VANCOUVERITES: Eleven Minutes With Chef Owen Lightly Of “Butter On The Endive”

(photo: Michael Sider) Owen Lightly is as good a guy as they come. A quintessential British Columbian (not many people have a spring salmon tattooed on their forearm), he was raised on Gabriola Island and formally trained in Nanaimo before working his way through many of our kitchens – among them West, Au Petit Chavignol, Araxi, Market – before going into business for himself. Today, he runs his own catering business, which is named after his popular food blog, Butter On The Endive (kitchen code for “a good looking woman just entered the restaurant”). As regular readers are aware, he has contributed to Scout as a food writer in the past, but you’ll be happy to learn that he is about to launch a regular column on these pages called A Pound of Butter. In advance of its debut, we thought it prudent to ask a few questions of him, for you…

Your first memory? Campbell’s Tomato Soup.

Your ancestry? Welsh and Scottish.

The three books that you read that made an impact on you in your formative years? The Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman; Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres (the movie was terrible!); Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson.

Your favourite word? Caramelize.

Your favourite curse word? Fuck.

Your major character flaw? Neuroticism.

The character flaw in others that you can’t abide? Not delivering what was promised.

The first three things that you do every morning? The three s’s.

What are you listening to as you answer these questions? Feist’s new album, Metals.

Your role model? Growing up I had a neighbour named Laurie. He was about the same age as my parents and always gave me the straight goods. He wasn’t afraid to drop some heavy philosophical shit on me from time to time as well, which never hurts.

Three things about your Mt. Pleasant that make you want to live there: Good restaurants and bars within spitting distance; I can see the mountains when I wake up and there’s lots of cool, creative people doing their thing.

What is the thing you’d like to change about Vancouver? More open spaces for people to congregate.

The Vancouverite that you admire most and why? Brad Miller (owner of the The Red Wagon) for showing me you can be successful in this business on your own terms.

Name the thing that you eat that is bad for you that you will never stop eating? French fries with mayonnaise.

Default drink/cocktail of choice? Depending on the mood, a nice hoppy beer or a Negroni.

Name three drinks/cocktails you’ll never have again? Black Russian, Royal Reserve and my dad’s homemade red wine. All because of some very bad mistakes made as a teenager.

Is there a local bartender who could sell you anything? Giovanni at Campagnolo always makes me feel welcome.

Your favourite sound? The clicking sound your knife makes as you fillet a salmon.

Your least favourite sound? Metal on metal.

Your favourite smells? Chicken stock, sautéing mushrooms, fresh cookies, cedar, rosemary, duck fat, bread, butter…I could go on and on.

Your least favourite smells? Mold and mildew.

The relatively normal piece of clothing that you believe you’d look the most ridiculous in? A beret.

The dumbest thing that you’ve ever done to your hair? Dreadlocks in the summer of 1995. What was I thinking?

Your go to, no-frills place for dinner? Congee Noodle House.

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

The strangest place you’ve ever been to? Las Vegas, Nevada.

Who’s style do you covet? Mark Ladner, chef of Del Posto in New York.

Where was the last place you traveled to for work or pleasure? New Orleans for work.

What is your biggest phobia? Line ups.

Where did you go to school? High School at NDSS in Nanaimo followed by Culinary School at Vancouver Island University.

The strangest talent that you possess? Tying a cherry stem into a knot with my tongue.

The different career path that you could have gone on? Folk musician.

Television show that you could tolerate re-runs of? Molto Mario.

Under what circumstances would you join the army? If there was no chance that I would ever have to kill anyone and everything we did was for the good of mankind.

How do you know when you can trust someone? When you look into their eyes and feel it with every fiber of your being.

What was the luckiest moment in your life? Finding a career I truly enjoy.

What was the unluckiest moment in your life? Being robbed at gunpoint in Harewood, Nanaimo.

What are you the most proud of? Every time our catering company pulls off a big event without a hitch.

What are you the least proud of? The amount of wasted food in the restaurant/cooking industry.

What is the best thing about your work? Constant pressure to perform at a high level and the opportunity to be creative on a daily basis.

What is the worst thing about your work? Stress.

The talent that you wish you possessed? I wish I could walk into a room, bust out a Yngwie Malmsteen-esque riff on an electric guitar and then disappear in puff of smoke.

What musical instrument do you secretly long to play? Piano.

What sport did you give up and why? I gave up hockey in grade 6 to start playing bass guitar.

What is the game that you’re best at? Mind games, followed closely by golf.

What is the one animal that scares you the most? Cougars. I lived in Squamish for a while and whenever I was in the woods they were on my mind. How much would it suck to get ripped apart by a big cat?

Have you ever fired a gun? I have fired my dad’s .22 on numerous occasions, but never at an animal, only at water balloons.

Scariest situation you’ve ever been in? See above when I got held up at gunpoint.

The thing that makes you the happiest? Making good food for people.

Three things of no monetary value that you own and will keep dearly until you die? I try not to get too attached to things.

Describe your tattoos? A spring salmon as a nod to my family’s fishing heritage, an onion to make soup with, a fern to remind me of where I grew up and a bass clef so the music can live forever.

The strangest road you’ve ever travelled? Wandering the streets of Palermo, Sicily was an intense experience. One block would be burned out cars that looked like they had been there for decades, the next block a bustling market full of every fish in the Mediterranean, and few blocks down the road there would be Armani boutique. Fun!

The first album that made you love music? Baby Beluga by Raffi.

The song that you could listen to on repeat for an hour? Racing in the Street by Bruce Springsteen.

The best way to die? Peacefully, after I have checked off the last thing from my life’s large “to do” list.

The song that you want played at your funeral? Blitzkrieg Bop by The Ramones.

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

If you had a motto, what would it be? “It’s all about the process”.


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