years or so.

In high end rooms, it used to be an almost unswerving devotion to three ideas:

1. Adherence to continental and North European culinary tropes.
2. A muted elegance of flavours.
3. The exotic foreign ingredient.

In contemporary foodie rooms, we now see an almost perfectly inverted set of values, derived I’d argue from the originals:

1. Innovation in technique and aesthetic.
2. Bold, bright, surprising flavours and combinations.
3. The exotic local ingredient, foraging, 100 mile etc.

So if you want to eat the contemporary culinary moment, so to speak, and you also happen to be in Vancouver, you won’t got wrong at The Farmer’s Apprentice, even if you will almost certainly be perplexed by some of what you’re served.


When Chef David Gunawan spoke at Pecha Kucha last year, just a couple of months after opening The Farmer’s Apprentice with partner Dara Young, he made a comment that got nervous laughs. He’d been talking about his desire to eliminate the ego in cuisine, to do away with pretension and fussiness — the crumb removal and expensive cutlery — and get at something more surprising. And he said: “We don’t want you to like everything about us. I find it boring to love all dishes. I’d rather have you like one, hate another, and find two okay, then have a dessert that’s amazing!”

Maybe chefs aren’t supposed to say that, but Gunawan did and good for him because The Farmer’s Apprentice is packed. Forty seats, including every available inch at the bar, and I was there twice and could hardly see the floor. An interesting room: equal parts hole-in-the-wall comfort station and mad scientist’s lair. There are simple wood tables, jars of pickles on shelves, a warmly lit sidebar with a turntable and a stack of vinyl. But then there’s the kitchen, which is so open that you feel like you’re eating in it. It pulses with energy as Gunawan and his cooks and dishwashers square-dance around the Rational oven and Kamado grill and a single prep table stacked with what would appear to be 800 plastic tubs of mise en place.

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