Wilson Rhodes of Tempranillo Dishes on Dream Kitchens and Shucking Beans

We often hear the same names of local hospitality titans in the media. For years we’ve worked up thirsts and appetites following their exploits 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 interviews looks to introduce our readers to this new breed, one blossoming talent at a time.

Wilson Rhodes presiding over the open kitchen at Tempranillo. | Photo: Jamie Mah

If you think engaging chefs are few and far between you should meet Wilson Rhodes of Tempranillo. He’s engaging, full of humour, and easy to strike up a conversation with. We met for the first time recently at a coffee shop in Gastown, where we talked about his career and his current position at the Spanish tapas restaurant. Originally from Tsawwassen, Wilson grew up appreciating a simple life of farms, gardens and good food at home. It was an upbringing that steered him
towards the life of a cook, and he’s never looked back. Say hello to Wilson…

Why did you become a cook? My mom was an uncertified botanist who loved to garden. Growing up in this environment I remember telling her at a young age that one day I’d like to become a chef. Part of me wishes that I’d settled on something a bit more lucrative but looking back on my younger self now, I doubt that I had the foresight needed to make such a wise decision. But overall, I’m happy to do what I do.

Did you ever have ambitions to do anything else? I was really good at Lego as a kid, which for a time had me thinking of architecture.

Where did you learn? Do you have any formal training? I did my apprentice at a private golf course under a chef who previously had been an Instructor at Humber College. Working under him taught me a great deal.

What was your first kitchen job and how long did it last? Beach Grove golf course in Tsawwassen. I worked there for six years.

Ok, now name every kitchen you’ve ever worked in. Beach Grove golf course, Westin Grand, The Granville Island Hotel, Il Giardino, The Parlour, Bin 941, Notturno, Juke, Peckinpah, Tempranillo.

How did you last burn yourself? I can’t remember, as it’s pretty hard to burn yourself on an induction burner.

If you could stage for a week in one Vancouver restaurant, which one would it be? The Vancouver Club.

If you could stage for a week in any restaurant outside Vancouver, which one would it be? Pilgrimme on Galiano Island. My buddy Joe Canard who used to be the chef up at Grapes and Soda works up there and says it’s amazing. They forage and pick everything.

“Seeing someone’s face light up when they enjoy something I worked hard to create — nothing beats that.”

Kitchen slang word at your restaurant that you’ve never heard anywhere else? Bees. “He’s got bees. No bees.” It’s from Arrested Development. Anything about bees that Ben de Champlain and I can say to each other.

Which local restaurant kitchen do you envy the most on account of its space, equipment, layout, et cetera? The Vancouver Club. I’ve been to three Michelin-starred restaurants and they’ve got them beat by a mile. It’s immaculate.

Who have been some of your most impactful mentors? The first chef I ever worked for Rob Galloford and the chef I presently work for, Bill Robitaille.

What is the single most important lesson you have learned from Bill Robitaille? Seasoning. Season everything. Anything can be delicious if seasoned properly.

What word, cliché, or saying does your boss overuse the most during service? The boss doesn’t talk much, but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard him refer to every object in the entire restaurant as some sort of “unit” at some point in time. Everything is a “unit”. The steel unit. The panini unit. He literally one time called the sous vide a hydrothermal circulation unit. When he did that I literally fell on the ground laughing. He’s just so analytical and intelligent that everything is a unit. He’s like Data from Star Trek.

Open kitchen or closed kitchen? Which suits your personality best? Open kitchen.

Describe the knife that you’re most sentimental about. Where did you get it? What’s the story? An awesome hammered Santoku from Japan that my buddy Asher picked up for me. It’s a beautiful knife.

Do you have any ambition to open a restaurant of your own one-day? I’ve always had thoughts of doing something in the Okanagan because the produce is so awesome there and well my parents live out there as well.

What is your favourite type of cuisine to cook? Professionally, probably Italian or Spanish. At home, Polynesian. I love cilantro, seafood and spice. But mostly this is due in part to the fact that cooking Asian food is something I’ve done very little of.

What is your favourite type of cuisine to eat? This touches on my last answer. I love eating Asian cuisines mostly because I don’t know how to make it. I can make pasta and such which causes me to not want to pay for it.

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? Shucking garbanzo beans. Chickpeas. They come in huge pods, which might only have one or two little beans in them. You have to painstakingly scrape them out of this giant shell, which is brutally arduous and time consuming.

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? Thirty-five seats plus fifteen on the patio facing Skaha Lake in Caledon with a farm out back. Cows, pigs, chickens, veg, and a skate park for fun. Veg-forward with the best produce available.

A local restaurant that is no longer around and you miss dearly? Honestly, live and let die. There’s always cool restaurants which unfortunately close but then there’s always great new ones that pop up in their place. It’s what makes this industry so unique. Change is constant.

What current food trend are you already sick of? People using fancy words for simple things. An example of this that I found stupid recently was Aqua Fava. That’s bean juice! But let’s call it something silly like Aqua Fava and make everyone look stupid. Honestly, I’m embarrassed it took me so long to catch on to that one, but when I did I was like, really? Bean water. Sorry, but no thanks.

If money was no object and you had the night off, where would you take your kitchen co-workers for dinner tonight? My parent’s house.

What is Vancouver missing in terms of cuisine? Honest culture. We’re still figuring ourselves out. West Coast cuisine really doesn’t have a definable characteristic which I think leads us to still being nomadic with regards to what type of direction we aim to push forward with.

In five words or less, explain why there are never enough cooks. Moving to the front of house.

Name your all-time favourite three ingredients. Shallots, garlic and olive oil.

If you could recommend just one cookbook for any aspiring young chef, what would it be? All of them. You can never learn enough.

What’s the most rewarding thing for working in the kitchen these days? Paycheck.

You’ve just clocked out and you’re starving. Where are you going and what are you eating? Tacos and cheap beer up at Gringo.

Outside of cooking, what are some of your other passions? Music, bikes, art, darts.

If you take the next step and become an executive chef, what do you think is going to be the most challenging part of your job? Knowing how to do that is most likely the first thing I’d scratch my head on. But if pushed to answer honestly, numbers. Paperwork and numbers.

What about the most enjoyable part of the job? If speaking about this restaurant specifically, actually handing off a plate to a guest personally versus handing it off to a server. Seeing someone’s face light up when they enjoy something I worked hard to create — nothing beats that.

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