BIG INTERVIEW | Fifteen Minutes With Chef / Restaurateur Robert Belcham Of Campagnolo

September 27, 2016.

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by Monique Nicholas & Andrew Morrison | Today we say hello to Robert Belcham and put to him some 50 rapid-fire questions to get a better idea of what makes the big guy tick. Vancouver’s food-lovers have seen him in many kitchens over the years but you likely know him best as the veteran chef/restaurateur responsible for the delicious, accessible likes of Campagnolo, Campagnolo Roma, and Campagnolo Upstairs. He’s also the Vice President of the Chefs Table Society of BC, a dedicated father, and a veritable maestro in the charcuterie game.

Of course with all the simple, down-home fare he produces these days – and with “campagnolo” being the Italian slang equivalent of “country bumpkin” – we’d be forgiven for forgetting that Belcham once excelled in the realm of fine dining, toiling away in whites at the Aerie Resort, The French Laundry, “C” and NU on the False Creek seawall before opening the short-lived but beloved Fuel in Kitsilano (closed in 2009). It may have been years since he worked a refined tasting menu, but the skill is still there; a sharpness that never blunts.

When you think of it, the two dishes that he is best known for right now – the seemingly simple Spaghetti Carbonara and the ecstasy-inducing Dirty Burger (recognised by many as one of Vancouver’s best cheap eats) – are really Trojan horse testaments to how he’s kept his attention to detail and steadfast enforcement of consistency on the line. We’re reminded of this this week when Belcham and his cohorts bring back Fuel for a one night only pop-up on Main Street. Here’s hoping they do the same thing with Fat Dragon soon, too…

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What neighbourhood do you live in and what makes it home? Pitt Meadows. It’s quiet and I like to drive fast, so it’s a quick commute.

Coffee or tea? Espresso.

Name every restaurant you’ve ever worked at in chronological order: Rebar Modern Food, The Restaurant at the Aerie Resort, The French Laundry, C, Nu, Fuel, Campagnolo, reFuel, Campagnolo Roma, Fat Dragon BBQ, Campagnolo Upstairs.

Describe the food concept at Campagnolo in 10 words or less: Tasty Italian food, good wine and great service.

The cliché that you overuse? “Fuck you.”

What keeps you up at night? Nothing, I sleep like a kitten.

Dogs or cats? Both.

Shoe of choice? Vans.

Your three role models? My father and my two grandfathers; family is everything.

———— FUEL RESTAURANT | 2008 ————

———— FUEL RESTAURANT | 2008 ————

Favourite Vancouver view? Anywhere from the seat of my motorcycle.

The thing that is bad for you that you will never stop eating? Nothing is bad for you in moderation.

Which local restaurant kitchen do you envy the most? The Vancouver Club. Sean Cousin’s kitchen is one of the best I have ever seen.

First album that you ever bought? I think it was David Bowie’s China Girl. It was a birthday gift for my older sister.

What was the last live concert you saw? Black Keys at Deer Lake Park with my son.

What game did you love as a kid? Centipede.

The best treat to satisfy your sweet-tooth? The “Florida Cow – Double Awful” at Glenburn Soda Fountain.

Tell us about your first knife. When did you buy it and what kind was it? I bought a 4 star Henkel Chef’s knife for culinary school. It was stolen from my bag at school a month later.

The different career path you could have gone down? If I never found cooking, I’d probably be dead.

———— CAMPAGNOLO OPENING | 2008 ————

———— CAMPAGNOLO OPENING | 2008 ————

Three films you would gladly watch again? Roadhouse, Apocalypse Now, Seven Samurai.

Three favourite dishes in Vancouver? Negi-goma tonkatsu ramen at Danbo; chicken wings at Longtail Kitchen; 16oz bone-in ribeye at Hys.

Under what circumstances would you join the army? I don’t think there is one…

It’s five years ago. You just clocked out. Where to? Home.

What are you the most proud of? My son.

The best thing about cooking? Learning something new everyday.

The worst thing about cooking? That my feet hurt.

Local, seasonal ingredient that you most look forward to? Its a tie between Stoney Paradise tomatoes or Highpoint raspberries.

What advice would you give your 20 year old self? Buy Apple stock.

———— CAMPAGNOLO ROMA OPENING | 2011 ————

———— CAMPAGNOLO ROMA OPENING | 2011 ————

Restaurant trend that needs to die? Hiring a cook for a Chef’s job.

Your favourite curse word? “Fuck.”

Your three least favourite words? “I don’t know.” Me: “Who broke the Vita Prep?” Every cook I ask: “Uhh, I don’t know.”

The Rolling Stones or The Beatles? The Beatles.

Top three books or authors that you love? The Inferno by Dante Alighieri; The Road by Cormac McCarthy; Ma Gastronomie by Fernand Point.

Craziest place you’ve ever traveled? The Spearmint Rhino [a “gentleman’s club” in Las Vegas]. I had to leave NYC because of a hurricane and thought, “Vegas is nice…”

What object of no monetary value will you keep dearly until you die? Tattoos.

The most beautiful place in the world? British Columbia.

———— FAT DRAGON OPENING | 2012 ————

———— FAT DRAGON OPENING | 2012 ————

Your first memory? My twin sister.

The one song you can listen to on repeat for an hour? Pretty much anything by Johnny Cash.

Drink of choice? Water or a Negroni.

Three tools every kitchen should be stocked with? Spoons, pans, good line cooks.

The best gift you ever received? A surprise birthday trip to New Orleans.

Most played song on your iTunes? Trouble Weighs A Ton by Dan Auerbach. That surprised me.

Best late night snack? Bourbon.

What was your first tattoo of and when did you get it? Snake on my leg in 1991 from Smiling Buddha Tattoo in Edmonton.

The Campagnolo or Camp Roma dish you want every Vancouverite to try? A proper Pasta Carbonara.

What’s on the top of your bucket list? I don’t have a bucket list. If I want to do something, I just go and do it.

———— CAMPAGNOLO UPSTAIRS OPENING | 2014 ————

———— CAMPAGNOLO UPSTAIRS OPENING | 2014 ————

The Vancouver restaurant you wish was open 24 hours a day? I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

What’s the one thing about our restaurant scene that you’d like to see changed the most? More substance, less style.

If you had a motto, what would it be? Be like a duck, just let the bad stuff roll off your back.

What creature scares you the most? Yelpers. They are unpredictable.

The best way to go, in the very end? With no regrets and no money.

How would you like to be remembered? Through the people I have taught to cook, and who they teach to cook.

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