Working in the Hakka Chinese food space since 1987, Joanna Liu’s family created a flavourful home away from home for newcomers in Toronto, at Yueh Tung Restaurant.Read Bio
Building Better BC Flavour, Brigade-Style
An industry great of over two decades, Chef Gus Brandson has donned aprons not only across Canada, but in international kitchens in Denmark and Germany as well.
With experience from the culinary heights of Hawksworth to the European perfectionism of Mainz and Berlin, Chef Brandson now hosts his style of dish building and station accountability at Published Restaurant, a Vancouver-based establishment he co-created with his like-minded business partner.
We went behind the line to learn more about this less-line-cook style approach to running a kitchen and how it benefits not only the dishes but how they’re eaten.
Tell us the story behind Published. How did you approach the concept when it was in development?
I'd just finished working at a job I didn't particularly love and was looking for the next thing. I was introduced to Cody Almond, the operating partner here. We started talking about building a space out and what kind of restaurant we wanted to create. It then became this conversation about what's new and exciting, where do you want to go eat, and these questions became harder and harder to answer. We then wanted to create the kind of dining experience we wanted and felt was missing here in Vancouver.
The creation would be approachable, affordable but still an experience. It would be comfortable, casual but also a night out where you could really light it up. Something where you can go in for a couple of snacks and a glass of wine but also have the option of doing a tasting menu and really go for it.
A lot of our offering is about underselling and over delivering. We keep our menu descriptions super vague and surprise people with something they wouldn't expect. There are also dishes that I don't think anyone's really seen here in Vancouver like the [able] skewers, one of the strongest dishes on the menu since day one. It's kind of a riff on a classic but then flipped on its head a bit.
A lot of the menu is driven by the ingredients first. A lot of times I'll look at something from a farm and slowly start working backwards from that to try and figure out what's going to best highlight it and what condiments can we make. What kind of pickles and preserves from the pantry can we use to take it to the next level?
We're providing a bunch of different experiences that are all cohesive while ultimately shooting to be the best restaurant in the city without coming out with any sort of ego.
Your experience in Denmark and Germany really shows through in the menu. How do the kitchen cultures and styles differ from North American restaurants?
I came back from Germany and started working at The Pear Tree right away, which was a very European kitchen with a brigade system, station chefs, long hours and very intense attention to detail. There are not as many restaurants here that operate like that anymore, a lot more follow a line cook system. Brigade style creates a big sense of accountability, which is lacking in a lot of other places where you hand the station off to someone else who may be like "I don't know, not my job."
Working in a small restaurant that's only open five days a week, where you're the person running that station five days a week, you own everything and have to answer to everything that comes from that station. That kind of mentality of accountability really helps you develop perfectionist skills. In places like The Pear Tree, anything less than perfect was not good enough and that thought process has been carried with me since then, along with the idea of, "what do we need to do to set ourselves up for success and what's important right now?"
The platings are absolutely stunning. Walk us through how a plate comes together in your head.
Very seldom do I have a vision in my head of what something's going to look like on a plate. For me, it always starts with building flavour and we build as much flavour into things as we can, especially with our condiments and sauces. I'll often be at the pass and have shown everyone how I want things heated and cooked. It then comes to me and I build it on the plate from there.
There are definitely times where I want things to be a dish of this shrouded in this, or the eating experience so you get this other thing with the super umami and hits of pickly bits. A lot of it just comes down to how I want the eating experience to be as well, like how you get all the layers when you run your fork through the dish. How's it going to be eaten and how's it going to be tasted?
One of our strengths is having such a large menu and having something for everyone. Whether you're an adventurous diner or not, there's something for you. We have the schnitzel, pastas and the perogies while others recognize the carpaccio more than others would. Every time we have sweetbreads on the menu, we also have some sort of deep-fried croquette.
A lot of the menu is rooted in familiar dishes while also using different ingredients and wild foraged items. It's about finding the balance and having the servers well educated and well versed in the menu so they can suggest things.
We also know you use a lot of techniques like fermenting potatoes, aeration, etc. What's your recommendation for chefs trying to up their technique game?
I find fermentation super simple as long as you're clean and organized. Starting with a simple sauerkraut and 2-3% salt in a clean environment, things will ferment and be delicious. If you get a food saver with a small chamber back at home, vacuum pack quarter wedges of cabbage with two percent salt and let them ferment for a week at room temperature. You'll then have this sour/sweet cabbage you can roast. That's something I think a home cook can do and use as a lift-off point to start playing around.
What have been the dishes you often go back to, knowing that they resonate with guests and do best for your margins?
We have the chips and dip, which I would always start with here. It's a caramelized onion and smoked fish dip with sturdy potato chips that's reminiscent of sour cream and onion soup mix dip. It's a lot more complex and has more layers, it's more than the sum of its parts, but it's also the same as eating chips and dip while watching a movie.
There's also the toasted hay dessert, which is outside of people’s norms. It's a toasted hay aerated custard with apple Granite and chamomile. It's super simple in my head but people freak out about it. It's the only dessert we've kept on from day one.
How did you find inspiration for your dish today while using Club House La Grille® Smouldering Smoked Applewood? Anything that would be helpful for other chefs or operators to know about it?
Tasting it right away, it's pretty in-your-face-smokey. We do a lot of smoking here so I asked myself, "what do we have that we don't normally smoke?" "What would make a good addictive snack?"
My mind immediately went to duck confit croquettes with some kind of mayo dip we could also put some smoke into. When I first tasted it, it needed something brighter and more acidic so I added lemon pepper.
I found that we could put the smoked applewood in almost every part of that dish without it becoming overwhelmingly smokey, so that spice is definitely bold but not too aggressive.
What has been your overall experience navigating Canada’s ever-changing foodservice landscape this past year and what wisdom can you pass on from it?
We've had to lay off most of our staff twice due to the two big lockdowns. The first time we came back, I launched a completely new menu as people were shying away from making things complicated. Chefs were dumbing down their menus, simplifying and cutting costs. It was our opportunity as a new restaurant to make a splash and come out stronger than ever before. It was a gamble but it paid off hugely.
If you don't get people to notice you, you'll be quick to fade off into obscurity. Instead of trying to change things up, I said let's double down and keep pushing on.
• Smouldering Applewood Duck Confit CroquetteSmouldering Applewood Duck Confit Croquettec
2021 Edition of Coast to Coast
Club House for Chefs uncovers the behind-the-line tactics and bounce back of chefs and operators across Canada as restaurants navigate not only reopenings but re-inspiration. Explore more