Supermarine’s Jesse Grasso On Sardines, Sherry, Sneakers And Streetcars

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by Michelle Sproule | Over the years we’ve been lucky enough to watch with great interest and appreciation the rise of one Jesse Grasso. He’s toiled on several kitchen lines across the city, even hustled Korean tacos on a street corner, all the while consistently exhibiting the kind of broad, all-encompassing appreciation of the culinary arts through the practical application of passion and curiosity. To know him is to want to eat everything he cooks.

A couple of years ago he took an opportunity to cook at The Black Hoof in Toronto and ran with it, quickly establishing himself as one of Canada’s most exciting young chefs. He returned to Vancouver earlier this year to be the Development Chef at Gooseneck Hospitality, the company that owns Gastown’s Wildebeest, Kerrisdale’s Bufala, and Kitsilano’s new Supermarine. He clocks in daily at the latter as Executive Chef. Say hello to…

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The seasonal ingredient that gets you most excited? Sardines! And asparagus.

What about Toronto do you find yourself missing now that you’re back in Vancouver? My girlfriend, and Korean food. Mostly in that order.

If you could have your choice of any chef to open a restaurant on your block, which chef would you choose and what concept would you like to see them rock? I want more awesome Malaysian food in this city. So anyone that wants to do that.

Biggest culinary surprise since returning to Vancouver? I had no idea that there was local skate available before I came back to work at Supermarine. It’s reasonably priced, and a really awesome product. Not really sure why more people aren’t serving it.

The thing that is bad for you that you will never stop eating? So many things, but ketchup chips are probably the biggest one.

Default drink/cocktail of choice? Sherry and Tonic is the move lately. Thank you, Geoff Robinson.

Dogs or cats? Dogs.

Favoured mode of transportation? Walking or biking. I’ve never had a driver’s license and don’t think I ever will.

The song that you could listen to on repeat for an hour? Dontcha – The Internet [listen].

What neighbourhood are you living in? The West End. It makes me feel so fancy.

The strangest talent that you possess? The ability to remember everything, regardless of how drunk I am. People hate it.

Whose kitchen do you envy? That wood oven/grill thing at Savio Volpe is pretty incredible. Otherwise, I like my small spaces. Give me a stove and a cutting board and I’ll figure it out.

What keeps you up at night? Constantly thinking about new dishes and ideas.

Three role models? Tina Fineza for her crazy work ethic and everything she taught me; Adam Pegg for running a restaurant the way that everyone should dream of doing it; Tobey and Michael from Edulis for the same reasons as Adam — they’re so talented and do everything the proper way.

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Your major character flaw? Being too impatient.

The character flaw in others that you can’t stand? People constantly being late isn’t good for how impatient I am.

Coffee or tea? I should drink tea cause I get crazy heartburn from coffee, but coffee all the way.

At The Black Hoof, your emphasis was meat. At Supermarine, it’s seafood. What about the shift has been the most challenging for you as a chef? Definitely remembering to have a softer hand with cooking techniques and flavours. Offal can generally stand up to a lot more than most seafood, but it’s all about balance in both cases.

The strangest place you’ve ever been to? Haiti is pretty crazy. But definitely Secret Location [in Gastown].

What’s for breakfast at home? Maybe a bowl of cereal, at the most.

Where are you taking us for brunch? I’m working every Saturday and Sunday brunch at Supermarine, so you should probably just come and hang out with me here.

Your biggest fear? Every single time I’m riding my bike in Toronto, I’m terrified of getting caught in the streetcar tracks and faceplanting. I’m sure you meant, like, an actual deep fear, but anyone who’s ever hit the streetcar tracks feels my pain.

What was the unluckiest moment in your life? I try not to focus on things like that. Shitty things happen but you just gotten keep moving forward (sorry…I know it’s cheesy, but it’s true).

What was the luckiest moment in your life? The way I met Jen Agg, by her coming into La Quercia for dinner. Then months later moving to Toronto to be the chef at The Hoof on a whim. It was a pretty special moment for me. Everything happens for a reason.

The first album that made you love music? The Wu Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers was pretty crucial for me.

Default ramen joint? What’s your usual order? Lately, Ramen Man for the chicken and clam ramen. Everything from the noodles, to the broth, to the pork is what I want in a bowl of ramen.

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What do you do when you can’t sleep? Write down ideas until I fall asleep.

Most memorable meal this year? Wassail, a vegetarian restaurant and cider bar in NYC that really blew my mind. Also, getting one more meal in at Joe Beef with my friend John Bil, before I came back west. That was pretty great.

What would you like to change about Vancouver? It would be really nice if it was actually financially feasible to open a tiny, affordable, and dope restaurant in this city. Everyone is forced to do bigger rooms with high prices, catering to a larger audience just so they can get by. It’s discouraging, but it also makes me hope that we can change this one day.

Your go to, no-frills place for dinner? Mr Red Café!

If you could board a plane this afternoon, where would it be taking you? Tokyo.

Where else have you worked? In Vancouver: Bao Bei, Tacofino, La Quercia, Flying Tiger, Abigail’s Party and a few places I’d rather not talk about.

Shoe of choice? Sneakers, always. Jordans, New Balance, Saucony.

The different career path that you could have gone on? I’m pretty sure this is the only thing I’m good at.

Your ancestry? Italian-Irish-English.

Three favourite dishes in YVR? Bo La Lot at Mr Red Café; Grilled Fish Head (whatever is the freshest) at Sushi Bar Maumi; XLB at Long’s Noodle House.

Where’d you grow up? Mostly in Bowmanville and Hamilton in Ontario, but also a bit in Alberta.

As a chef, where are you strongest and weakest in the kitchen? Strongest I think would be the creative process and coming up with dishes and combinations. But I always forget to write everything down as I’m doing it, which can be very frustrating.

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What are you the most proud of? Definitely my eyelashes.

What are you the least proud of? How proud I am of my eyelashes.

The best thing about your work? Getting to cook food that I’ve created with the hope that people like it.

The worst thing about your work? The fear that people won’t like it.

The talent that you wish you possessed? I kinda wish I could breakdance.

Scariest situation you’ve ever been in? Last year in Virginia my friend Mitch and I got rear-ended by a bus on the freeway, which completely wrote off the car we were in. Neither of us got overly hurt in the long run, but it was terrifying when it happened.

Your favourite curse word? FUCK, all the way. It’s good for everything.

What object of no monetary value will you keep dearly until you die? My teddy bear that I’ve had since I was born. Awww.

The most beautiful place in the world? Vancouver isn’t the worst.

Three Toronto meal you wish you could get in Vancouver? Bo Ssam at Lim Ga Ne; Tasting Menu at Momofuku Shoto; Sunday Lunch at Edulis.

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

The best way to go, in the very end? I don’t know. Ultimately, I guess you want to die of natural causes when you’re old, but realistically I’m probably going to do something dumb or have a massive heart attack due to an unhealthy lifestyle. Man, thanks a lot for making me think about this…

How would you like to be remembered? As a really good line cook.

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