by Andrew Morrison | What happens after a restaurant dies? The signage comes down, the websites go 404, and the staff are cast to the four winds. Sometimes chattels are seized and things fall apart, but to the public the only things that remain are the archived reviews, a bruised ego or two, and – if the place was any good – some delicious memories.
Like most people, I get emotionally attached to restaurants. And when they die, it hurts. I’m not entirely sure why, but I figure it has to do with the important moments we share between courses. We discover great things about one another in restaurants. We raise glasses to the newly born and to those who leave us too soon. We fall in and out of love. We let luscious things wash over our palates and taste things for the very first time. Those aren’t superficial things. At least not to me. And when their foundations are removed they become apparitions, ghosts.
I have plenty of these ghosts; Boneta, Gastropod, Lumiere, Aurora Bistro, FUEL, to name just a few. If only the best of them could come back and haunt us for just one night!
Naturally, when chef/restaurateur Robert Belcham told me a couple of months ago about his idea for a one-night-only FUEL reunion pop-up, I was thoroughly stoked by the idea. He wanted to know if I’d be interested in being a guest and maybe writing a story about it, but I said right then and there that I would much prefer to work the dinner. I’d eat what I could scrounge.
I’d always wanted to have the chance to work alongside Robert and sommelier Tom Doughty, but never got the chance. It was inspiring to see them move on from their established, seemingly safe fine dining jobs at “C” and go independent in 2006 with FUEL, and though the fine dining restaurant was short-lived (replaced by their more casual Refuel in 2009), there’s no denying the impact it had, as evidenced by the full house it drew last week, some 7 years after it closed its doors for good.
The FUEL dinner at Campagnolo was a great time. It was a little odd being so formal in an environment that I’ve associated with informality for so long, but I got over that as quickly as the guests did. It was cool to see them all buying into the pop-up. For the most part, they were all loyal FUEL customers who never thought they’d see the day when it would return. It was a pleasure to serve them and to work the pass in the too crowded kitchen with so many of the restaurant’s former employees, among them the unflappable Tim Pittman (the opening GM at FUEL and a partner at Campagnolo since the start) and pregnant super-trooper chef Jane Cornborough. Between running 825+ plates out to tables and corralling floor staff to do the same (too politely, I was told) I was able to take lots of photos during the six hour service, some of which you’ll find below after the official skinny:
Critically acclaimed and beloved, FUEL Restaurant held its final dinner service on November 29, 2009. Chef Robert Belcham and his Campagnolo Restaurant business partners Tom Doughty and Tim Pittman will be honouring the restaurant that allowed them to spread their wings, with a homecoming dinner: FUEL Redux 2016. Reuniting with FUEL kitchen and service alumni on Wednesday, September 28, 2016, they will create a dining experience that pays tribute to the soul of FUEL with new inventive dishes that guests would expect to see had FUEL never closed.
FUEL was a part of a small but powerful wave of restaurants helmed by young innovative restaurateurs that changed Vancouver’s food and dining landscape. Robert Belcham was at the forefront of revitalizing whole animal butchery and charcuterie while pioneering the now common practice of sous-vide cooking. His open kitchen was intentionally located at the restaurant’s entrance, unheard of in a North American fine-dining restaurant, giving passersby and guests backstage access to cook culture: the breaking down of large animals into various tasty cuts of meat; the preparation and checking off of a chef’s mise en place list; ice cream created à la minute; family-style staff meals; and The Black Keys playing on heavy rotation. It was an exciting place to be during an exciting time in Vancouver’s culinary history.
Diners who long for one last opportunity to experience FUEL’s legendary nine-course Chef’s Tasting Menu can celebrate. The esteemed kitchen brigade—consisting of chefs Ted Anderson, Jane Cornborough, Geoff Hopgood, Adam Johnson, Marc-Alexandre Mercier, Alvin Pillay, Adam Vaughan, and Robert Belcham—has designed nine extravagant dishes that will emphasize individual creativity while honouring the collaborative process and philosophy of ‘flavour first’ that made FUEL so special.
“We are incredibly blessed to have worked with such talented people,” says Robert Belcham, Chef and Proprietor of Campagnolo Restaurants (previously of FUEL). “We want to reconnect with our friends and revisit a time-and-place that sparked something in all of us.”
The service team will be led by Tim Pittman and include, but is not limited to, industry veterans Eryn Dorman and Katharine Manson, while wine pairings will be selected by Tom Doughty and Peter Van de Reep.