Mackenzie Room’s Mathew Bishop On Dumplings And Why Poke Must Die

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We often hear the same names of Vancouver hospitality titans in local media. They do very well to represent and have done so for years. We work up thirsts and appetites following their exploits and look forward to trying whatever it is they come up with next, but we seldom consider the individuals who toil in relative anonymity alongside them, and we’re often late in introducing those destined to join them in their starry pantheon. This series of short interviews looks to introduce our readers to this new breed, one blossoming talent at a time.

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For Mathew Bishop, it’s not enough that to be at work by 1pm every day and kill it for 12 hours straight at The Mackenzie Room. In his spare time the young Chef de Partie has found the energy to start his own dumpling business. Quite simply, the man loves food and he loves to cook. Did I mention he’s also done some of his own sustainable agriculture? Because we all do that in our spare time, right? Clearly, for someone who’s not yet 25, Mathew doesn’t lack ambition or drive. He’s worked in some excellent kitchens, from Araxi and the short-lived Blackbird to The Parker and most recently at Tacofino in Gastown (where GM Matt Fidler told me “he loves to learn and dress up a plate real pretty”). We spoke recently about his farming background, the stress of pickling 1600 pounds of herring in two days (and loving it, mind you), and why the craziness of Whistler was too much for him. Say hello to…

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Why did you become a cook? I hated school.

Did you ever have ambitions to do anything else? Marine biology or architecture.

Where did you learn? Do you have any formal training? A collective of people I’ve worked with. Nah, no school.

What was your first kitchen job and how long did it last? Dish washing at Mitch Miller’s in Abbotsford. I was there maybe a month?

Ok, now name every kitchen you’ve ever worked in. Mitch Miller’s, Little Saigon, Happy Valley Day Lodge, Lamplighter, Blackbird, The Parker, Tacofino, Araxi, The Mackenzie Room.

If you could stage for a week in one Vancouver restaurant, which one would it be? In all honesty, Marutama. I just wanna know how they make that broth.

If you could stage for a week in any restaurant outside Vancouver, which one would it be? The Nomad or Blue Hill Farm. It’s a toss up..

Kitchen slang word at your restaurant that you’ve never heard anywhere else? S.A.P. (Sexual and Professional)

Which local restaurant kitchen do you envy the most on account of its space, equipment, layout, et cetera? Hawksworth. Who doesn’t?

What is the single most important lesson you have learned from your current boss? Say it with your chest.

What word, cliche, or saying does your boss overuse the most during service? That’s it!

Who have been some of your most impactful mentors? The Chefs from Blackbird / Mark Mcloughlin from Araxi.

Open kitchen or closed kitchen, which suits your personality best? Everything’s better behind closed doors.

Describe the knife that you’re most sentimental about. Where did you get it? What’s the story? The SWIBO. A fillet knife from my great grandfather’s hunting and tackle store, and this massive scimitar from a logging camp my grandparents were at.

Do you have any ambition to open a restaurant of your own one day? Yes, sir.

What is your favourite type of cuisine to cook? Japanese.

What is your favourite type of cuisine to eat? Mexican.

What’s the one dreaded kitchen task that you’d be glad to staff out to someone else so you never have to do it again? Cleaning artichokes or peeling chippos.

Let’s say you had an unlimited budget to open the restaurant of your dreams. Really, the sky’s the limit. What would the concept be? Pacific Northwest cuisine, 25 seats with our own farm. Preferably in the middle of nowhere.

A local restaurant that is no longer around and you miss dearly? Notturno was always a good time.

What current food trend are you already sick of? Poke. Let it die.

If money was no object and you had the night off, where would you take your kitchen co-workers for dinner tonight? To finally check out Masayoshi.

What is Vancouver missing in terms of cuisine? Native Pacific Northwest cuisine.

Where do you see yourself – career-wise – in five years? In the middle of nowhere with a 25 seat restaurant and a little farm.

How did you last burn yourself? Oven rack.

In five words or less, explain why there are never enough cooks. Weak kids and empty pockets.

Name your all-time favourite three ingredients. Bay leaf, black pepper, spring onions.

What do you find yourself cooking the most at home? Dumplings on dumplings on dumplings.

If you could recommend just one cookbook for any aspiring young chef, what would it be? On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee.

What’s the most rewarding thing for you in the kitchen these days? Tight services.

You’ve just clocked out and you’re starving. Where are you going and what are you eating? Alibi Room for a burger, beer ‘n bourbon.

Outside of cooking, what are some of your other passions? Fly fishing, foraging, gardening, biking, exploring new music.

If you eventually become an executive chef, what do you think is going to be the most challenging part of your job? Controlling my temperament.

What about the most enjoyable part of the job? The crew! One team, one dream.

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