As long as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in food and cooking. We travelled quite a bit as kids, living in Africa when I was very young, back to northern BC, then off to Ontario, back to BC, off to England, then back to BC for good in 1977. I was 8, and settling in West Point Grey was a good place to be a kid. We spent a lot of time in the endowment lands and at Jericho Beach, exploring our surroundings as we always had. We lived in a big house on 13th, and between my older brother and I (who are only a year a part, so had the same circle of acquaintances) there was always a good sized group of boys around the house. One Sunday morning there was a fair group that had spent the night and we were poking around in the kitchen figuring out what to eat. Catholic school had taught us well, as Shrove Tuesday had just passed and the grade 6 class had learned in their discussions of the traditions of Mardi Gras how to make crepes. A crude batter was prepared in the blender, cooked in a couple of cast iron frying pans, and the group was satisfied, not just with the offerings, but the satisfaction of cooking for ourselves.
Every year, we had a family tradition of a pre-school year meeting in which the daily chores would be decided and assigned to my brothers and I. That September, (1979 I guess), I decided that I would like to relinquish my duties as garbageman, and would take on the responsibility of preparing breakfast for the family on a daily basis. Armed with my well worn copy of “the Joy Of Cooking,” I set out to liberate the Green boys of years of porridge for breakfast. Pancakes, omelettes, different egg preparations all became part of the repertoire, and I held my post for the rest of my time at home.
My parents had always been interested in social and environmental issues, so in 1980, following skyrocketing interest rates and house prices, my parents decided that my Dad had had enough of corporate life, and my Mom would work instead, taking a position with the Development agency of the Catholic Church. This meant a fairly substantial income drop, so we moved to South Vancouver, and spent the remainder of my youth living on the East Side.
The 80’s were pretty tumultuous times for those involved in social justice and global awareness, so we became very aware of socio-economic issues, the reality of the global food supply, and the like. In 1985, my parents packed the family up in a 1969 Volkswagen van and drove to Nicaragua, so that they could work with a group of priests who had been working with the Mayan people in Guatemala, and were now in exile in San Juan Del Sur, a beautiful beach town near the Costa Rican border. What a place to be 16! As the revolution was merely 6 years old, the youth were the future and as such were treated like adults. It was common for the high school classes to encompass a demographic of 15-30, and the atmosphere was of excitement and exhilaration. We were there for half the year, during which time we were able to discover exciting new flavours, and really learned an appreciation for ingredients. There was a trade embargo from the US because of the socialist regime, and we learned to cherish the fresh produce and seafood at the market, the fresh pork that was available, and most importantly, we learned like most of the world how to make beans and rice the backbone of the diet. Returning to Vancouver 8 months later, to say we had a new appreciation for the standard of living afforded the average Canadian would be an understatement to say the least.
A couple of years later, as I was finishing High School, I started looking at finding a part time job. A local restaurant near my high school had placed an ad in the morning announcements for part time kitchen help, and I figure since I loved to cook it might be a good thing to try out for a while. I stopped by the Avenue Grill on my way home from school one day, had a brief talk with the Sous Chef, and left my name and number. I got a call from the Chef a few days later and met with her, and started doing prep and making toast on Easter weekend, 1987.
I worked Friday nights and Sunday mornings for the rest of the school year, and learned the basics. The Grill was at that time doing a real California Cuisine thing, all the food was prepared in house, fresh baked muffins and scones, fresh creative salads and sandwiches, and a small dinner menu with pasta and casual but well prepared entrees. Sunday brunch was one of the busiest in town, where it wasn’t uncommon to do 120-150 covers in 4 hours, OUT OF 38 SEATS!! By the time the school year ended, I had been offered full time work for the summer, which I accepted gladly. (At that time I was certain that I was destined to be a rock star, so I just had to make a few bucks to get me through in the meantime).
A few months after I started full time, an apprenticeship became available and was offered, provided I could commit to sticking around for a couple of years to learn the trade. Again, I gladly accepted, and went from prep to sandwiches and salads, to working dinner service within the first year. By the end of my first full year, I was cooking Sunday brunch every week as well as 2 nights on the stove and 2 on the salad station. By the time the second year rolled around, the Sous Chef had left, and it became my responsibility to cook dinner four nights a week and Sunday Brunch. I was happy to accept the challenge, and excited to be able to write specials, learn new techniques, and grow into a larger role. In the fall of 1989, the Chef decided to leave, and at that time, the responsibility to take over the kitchen fell on my shoulders.
The fall of 1989 and spring of 1990 brought great change for me. I had just gotten married the summer before, I had taken on the responsibility of running a small restaurant kitchen, and we had decided to buy our first house. The housing market had gone through the roof, and the only place we could afford was to move to the Fraser Valley. We started looking in Delta and Surrey, and as we looked, prices kept getting higher and higher, pushing us farther and farther east, until we finally bought a small home in Aldergrove, a good hour’s drive from work, in February, 1990. Within a few weeks of the house purchase, Jim, the owner of the restaurant came to me and said he had an idea to do something no one else in town was doing. He really wanted to get into organic food and embracing the natural food movement that had been going on in California. I was sent out to buy a few books and do some research (pre-internet, it meant the library) and picked up a copy of Chez Panisse Cooking, written by then Chef Paul Bertolli. I was fascinated by the story and the concept, and inspired to accept that thought process as the only way to cook. Between my own personal social background and a new move to start a family in the middle of farm country, everything seemed to make sense to go in a real down to earth, “connected with the land” direction. I had a copy of the Canadian Organic Food directory that had been picked up at Kits Natural Foods, and thumbed through it to see who was active in British Columbia. I only knew one organic farmer, Herb Barbolet from Glorious Garnish, and decided to ask him how I could get in touch with other farms, and the BCARA, the local organic farmer’s association. His response was, “You’re in touch. I’m the president. You should come to our meetings in Cloverdale once a month and meet some great people.” I agreed, and in the meantime, he gave me the number of a family in Surrey who had been farming there for a half dozen years.
End part 1. Next: part 2, meeting the Kings