Canadian Chefs: Mark Perrier, Vancouver BC

by Krlmagi

Chef Mark Perrier combines the classical Italian approach of creating regional, seasonal and simply prepared dishes with the local products available in Vancouver at Savio Volpe.

Chef Mark Perrier grew up enjoying his mother’s delicious home-cooked meals. When he moved away from home, he realized that he didn’t really have any cooking skills of his own. He concluded that if he wanted to eat well, he’d have to learn how to cook. He was studying forestry at UBC but realized he was spending more time thinking about what he wanted to cook and eat for dinner than his studies. He says, “Once I graduated from UBC, I enrolled at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts and finished in 2000. I haven’t really looked back since.”

Chef Mark Perrier
Chef Mark Perrier
Allison Kuhl

There are three chefs with whom Perrier worked that he cites as having shaped him. The first is David Hawksworth. Perrier apprenticed under Hawksworth when he opened West and says, “He shaped me in terms of having high internal standards, doing everything extremely well and focusing on consistency.  I felt that the level he was cooking at and what he brought to Vancouver when he opened West was head and shoulders above most of the other food in the city.”

The second chef that Perrier mentions is Thierry Busset who was the first pastry chef at West, as well as working at Cin Cin before opening his own boutique. Perrier says, “I spent a lot of time with him. When I was at West, I’d go in to Cin Cin on one of my days off once a week and work with him in pastry. He came from that Michelin-starred background and taught me a lot around standards, consistency and doing things correctly.”

His passion for Italian food was kindled while working with Chef Neil Taylor at Cibo. He says, “My eyes were opened to real Italian food at Cibo. Using fresh ingredients and keeping everything really simple is what attracted me to Italian food.”

The fact that Savio Volpe is Perrier’s restaurant means that he’s free to cook what he’s interested in cooking. He says, “I try to cook with the Italian spirit of keeping things seasonal, local and simple but cooking with what’s available in the region as much as possible as opposed to importing ingredients from Italy.”

Perrier adds, “What’s been done in Vancouver in the past was trying to replicate Italian food directly, by bringing in ingredients from Italy and making the exact recipes. The ingredients here are different, the flour is different, the water is different and what the clients are looking for is different.”

The wood-fired grill at Savio Volpe has shaped Perrier’s approach to the food he cooks. He explains, “It really ties into the simple, unadulterated food that I want to create. If you cook over a wood fire, you don’t really need to do much to it. It informs all of the meat cookery here. Most of it is done on the spit over the wood grill or directly on the grill. “

Perrier’s focuses on scratch-making the vast majority of the products that he uses in the restaurant. He explores the viability of making a product and if it’s as good or better than what he can purchase, they make it at the restaurant. He says, “It comes down to freshness. The majority of the menu gets done every day. We don’t prep much in advance. We’re doing such simple food that everything needs to be fresh.”

Black kale with lemon pepper dressing, Pecorino and crisp bread
Black kale with lemon pepper dressing, Pecorino and crisp bread
Knauf and Brown
Agnolotti with chicken, pork, roasting juices and black pepper
Agnolotti with chicken, pork, roasting juices and black pepper
Knauf and Brown

When it comes to his role as a chef, Perrier feels that he is there to inspire his kitchen team.  He’s a very hands-on chef. He says, “I don’t like to do paperwork. I’ve set things up so that I don’t have to do it. I have other people who do that kind of stuff. That’s not really why I became a chef. I do a huge amount of prep here and I cook during service.”

Reliability, a positive attitude and a strong work ethic are all things that Perrier looks for when he hires a new cook. He says, “I want someone who enjoys working with nice ingredients and is excited about cooking. I’m looking for good attitude over skills because I can teach people the skills."

The menu that Perrier has developed at the restaurant has two distinct elements. The first is dishes that he keeps on the menu year round because he’s got a consistent supply of the product he uses in them. He gives the example of the short rib braciole as one such dish. The second element of the menu is dishes that change based on the seasons and what’s fresh. Perrier points out, “We’re able to take whatever comes into the kitchen and get it on the menu that night.”

Sourcing ingredients is a balance between working with trusted, long-standing suppliers and finding new producers to work with for Perrier. He says, “I go to the farmer’s market constantly and I’m often online trying to find new people who are producing different things. I look for people who have a similar philosophy towards farming and raising their animals as I do with my food. I’m looking for quality, freshness and small scale production.”

Motivation to do well in his career comes in a large part from his family. Perrier says, “I’ve got a wife and two little kids so my motivation is to do well and really succeed for them, so I can take care of them.”

Perrier finds inspiration for cooking from the seasonal, fresh ingredients that come into the restaurant.  One of his future goals is to travel and cook in Italy. He says, “I really want to go there and spend a big chunk of time there absorbing the history and the culture around the food.  It really fascinates me.”

Dry aged steak over-the-coals with stone-ground heirloom polenta.
Dry aged steak over-the-coals with stone-ground heirloom polenta.
Knauf and Brown
Updated: 02/13/2016, Krlmagi
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