Chefs You Should Know

Chef David Hawksworth on Vancouver Dining Tips and His Guilty Pleasure

Vancouver Chef David Hawksworth has left an indelible mark on the city. (All Photos: Courtesy of Hawksworth Restaruant Group)

Native Vancouverite David Hawksworth is one of Canada’s most awarded chefs, with a pedigree that includes a decade in Europe working in Michelin-starred kitchens such as Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, L’Escargot and The Square.

His eponymous restaurant in Vancouver, Hawksworth, opened in 2010 with a flurry of ecstatic reviews for his seasonal tasting menus and currently ranks in the top three in Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants.

“We always joke that the next food trend will be someone running through the dining room throwing granola at diners or spritzing carrot vapor,” says Hawksworth. “I’m not into trends; sure, they’re fine, but they’re trends, and we try not to get too involved in that. Spherification, pearls, they were fun for a bit, but when we try something, it’s gotta be about the flavor; it has to taste amazing.”

Inside Hawksworth Restaurant.
Inside Hawksworth Restaurant.

Hawksworth gained acclaim as ground zero for the creation of the West Coast–style of contemporary Canadian cuisine, described by David as incorporating, “more vinaigrettes, more olive oil — lighter, acidic-based foods with more vegetables and seafood and Asian flavors threaded throughout.”

The chef and his growing empire of restaurants are notoriously edgy but maintain a focus on what David deems most important: flavor.

The ultra-chic Hawksworth is one of few restaurants in Vancouver where locals leave their yoga gear at home and slip into something smarter. But last year Hawksworth flipped the trend when he opened Nightingale, where the lululemon-clad are welcome and guests chow down on crisp fried chicken, chargrilled octopus and fresh, vegetable-centric sharing plates in a buzzy, bright, two-story room.

Hawksworth Restaurant
The chef’s creation, plated to perfection.

But being a chef wasn’t always Hawksworth’s first choice of career; his initial passion was for acting. “You’ll find stuff on “21 Jump Street” where I’m on there,” he recalls. “It was all very interesting, but there’s just no substance behind it unless you really make it, and I clearly wasn’t going to make it!”

A love of food led him to his current career as chef and restaurateur. “There’s an endless amount to learn, and I really enjoy that,” he explains.

Nightingale is already legendary for its crisp, thin-crust pizzas, which Hawksworth admits began as an obsession with making pizza at home. “I’m a bit bizarre; I wanted to learn about pizza so I bought a $5,000 pizza oven and spent two years learning how to make it. If I want to learn something, I will go all in.”

Marriott TRAVELER sat down with David and asked him to share his favorite local dining tips and must-see spots for visitors to Vancouver.

Hawksworth Restaurant
The kitchen at Hawksworth.

What’s the number-one dish people need to eat in the city?

Dungeness crab. You need to try it because it’s the best in the world! I’d go to an Asian restaurant and have it done very simply with garlic and spring onions — or have it with just a little black bean sauce, ginger and cilantro; that’s so delicious. Oh wow, my mouth is actually watering just thinking about it!

What are your favorite places to go eat?

We go to Yuji’s for sushi on Alma; [the chef] used to work at Blue Water Café (one of the best seafood restaurants in the city), and the fish there is very nice. It’s traditional so they use very little mayonnaise or anything like that; I like that.

I always order the albacore toro; that’s belly of an albacore tuna, and it’s the most delicious thing out there.

On my days off I like to go to Phnom Penh Restaurant, which does fantastic chicken wings and butter beef, but I usually leave the order up to the staff and just tell them to fill the table! I just tell them I’m hungry/medium-hungry, and they’ll ask, “Super weird for you or not?” So I can try the things I’m least familiar with. I often do that.

I’d go to Kirin on 12th and Cambie and have dim sum; that’s somewhere I’ll take friends when they visit, too. Basically anywhere with dumplings. I love anywhere there’s a dumpling!

Hawksworth Restaurant
The restaurant’s bar and lounge.

Which three places would you take a first-time visitor to see in Vancouver?

Out for a walk on the Lynn Valley trails to Rice Lake; it’s an easy three-kilometer (two-mile), hour-long walk, and everyone can do it. You can take a fishing rod and catch rainbow trout from the dock. It’s just a 20-minute drive from downtown, but you’re in the heart of the forest, and you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere.

There are lots of free-to-use tennis courts around the city, and I’d bring a couple of rackets to and go for a game in Stanley Park. My first job was at a restaurant nearby, and I’d play a lot of tennis in those days.

From Downtown Vancouver, if you want to really earn your dinner, I’d walk across the Burrard Bridge, get on the seawall and walk all the way to University of British Columbia and back. You can stop for a swim at the outdoor pool at Kits Beach along the way — that’s really something else.

What about shopping in the city?

I’ll go to Gastown and check out the shops there. There’s a place called Inform Interiors, and I like walking around and looking at the furniture and wondering who would pay $50,000 for a sofa because it’s not gonna be me. But wow! I also like dropping by Bob Rennie’s art gallery; whatever’s going on there is always very interesting.

What’s your guilty-pleasure restaurant?

A burger at Five Guys. It needs to have cheddar, lettuce, tomato, pickle and that yellow American-style mustard. The mustard is really important; you have that acidity, which cuts through the fattiness.