Eating Well: Vancouver - #115

BURT WOLF:  Vancouver, British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada...  one of the most beautiful regions in North America.  We'll take a gastronomic tour of the neighborhoods, and cook up some great-tasting recipes.  We'll look at some ancient cooking equipment used by the native tribes, find out why the Chinese don't use knives and forks at the table, and visit one of the world's most respected ski resorts.  Join me, Burt Wolf Eating Well, in Vancouver. 

Canadians describe their country to U.S. visitors as “the world next door.”  And Vancouver thinks of itself as “spectacular by nature.”  To prove the point, I was taken on a tour of the region by Mike Wagstaff, of Vancouver Helicopters.

WAGSTAFF:  Well, we're just starting up into the beautiful Howe Sound.   It's pretty typical of the scenery that continues from here all the way up to Alaska.  Heavy woods, islands, deep mountainsides, and close, snowy peaks and glaciers up on top. 

BURT WOLF (in helicopter):  Mother Nature had a crush on this place.

BURT WOLF:  As you approach this city from the harbor, the first thing you see is Stanley Park, a thousand acres of forest and recreational area.  And it’s all right at the edge of the downtown area.  In minutes, you can walk from the center of the office district, to the beaches. 

WOLF (in helicopter):  Vancouver is an amazing city.  You could spend the mornings sailing, play a little tennis and golf in midday, and go skiing in the afternoon. 

WAGSTAFF:  Oh yeah, that's for sure, there are several months of the year in the  springtime where you can do all those activities in ... in one day. 

BURT WOLF:  People commute to work on a seabus system, and get around town in the Sky Train.  It has the second largest Chinatown in North America.  Thousands of restaurants with the range of food covering almost every country in the world.  The Museum Of Anthropology has an awesome collection of works of art, created by the original west coast cultures.  And the nearby Capilano Canyon hosts the world's longest suspension bridge, swaying gently some twenty-five stories above the river.  Crossing it was enough suspense to last me a lifetime.  And when it comes to the foods of Vancouver, there are three major chapters to the story.  The first one is all about the native inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest.  Next, we deal with the colonists who popped in from Europe.  And finally, the history of the Oriental community.  And you can see how all three of these themes blend together, when you go shopping at the Granville Island Public Market. 

Granville Island was once the heart of Vancouver's industrial section.  These days, however, it is a center of cultural, theatrical, and gastronomic activity.  With a College Of Art And Design, galleries, theaters, a boating center, and its star attraction, the Granville Island Public Market.  There's a wide selection of fresh fruits and vegetables from nearby farms, as well as products shipped in from around the world.  The local waters supply a wide variety of fish and  seafood, as they have for thousands of years.  This was the major source of food for the native population and still represents a favorite part of Vancouver cooking.  There's also a strong European character to he food of Vancouver.  We are, after all, in British Columbia. 

The first example that you see of a British influence in the market is in the fruit pie.  When most countries make a fruit pie, there's a crust on the bottom and then the fruit and that's it.  But in Tudor England they developed a crust on top; that's where the “surprise pie” was invented.  Remember the old poem, "four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie, and when the pie was opened the birds began to sing?"  That was a Tudor surprise pie, and they needed the crust on the top to hide the surprise.  So any time you see a fruit pie with a second crust on top, you are looking at a modern-day example of an Old English fruit pie.

Another obvious English influence is The Stock Market.  Each day they make fresh soup stock with fish, poultry, meat or vegetables.  And finally, the Orient, made totally scrutable at the South China Seas Trading Company.  Imported specialties from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, being purchased by descendants of the English colonists.  The native tribal foods, the European traditions, and the Orient -- constantly helping each other to more interesting meals. 

The huge selection of foods presented at the Granville Public Market reminds me of the original myth that was told in connection with this region.  The earliest native legend that we have about the area that we now call Vancouver describes a local river basin as filled with so much food that it was enough to feed all of mankind. The people who lived here originally were very sophisticated.  They had been in the neighborhood for thousands and thousands of years.  They had settled along the banks of the rivers, and along the shores of the Pacific Ocean.  The water was very important to  them.  It was their highway, and the source of much of their food.  They had salmon, and halibut, and herring, mussels and clams.  The weather was very good and so the necessities of life came easily.  And that left them lots of time to develop some fabulous art.

This box was used to hold food near the cooking area.  It's actually part of a Native American cannister set.  A huge spoon served about a gallon of soup.  It was used at large gatherings. A smaller spoon comes out of the mouth of a fish.  A reminder to everyone that the greatest source of food is the sea.  The small decorative spoon was used for serving whipped soap berries, the local version of a fruit mousse.  And a basket for carrying home food.  Now you don't see these anymore at your local check-out counter, but they were there in the old days. 

The original native inhabitants of the Vancouver area of British Columbia were real party animals.   They took their gatherings very seriously.  And they were particularly interested in what you might call the party favor.  You know, that little thing that a very gracious host might give you as a remembrance of the event.  It was called a potlatch, which means “to give,” but in this case, the phrase may be taken to its illogical extreme.  Each family would spend the year gathering up all of their possessions.  Then they would give a fabulous feast for their neighbors.  At the end of the feast, they gave away everything they owned.  They were left with just the barest essentials.  It was worse than when my kids come home for a weekend.  But all was not lost, because next year, the guests became the hosts, and they tried to give away even more.  These people judged their wealth not by what they owned but what they could give away.  Not unlike the US Federal Government. 

In downtown Vancouver, there's a restaurant called Quillicum.  Its graphic emblem has a special meaning for me.  Notice that the eyes in the head are bigger than the eyes in the stomach.  A reminder not to eat with your eyes.  The world quillicum means “return of the people.”  And that's exactly what people do once they have eaten here.  They return into an environment filled with native art that was created by one of the owners, Art Bolton.

Guests at the restaurant eat out of bowls which Art has carved.  Each represents one of the powerful animal spirits that are central to native West Coast culture.  

ART BOLTON:  The loon, I I like, because of the echo it does when it echoes across a river.

BURT WOLF:  Art's wife, Bonnie Thorn, is in charge of the kitchen.  One of the dishes that she offers is called the potlatch supper for two.  Filets of salmon go onto an alderwood grill.  Next, a few oysters and a few pieces of caribou meat.  Now, you might have trouble finding caribou meat at your local market, but that's not a big problem.  The dish works just as well with bear, or elk, or walrus. 

Everything goes into a bowl, with hungry bear symbols on the ends.  It's served with local vegetables, and breads.

Centered on the northern part of Vancouver Island and inhabiting the coastal waters of the area, are the Quagoth,  {note - this is a phonetic pronunciation]  members of a native tribe that has been here for tens of thousands of years.  They are a seafaring people who live along the shores and look to the local waters for much of their food.  One of their traditional structures is the plank house.  This is the plank house of the late chief Mungo Martin, [DRUMS] who was a great painter, carver, and song maker.  It is a dance house, where tribal dances are performed and tradition passed on.


It is also a place where traditional cooking is presented.  A wood fire is built in the center of the square room.  There's an opening in the ceiling which draws up all the smoke and ash.  It works like a chimney without walls.  Salmon that has been cleaned and opened flat is set into a grill that's been put together from cedar wood.  The grill frame gets attached to a three foot long device that acts like a giant clothespin.  And that gets set into the ground in front of the fire.  When you want to turn up the cooking heat, you push it in.  To lower it, you pull it back.  Talk about an easy set of controls. 

Tony Hunt is the grandson of Mungo Martin.  A chief in his own right, and a man devoted to teaching the culture of his people. 

BURT WOLF:  Tell me about the food tradition in your tribe.

TONY HUNT:  The food tradition in our tribe is... it was ... it was so much because there was so much [NOISE]  and and so you're at an early stage you're raised and taught to respect the the food, the fish, the element.  The the  the clams the crabs, you know.

WOLF:  It was a communal tradition with families really involved with the food. 

HUNT:  Well there were people in a house, like this house, that were responsible for gathering the food. 

WOLF:  How many people would live in a house like this one?

HUNT:  In a house this size, maybe three or four families. 

WOLF:  And everybody'd be involved in the food from the beginning.

HUNT: Everybody but the chief.  [HE LAUGHS]

WOLF:  I get the feeling that there was a very sound ecology in the history of your tribe?   That they didn't overhunt or over fish for any animal. 

HUNT:  Well there was always a great respect for the spirit of the salmon, for example.  To be always have it come, and returning every year, so you never insulted the spirit of the salmon.  You thanked the spirit to give giving you the salmon.   And as the as the fishermen does, [NOISE] every, every time he's out there.  So there's a great respect for for life.  And I think our present society doesn't respect that you know.  They go to a restaurant and order whatever they want.  They don't know how, what's involved in getting that. 

WOLF:  That's really important to bring back, even if we still eat in restaurants...

HUNT:  Yeah.

WOLF:  ... you should understand that somewhere down the line...

HUNT: That's right.

WOLF:  ... somebody had to grow this and  harvest it ....

HUNT:  That's right.

WOLF:  ... and care for it.

HUNT: Oh yeah.

WOLF:  That's still very much part of you culture, isn't it?

HUNT: We still do everything today, with he same kind of preparation of the foods, of the salmon, it's cooked the same way and preserved the same way, dried.  So...

WOLF:  The native tribes trace their heritage back over thirty thousand years.  The Europeans are real newcomers. 

Captain George Vancouver of Great Britain was the first European to seriously explore the Pacific Coast of Canada.  He arrived in the late 1700s and was very impressed with the enormous amount of good food that was easily available.  This place was Mother Nature's supermarket.  And every day the Great Spirit sent a message: “Attention shoppers, the salmon are arriving!”  Or the oysters, or the ducks.  Life was easy.  But there was no great rush to the region,  until gold was discovered in 1858.  Gold just seems to give people a rush. 

About twenty-five thousand guys arrived in the area seeking their fortune. and when they had dug up all of the gold, then logging became the big business.  And to take care of the lumberjacks’ hunger and thirst, there was Jack Dayton.

Jack Dayton opened up a small hotel and saloon and was known as Gassy Jack, because he talked so much.  The community that grew up around him was known as Gastown.  In 1886, that name was changed to Vancouver.  But the old Gastown is still part of the city.  The streets are still covered with cobblestones, and the local time is announced by the world's only steam-powered clock. [CLOCK SOUNDS]  My kind of timepiece.  Gives you the time, cooks a little broccoli. 

As Vancouver grew, it became more and more cosmopolitan.  By the early 1900s it was a major metropolis.  And a major symbol of that progress was the Hotel Vancouver.  The steep-pitched copper roof of the Hotel Vancouver has become a prominent feature of the city’s skyline, and its public rooms, the hangout of the town's most fashionable folks.  It opened in 1939, just in time to welcome King George the Sixth and Queen Elizabeth, who had popped over from London.   The hotel's distinct and classic fixtures and furniture have been restored and represent fine examples of this European style.  The main restaurant is the Timber Club, which is decorated with memorabilia from the world of logging. 

The executive chef, Elio Guaniari, is preparing his famous recipe for chicken breasts filled with buttermilk stuffing.  The stuffing is very simply made by heating a little vegetable oil in a pan and cooking some chopped shallots, rosemary, prosciutto, bread crumbs and parsley.  

ELIO GUANIARI:  Grandma was never wrong on this recipe.  It smells and tastes beautiful.

BURT WOLF:  Then off the heat, it's moistened with a little buttermilk, thickened with egg white and flavored with pepper.  Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are sliced almost in half, filled with the stuffing, folded up and sauteed in a little vegetable oil for two minutes on each side,  then finished in the oven at four hundred degrees for twenty minutes.

GUANIARI:  Perfect.

WOLF:  While the chicken is baking, Elio makes a chutney by cooking together some brown sugar, vinegar, pears, fresh ginger, and blueberries.  Brown sugar is just white sugar with molasses added in.  It changes the color, and it has a little effect on the flavor, but the nutritional content is just about the same.  When it's time to present the dish, the chutney goes onto the plate, then the chicken is sliced and set on top.  And it tastes as good as it looks.  [MUSIC]

The first settlers to arrive in Vancouver were mostly from Great Britain.  But then, in the late 1800s, a large group of Chinese laborers arrived to help with the construction of the Trans-Canada Canadian Pacific Railroad.  The railroad was finished in 1885, but the laborers stayed on.  And today, Vancouver's Chinatown is probably the largest in North America, and it's quite a place.

This is the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden.  It's the first full-scale classical garden ever constructed outside of China.  It reflects the Taoist philosophy of balance:  light and dark, hard and soft, small and large.  It's modeled after a private garden that was built during the Ming dynasty of the late 1300s.

The port of Vancouver reminds many people of the harbor area of Hong Kong.  As a result, many of the folks leaving Hong Kong for North America have settled in this region.  These days the town has some of the world's finest Chinese restaurants, created by specialists who have come here directly from the orient.  Example, the Imperial Chinese Seafood Restaurant.  The basic piece of equipment in a Chinese restaurant kitchen is the wall of woks.   The heat is supplied by a ring of burners set in a deep, concrete cylinder.  The wok sits on top of the burner.  The trick to cooking in the wok is to keep the food moving quickly.  You apply heat to all of the food's surfaces, but only a little bit at a time and fast.  By and large, the less heat you use to cook a food, the more nutrients remain in.  The master gave me a short lesson which proved the old saying, you must crawl before you wok.

BURT WOLF:  Wow.  Okay. 


The professional wok is a bit harder than I thought, but the eating is easy.  At a traditional Chinese gathering, the food will almost always come to the table on a turning disk or what we often call a lazy susan.  And the reason for that is, at a Chinese meal, conversation is extremely important, and it is thought to be impolite to interrupt that conversation to ask somebody to pass the stir-fried vegetables.  I was also curious as to why a culture as sophisticated as the Chinese would develop chopsticks, but not develop knives and forks to go on the table.  And I asked one of the leading Chinese historians.  He told me that the Chinese had developed knives and forks thousands and thousands of years before western society,  but had decided that it was impolite to continue butchering at the table.  

The Chinese wok, with its ability to be used for stir-frying, stewing, steaming, and boiling, makes it the ultimate all-purpose pot.  But the Chinese cleaver is also in a class by itself for all around utility.  Because China was always short of fuel, cooks cut up their ingredients into small pieces; that way they would cook faster and use less fuel.  The Chinese also felt very strongly about food arriving at the table in contrasting shapes, sizes and textures.  If one dish is sliced, the next should be diced, or minced, or slant-cut.  The tool that is versatile enough to do all that, plus work as a pounder, grinder and transporter, is the Chinese cleaver.  They come in three sizes: large, usually marked with the number one, medium, marked two, and small, marked three.  And each of those sizes comes in two weights, light and heavy.  If you're going to get one, I suggest the medium size in the lightweight; that's the best for all-around kitchen work.  Hold the cleaver from the top, with one finger on each side of the back of the blade.  You have all of the control that you would normally get with a standard kitchen knife.  But now you get the added benefits of the Chinese cleaver.  Necessity does spawn creativity. 

A central theme that runs through every part of Chinese cooking is fuel efficiency.  For over four thousand years, the chefs of China have been mastering the art of getting the most cooking from the least energy.  It started with the development of  the wok, and clearly continued in the Chinese steamer.  The multi-level structure will cook two tiers of food at the same time, and keep three or four levels warm. 

A classic Chinese steamer is an amazing piece of equipment.  Because it's in constant contact with water, it's made without any metal parts.  It's produced by shaping, grooving and bending the bamboo.  To use the steamer, you simply place the food to be cooked into a layer of the steamer.  You can put it directly onto the bamboo strips, or you can put it in on top of a plate.  Put the lid on top to hold the steam in, and place the steamer over a wok, or over a pan of boiling water or soup stock.  It's important to choose a steamer that's about two inches smaller in diameter than the wok you're using, so it will fit inside properly.

Remember that a steamer will only do the actual cooking in the bottom two layers. Above that, they heat isn't strong enough.  It's only good for keeping things warm.  Steaming is a great way to cook.  It holds in the food's nutrients and it doesn't add any fat.

And a great way to burn off any excess fat you may already have, is to head up north to the Whistler Ski Resort.   As the moist air of the Pacific Ocean rises along the glacier-capped coastal mountains of Western Canada, the cooling air deposits its moisture in the form of snowflakes.  But the warm ocean currents keep the area’s air temperatures rather mild.   As a result, the town of Whistler, in the Canadian province of British Columbia, has become one of the world's great ski resorts. 

Steve Flynn, of Blackcomb helicopters, gives us a bird’s eye view.  There's a European style village that threads its way through the center of the valley, and the town itself is surrounded with quiet trails for cross-country skiing. 

The average woman, cross-country skiing on a flat surface, at about the same speed you would use for a normal walk, will burn up about seven calories in a minute, or about for hundred calories in an hour.  The average man, for genetic reasons, will burn up considerably more.  A fact that infuriates the young lady who produces my television reports, but hey, that's life.  Guys are gonna use up about eleven calories a minute, or about six hundred calories an hour.  If you cross- country ski for a few days in a row, you will set yourself up for some great eating.  In the first two to four hours, after each cross-country ski trip, your muscles will be ready to store up fuel for the next day.  The foods that will do the best job are the complex carbohydrates:  pastas with a low-fat sauce, beans, legumes, whole grain rice, whole grain breads and potatoes... and the place to take in those calories is the Chateau Whistler. 

Located at the base of two world-class ski mountains, the chateau is the ideal splashdown area when returning to Earth.  They even have an outdoor-indoor pool for relaxing the muscles you built up on the mountain.  And the most adorable ski camp for little kids.  I never knew how close the relationship was between skiing and pizza, until I heard the instructors explaining how the children should hold their skis. 

INSTRUCTOR:  Let's see who can do the biggest piece of pizza.  Next time, try and try and make your skis more together at the front and bigger at the back.  ‘Cause that was good, remember what you were doing yesterday.  What's your favorite kind of pizza, Lindsey? 

LINDSEY:  Peanut butter.

INSTRUCTOR:  Peanut butter pizza?   Um okay, let's all make a big piece of peanut butter pizza.  There we go.


INSTRUCTOR:  Big piece of peanut butter pizza....

INSTRUCTOR 2:  Good guys...

INSTRUCTOR:  Good girl.

INSTRUCTOR 2:  Good.  Yeah.

INSTRUCTOR:  Good girl, that was great.

BURT WOLF:  The Chateau takes you back to a time when hotels were built by people in love with the art of their craft. A perfect description of the chateau's manager, David Roberts.  He loves the art. 

BURT WOLF:  Tell me about the Chateau?

DAVID ROBERTS: Well, we built it with.. . the intent of recreating a French chateau.  The the stone... is taken from the local hills and its a squamish rock.  The slate on the floor with that beautiful hue is from Vermont.  The carpeting is is a Mennonite design, which we had handmade.  The ... ballroom we have this wonderful dome.  In the dome we have got a gold leaf ceiling, and they have painted a compass.  Now, the artist that did that, unfortunately, left their compass at home and they put “north” in the wrong place.  So the next morning when I came down to check it and see how beautiful it looked ,we found we got a geographical problem, so rather than change the hotel around, I asked them to change to compass.  It was a lot cheaper. 

BURT WOLF:  And included in the Chateau's works of art are the creations of executive chef Bernard Cassevon.  Here's the recipe for granola flan, with a fresh fruit sauce.   Granola is mixed together with a little honey, pressed into a ring on a baking sheet and baked for eight minutes in a three hundred and fifty degree fahrenheit oven.  A food processor is used to make a puree of bananas, papaya, strawberries and a little orange juice.  The blend is strained to give it a smooth texture.  Then the sauce goes onto the serving plate.  The granola flan on top.  Strawberries, papaya, a little yogurt, a garnish of berries, mint and piece of filo dough.  A symbolic dessert:  the mountains, the snow, the towers of the chateau, the fruitful earth and the honeyed temperament of the people who live here.  And all with the healthful outlook which is so much a part of Canadian cooking. 

Scientists have come to the conclusion that saturated fat will do more to raise your blood cholesterol level than any other food you could eat.  So if somebody could come up with a cooking oil that was almost free of saturated fat, that would be a giant and healthful step in the right direction.  And that's exactly what a group of Canadian scientists did.  They based it on a relative of the mustard plant, pressed out the oil, and named it Canola, after Canada. 

Canola oil is pressed from the seeds of this beautiful yellow-flowered plant.   The oil is lower in saturated fat than any other type of cooking or salad oil...  fifty percent lower than corn oil, or olive oil, and sixty percent lower than soybean oil.   Many of the chefs of Canada have made their favorite recipes more healthful by shifting to Canada's national oil. 

A good idea for most of us.  Members of the American Dietetic Association recommend that we keep our calories from saturated fat down to ten percent of our total calories and this stuff can help. 

So what have we learned here in the Canadian province of British Columbia?  First of all, lots of different foods, from lots of different cultures is the best way to eat.  The more different foods that are part of your diet, the greater you chance of getting all the different nutrients you need.  [DRUMS]  The native tribes in this area cook most of their food by grilling.  It's a good idea.  No fat is added, and much of the fat in the food itself, just drips away in front of the fire. 

The Gastown clock. [CLOCK SOUNDS]   It's a constant reminder to eat your vegetables.  And steaming is just about the healthiest way to cook them.  Canola oil, very low in saturated fat.  It's ideal for a healthful diet.  And don't forget exercise.  It's every bit as important as diet when it comes to weight control, and good health.    That's Eating Well In Vancouver.  [MUSIC] Please join us next time, as we travel around the world looking for foods that taste good, and make it easier to eat well.  I'm Burt Wolf.