Canadian Chefs Today: Mark Filatow, Waterfront Restaurant and Wine Bar, Kelowna

by Krlmagi

In his twenty years of experience as a chef Mark Filatow has developed a simple approach to cooking focused on small producers and local ingredients.

Chef Mark Filatow says he focuses on cooking food simply, in order to highlight the ingredients, which he approaches with respect. He has built relationships with the local suppliers who produce the artisanal ingredients that he uses in the kitchen. He is also a certified sommelier and he says he uses his wine knowledge to enhance the dishes he creates.

Chef Mark Filatow
Chef Mark Filatow

Dissatisfaction with his university degree was the spur that Filatow needed to start down the culinary path. He explains that he was halfway through a degree at UBC and he realized that he didn't want to invest more money in something he didn't want to do. Instead, he says, "I thought about what I really liked doing and I always had worked in restaurants and always loved to cook so I thought I'd do that and attack it with all that I had."

Once he'd decided to set off down the culinary path, the chef says that he did his research to find the best cooking school in Vancouver which was Dubrulle at the time. After completing the culinary program there, Filatow worked in northern tree planting camps for two months. He says that experience taught him all about working in difficult conditions. He points out, "I learned how to work behind the eight ball all day. It was an amazing learning experience."

His experience working at the Wickaninnish Inn on Vancouver Island's west coast is one that Filatow cites as having shaped him. He was supposed to work there for three months and stayed for two years. After that, he says that his experience cooking for the famous Vancouver restaurateur, John Bishop, at Bishop's in Vancouver taught him the value of excellent customer service and a well-run restaurant.

The final experience that Filatow talks about as having been influential was working at Diva Restaurant at the Metropolitan Theatre in Vancouver. He says that the kitchen there was probably "the most formative" of all of the kitchens he'd worked in at that point. He adds, "The combination of the  level of energy that was there and the various knowledge bases was intense. Everybody fed off of each other and we just pushed each other further and further along."

Housemade Beef brisket with grilled rye bread, apple mustard and pickles
Housemade Beef brisket with grilled rye bread, apple mustard and pickles
Waterfront Restaurant

While the size and type of kitchens that Filatow has cooked in have varied from the tree planting camps to fine dining restaurants, his approach to food has always focused on respecting his ingredients. Having a freshly renovated kitchen in his current restaurant has allowed him to expand his arsenal, but the ingredients have remained key. He says, "We try really hard not to crutch on technique or create empty flavours that just look pretty."

The fact that the restaurant makes its own bread exemplifies Filatow's approach. He explains that he made a bread starter from organic grapes and wild yeast. It has been used ever since and the chef says, "It's a simplistic approach to the raw ingredients but the bread that comes out of it, we think is top drawer."

The Okanagan is a place full of farmers and producers. Filatow takes pleasure from the stories behind the products that he uses. He says that, in a deep sense, food grown with love, care and attention tastes better. He uses the story of a young couple who supplies his restaurant and says, "When she packs their apricots they look like soldiers. They're all upside down, they're all gently handled, they're all packed in neat rows. When we get them, they're in top condition."

The chef is also a trained sommelier and he says that it informs his food in the sense that, "I don't like things that are super complicated in the way that they work against each other." He adds that too many flavours on the plate end up confusing the palate. He says, "The best pairing is something like a mineral B.C. Chardonnay with a fresh piece of halibut. That's phenomenal!"

Spiced potato samosas, marinated chickpeas, wilted spinach, tomato tamarind chutney
Spiced potato samosas, marinated chickpeas, wilted spinach, tomato tamarind chutney
Waterfront Restaurant

Being so closely allied with growers and producers means that Filatow has to consider seasonality in his menus. He talks about balancing ingredients with the time of year to suit what people might want to eat. He says that in the winter he'll do dishes like veal shank with mashed potatoes but in the summer, "we lighten our food and there's a lot more fresh things on the plate." He adds that in the winter, if he can't get too much produce, he just takes things off of the menu.  He says, "We could get produce from California but it doesn't really taste like anything. What's the point? It would crutch us and look pretty on the plate but it doesn't add anything."

Finding inspiration for a new dish is often a multifaceted process. Filatow says that it can take various forms including travel, reading magazines and cookbooks or searching the Internet. He says that when he sees a new approach to ingredients, he applies it to local ingredients where possible. After that, he explains that the idea grows and, "you take a look at the taste of it, the texture of it, the balance of ingredients and, in the end, the look of it."

Pork sausage, potato & bacon pierogi and beets
Pork sausage, potato & bacon pierogi and beets
Waterfront Restaurant

In terms of the factors that the chef sees as important for running a kitchen he says that he wants to challenge himself and his staff, and that he wants to learn and evolve in tune with new experiences. He elaborates by saying that even after a long career, if someone shows you a better technique, you should use it.  He says, "Learning from everybody is important too. No matter whether they're the newest person in the kitchen or the most senior they'll have something to teach you.  It's about learning up and down the line."

This desire for learning and taking experiences from all ages and stages of cook is what keeps Filatow fresh and excited as a chef. He says that he always wants to have young, excited cooks around him. He points out, "If you worry enough that they're going to be better than you, you'd better keep on your game. That's really how it is. I'm only two sets of eyes and one set of experience but everybody collectively doing the same thing is always better!"


Updated: 01/16/2015, Krlmagi
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Mira on 05/22/2013

I like your introductions to various Canadian chefs. I wonder if you could also get them to share one recipe ;-) (with photo!)

katiem2 on 05/21/2013

The images of good are mouth watering. It really does pay to start where you can and work your way to where you want.

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