Chef Sean Reeve On Kitchen Envy, Archaeology Options, And Good Old Vlad

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The Big Interview asks dozens of questions – some serious, some irreverent – the answers to which (we hope) reveal enough of a character to uncommonly contextualise their endeavours.

We’ve started the series talking to local chefs, previously speaking to Mark Perrier, owner/chef at Savio Volpe in the Fraserhood, and Trevor Bird, owner/chef at Fable in Kitsilano and a new diner coming soon to Mt. Pleasant.

Today, we turn our focus on Sean Reeve, the chef and co-owner of The Mackenzie Room, a small 50 seat farm-to-table restaurant facing Oppenheimer Park on the Downtown Eastside.

What’s the seasonal ingredient that gets you the most excited? Now that the colder months are upon us, I’m really excited to work with Uni (Sea Urchin) since it’s best during the winter months.

What about Toronto do you find yourself missing now that you’re in Vancouver? My family and friends are there, and I miss them all, but specifically my nephews – Theodore and Noah!

If you could have your choice of any chef to open a restaurant on your block, who would it be and what’s the food concept? Sean Brock, Southern American.

Biggest culinary surprise since coming to Vancouver? Qualicum Bay Scallops! They’re back, and I thought I wouldn’t have the chance to cook with them, so their re-emergence has been a welcome surprise.

The thing that is bad for you that you will never stop eating? Hot fresh donuts. My business partner Andrew Jameson stops by Lee’s Donuts on Granville Island every so often and brings in fresh, hot honey-dipped donuts.

Default drink/cocktail of choice? Three fingers of Bourbon. That’s a cocktail, right?

Dogs or cats? Dogs.

Favourite mode of transportation? Top down, doors off in my Jeep Wrangler.

The song that you could listen to on repeat for an hour? I Can’t Feel My Face by The Weeknd

Your neighbourhood? Railtown. That’s where The Mackenzie Room is and I definitely spend more time here than at home.

The strangest talent that you possess? Tying cherry stems with my tongue.

Who’s kitchen do you envy? Dan Barber’s at Blue Hills Farm in New York. Without question. They have a stunning set up, thoroughly equipped, located on a working four-season farm and educational center where they can source everything they need from the surrounding fields, pastures, and farm. It’s the pinnacle right now of Farm to Table in my books.

What keeps you up at night? The daily rigours of running your own business.

Three role models? Dan Barber. Lino Collevecchio. My sister Caitlin Reeve.

Your major character flaw? Perfectionist. I also take on too much.

What’s the character flaw that you can’t stand? Lack of attention to detail. Complacency. Can it be both?

Coffee or Tea? Espresso.

Ten words or less, describe the food concept at TMR. Playfully named delicious dishes that stir-up conversations, emotions, and memories. (Hyphen used intentionally. 10!)

Strangest place you’ve been to? Chopped Canada. It’s a kitchen of course, where I feel at home, but it’s also reality tv, and there’s a structure to it that’s altogether foreign. I haven’t even watched the episode because the experience was so … strange. Great, but strange. That’s really the best word for it.

What’s for breakfast at home? Espresso.

Where you taking us for brunch? Since being back in Vancouver I haven’t been out for brunch actually, so I don’t know the scene too well. Antonio, who works at TMR with me, loves Burdock & Co so I’ll put that at the top of my list.

3 books that made an impact on you in your formative years? The Silver Spoon cookbook. The world of Tolkien – I’ll treat all his books as one here – for his ability to create entire worlds, languages, and epic narratives full of pure creativity that activates the imagination. The Prince by Machiavelli.

Your biggest fear? I don’t want to bring anyone down here so I’ll say…heights. There are worse, but let’s go with that one.

What was the unluckiest moment in your life? Maybe not the unluckiest, but getting a shot at Chopped Canada only to find out that I’d be up against my good friend was pretty unlucky. Still beat him. What up G!

What was the luckiest moment in your life? Meeting the two people I’d go on to open The Mackenzie Room with – Katie and Andrew Jameson – and getting to move back home to Vancouver to do it.

The first album that made you love music? Thriller. Do people say anything else?

Why do you think it’s hard for Vancouver chefs to find and keep cooks these days? NOW HIRING…seriously. To be fair though, I don’t think it’s just a Vancouver issue. This craft is one where you have to be passionate enough to grind it out, learning on the job, working many hours to get the real skills you need often in entry level positions. There’s also been a glamorization of ‘Chefs’ in the past decade through tv and film, and it seems that in feeding the fantasy and narrative of fame, the work that goes into getting to that position has been lost. Unless you get someone who knows what they want and has their sights set on a career, you end up with a young tourist trying to figure it out while not really engaging with the food and getting complacent with their own slow growth and the daily realities of working in a kitchen.

What do you do when you can’t sleep? Netflix and chill.

Two historical personalities (good/bad) that fascinate you the most? Marcus Aurelius – Roman emperor and stoic philosopher who loved art, culture and language, and was revered for being able to preserve equanimity amidst conflict. Vlad the Impaler – educated in logic, the Quran, multiple languages, and strategic warfare; he went on to inspire Dracula due to his reviled methods of torture and impalement which he used to protect the Romanian and Bulgarian dynasties against the Ottoman Empire. And he had castles.

What trend have you followed that you now regret? Tear-aways.

The dumbest thing that you’ve ever done to your hair? Frosted tips. Never again.

What would you like to change about Vancouver? The cost of living.

Your go to, no frills place for dinner? Phnom Penh.

If you could board a plane this afternoon, where would it be taking you? Bora Bora. I could use a vacation.

Where else have you worked? I’ve worked in Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, Oakville, Mississauga, Chianti, Bergamo, and had the opportunity to stage in Paris, Barcelona and New York.

Favourite Vancouver Building? Science World.

The cliche that you over use? The fact of the matter is that when push comes to shove and the chips are down, at the end of the day, I don’t really use cliches.

Shoe of choice? Jordans.

The different career path that you could have gone on? Archaeologist. You get a cool hat, a whip, that badass satchel..wait, I think I just want to be Indiana Jones.

Your ancestry? Mother’s side: Irish, Russian, German, Native. Father’s side: Scottish, English, Mohawk.

Three films you would gladly watch again? The Fellowship of the Ring. The Two Towers. The Return of the King.

Three favourite dishes in Vancouver? Sea Eel Candied Salmon at Carp Sushi on Prince Edward. Buttered Beef at Phnom Penh. Ramen with bamboo charcoal broth at Motomachi.

As a chef, where are you the strongest and weakest in the kitchen? I’m strongest at controlling the tempo, pace, and execution of service. I’m weakest at writing with chocolate (which we don’t do, for the record).

What are you the most proud of? The journey that I’m on; where I started and where I am today.

What are you least proud of? Missing out on special occasions – specifically my nephew’s birthdays.

The biggest mistake you’ve ever made? Picking a favourite plate and then having my guys in the kitchen break them. And my heart. Repeatedly.

The best thing about your work? When people ‘get it’. The food, the cocktails, the service, the ambiance. When they get it, it really makes it all worthwhile.

The worst thing about your work? I have no feeling left in my fingertips so sometimes servers burn their hands on hot plates. And I feel bad. A bit.

The talent you wished you possessed? I’d become a singer in a heart beat. Gimme a bit of Chris Stapleton, a pinch of Freddy Mercury, and a healthy dose of Michael Jackson. Game on.

If you had a motto, what would it be? I do. Keep It SAP. #keepitSAP

Scariest situation you’ve ever been in? Getting hit from behind in hockey. I blacked out and when I came to, I thought I’d been paralyzed.

Your first memory? It’s not a first memory, but I’m told that when I was three and my dad would take me to the grocery store, I’d always wink at the female cashiers.

The Montreal meal you wish you could get in Vancouver? A night out at Maison Publique with my favourite person, C.R. – I miss her every day.

The one place that you have the least interest in visiting? Prison.

The best way to go in the very end? Tending to my garden at the family farm surrounded by the sounds of my family at sunset. Keeled over in my tomato plant.

How do you want to be remembered? “The final mystery is oneself. When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens star by star, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?” – Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

  • Mackenzie Room | 415 Powell Street | Japantown/Railtown | www.themackenzieroom.com
  • Chef Sean Reeve | MacKenzie Room
  • Arthur Wynne behind the bar at The McKenzie Room
  • The McKenzie Room
  • Rumaretto Sour | The MacKenzie Room
  • The MacKenzie Room
  • Rumaretto Sour at The MacKenzie Room
  • The MacKenzie Room
  • The MacKenzie Room
  • Cocktail List | The MacKenzie Room

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