Blind Tastings – Earls Test Kitchen and Chef Collective Unveiled

I love restaurants. And I love chefs. I admire their talent, their creativity, their passion.

Vancouver is fortunate to have many extraordinary chefs whose stars shine bright in the culinary world. Earls can now boast a veritable constellation of world-class talent – with the introduction of its Chef Collective.

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Last week, Earls unveiled a brand new, million dollar Test Kitchen at its downtown Hornby Street location, and introduced the team of chefs who will work collaboratively to brainstorm, share ideas and techniques and ultimately create dishes designed to elevate every customer’s dining experience.

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Diners who visit the restaurant at lunchtime will be able to order new dishes, and get valuable hints from the chefs themselves in the main dining room. A few lucky diners will get a view of the test kitchen at a three-seat counter on the second floor.

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The audio visual equipment in the Test Kitchen will allow those guests to see close up what the chefs are creating with two high-resolution cameras that both zoom in and move across the kitchen. That same equipment will also be able to live-stream cooking demonstrations to Earls’ chefs across the country, inspiring them to embrace new ingredients and cooking techniques.

Here’s the team – and some info on the Chefs.

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Earls’ Chef Collective, from L to R: Chef Dawn Doucette, Sous-Chef Andrew Hounslow, Chef Tina Fineza, Chef Jeff McInnis, Chef Hamid Salimian, Chef David Wong

Chef Dawn Doucette; Home town Vancouver, originally from Toronto

Chef Dawn Doucette works full time for Earls in culinary development. A chef with many years experience, she was educated at the California Culinary Academy with a degree in Culinary Arts in addition to a professional sushi certificate from TheCalifornia Sushi Academy in Los Angeles (which led to a dream trip traveling to Tokyo to the world-famous Tsukiji fish market). While living in California Dawn worked in the world renowned kitchen of the Zuni Café in San Francisco. Dawn has been part of the Earls family both in the kitchen and as a restaurant manager with Earls and as Director of Culinary Product Development at Townhall and Saltlik restaurants (part of the Fuller Group of restaurants). Dawn travels for culinary experiences, last year studying pasta making in Italy and was recently a competitor on Top Chef Canada.

Dawn’s culinary style encompasses rustic west coast and Californian cuisine.

Chef Tina Fineza; Home town Vancouver, originally from the Philippines and Seattle, Washington

Chef Tina Fineza is renowned for her flair with both Asian and Mexican foods. Growing up in the Philippines, she was surrounded the cuisines of Spain, China and Indonesia and has incorporated those flavours into her recipe development. She worked at Vancouver’s award winning Lumiere restaurant and Diva at the Met before moving to New York to work for the Ryland Inn, a Relais & Châteaux property in New Jersey. She was Executive Chef of Bin 942 and The Flying Tiger. As a culinary consultant in Vancouver Tina has created recipes for Les Faux Bourgeois, Habit, La Taqueria, Commune Café, Oyster Raw Bar, Terra Breads , East of Main, The Roaming Dragon Food Truck and La Mezcalaria.

Tina’s culinary style encompasses Mexican and Latin dishes from the simple to the most sophisticated flavour. 

Chef Jeff McInnis; Home town New York, originally from Florida

Earls knew they wanted to work with Jeff when they tasted his amazing southern style influenced food at a restaurant called Yardbird in Miami, Florida. Born to either fish or cook Jeff grew up on fishing boats around Niceville, Florida, peeling shrimp, cutting fish and cooking on the line at The Marina Cafe. He attended world renowned culinary institute Johnson & Wales University in Charleston before working in the Caribbean, Virgin Islands, San Francisco, Virginia and Miami. Jeff cooked his way into the finals of “Top Chef,” in 2010; He is currently opening a new restaurant in New York City called Root + Bone as well as working with Earls.

Jeff’s culinary skills encompass a distinctive Southern American style as well as vegetarian cuisine.

Chef Hamid Salimian; Home town Vancouver, originally from Iran

Born in Iran and raised on the Caspian Sea, Hamid brings an exotic palate to Earls dishes creating new dishes and bringing a flavour twist to update existing menu items. His influences come from the simple, traditional Persian cuisine though his main area of culinary study was French cuisine. Hamid’s background is in fine dining and hotels working at the Sutton Place Hotel and The Metropolitan Hotel, where he was Executive Chef as well as Chef of the award winning Diva at the Met. He is currently Captain of Culinary Team Canada and splits his time evenly between the Earls Test Kitchen, where he works 3 days a week, and as a culinary instructor at VCC. He and his wife, Chef Jennifer Peters, are also opening a gluten free bakery this year in Vancouver.

Hamid’s culinary skills encompass Persian cuisine and French cuisine blending both those cultures into Asian and West Coast cuisines.

Chef David Wong; Home town Vancouver, originally from Nanaimo, BC

Chef David Wong also works full time in our Test Kitchen. He is an award winning chef from Vancouver, most recently as Executive Chef of the Fairmont Pacific Rim and the award winning restaurant ORU. Dave has too many awards and medals to even list but we would say that  his Gold medal win as part of Culinary Team Canada in Basil, Switzerland and representing Canada at the  Bocuse d’Or held in Lyon, France – are two of the most prestigious culinary awards in the world.

David’s culinary skill encompasses a number of Asian cuisines as well as seafood and shellfish. 

I was fortunate to attend a tasting dinner after the formal tour of the Test Kitchen and introduction of the chefs – and the food and original Earls cocktails lived up to the event.

IMG_0012The tea pots are the receptacles for the Mad Hatter, a warm vodka-infused brew and a personal favourite, and the Tequila Sunset combined el jimador blanco, with aperol, lemongrass, fresh orange and lime juices, and meringue foam. I’m not a tequila drinker myself, but it was a popular choice among the other guests.

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I did try a delicious and refreshing Moscow Mule, in a distinctive mug, simply consisting of Smirnoff vodka, ginger and fresh lime with a sprig of mint. I’m surprised and a bit amused by the fact that, at age 60, I’m starting to like cocktails!

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We were also treated to a cocktail demonstration by Earls Beverage Director Cameron Bogue, who prepared an Old Fashioned with Maker’s Mark bourbon, Demerara sugar and root beer bitters, and an Earls original – the Cabin Fever, with Crown Royal, Tawny Port, ginger, pineapple, lemon and moondog bitters.

As for the food, we were treated to more deliciousness than I could handle, including BBQ Pork Buns with Hoisin Hot Sauce, Cilantro and Roasted Peanuts, and Vietnamese Style Chicken with Spicy Peanut Sauce, Daikon Salad and Toasted Naan. But here are my favourite dishes of the night.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the Earls Cobb Salad, featuring lobster, bacon, egg and my favourites – lots of blue cheese and avocado!

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And I loved the spicy kick from the fiery Malaysian Hokkien Noodles with Red Pork and Prawns – so good, but such a huge portion!

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And I even managed to nibble everything on the dessert sampler – from the classic Key Lime Pie to the Chocolate Hazelnut Bar with Salted Caramel, and the Chai Panna Cotta with Hibiscus and Pineapple. Oh my…

I’m looking forward to going back to Earls and sitting at the counter overlooking the Test Kitchen and watching the Chef Collective in action. And you can expect that I’ll be posting all the details!

And my #EyeOpener for this post? As simple as salt and pepper. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s grabbed the wrong spice mill because the salt and pepper mills were identical. Earls gets it. And the solution is so simple… See for yourself!

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