I recently had the opportunity to visit Vancouver, one of my favorite cities in the world (if you haven’t been, I highly recommend a visit) and was lucky enough to stay downtown at the Met – truly one of the most stunning hotels I’ve ever seen. The bed – and sheets – were sumptuous. The food was fabulous and the service was impeccable. My five year old loved the pool. The only problem? I didn’t want to leave the hotel. (A shame, since it’s under a block from the Vancouver Art Gallery, Granville, the sky train… walking distance to Stanley Park, Chinatown, Gastown…)
On the first morning of our visit, I popped in to Diva for breakfast and met their new executive Chef Quang Dang, one of the hip new generation of culinary virtuosos who also happens to be one of the youngest executive Chefs I’ve met.
He brought out an early-morning amuse bouche: a long plate with a trio of breakfast favourites, made in miniature. A tiny BLECH (bacon, lettuce, egg & cheese) sandwich, a roundish shot glass layered with thick yogurt, fresh berries and house-made granola, and a wee stack of pancakes topped with his own plum preserves. Appetizers at breakfast? Brilliant. I would have been happy with this plate that allowed a few tastes of everything as breakfast with my latte, but I had eggs Benedict coming – with grilled corn bread. And Chef Quang encouraged an eager appetite.
He made me smile instantly. His enthusiasm for food flooded the table. When I oohed over his plum preserves, he eagerly told me he had made them himself – and had just put up vast quantities of cherries as well. As this was something I had never done (preserved cherries) I grilled him with questions. He answered with the relaxed confidence of someone who had grown up learning how to preserve fruits at his mother’s side in their home kitchen. He described poaching the cherries with the pits still intact – they hold up better that way, he says – and letting them sit in the light syrup as it cools overnight. Although he preserves his cherries in red wine, the flavour is subtle, allowing that of the vanilla bean and basil presence as well.
As I finished my eggs Benny, he showed up at the table with a jar of his cherries to take home. But they’re on the menu at Diva. You should go. And say hi to Chef Quang for me.
J: Who taught you how to make jams and other preserves?
Q: My mother. It’s been done in our family for a few generations.
J: Why do you think it’s important to make your own preserves at Diva?
Q: Diva’s cuisine is Cascadian. in order to maintain the ethics of Cascadian cuisine. We must serve as much local ingredients as possible. Without the preserves we’d be lost. Chefs love to cook with great ingredients and offer a greater variety to the guest. Preserves enable this.
J: What advice can you give people who are preserving cherries for the first time?
Q: Don’t pit them – they hold their shape better. Make sure to preserve them when they are at their peak.
J: Are there any other foods you love to preserve?
Q: Drying coronation grapes, drying tomatoes, pickling sea asparagus, making pickles and tomato jam.
J: What do you do with your preserved summer fruits when winter rolls around?
Q: Winter hasn’t come yet… we’ll see when we get there! That’s the exciting thing about the preserves.
Lapin Cherries in Syrup
Thanks to Quang Dang, executive chef of Metropolitan Hotel Vancouver’s Diva at the Met, for the recipe – he advises to use a matching fruit juice (cherry? grape?) or water in place of the wine if you don’t want to use alcohol.
2 cups Valpolicella (or other medium-bodied red wine)
1 cup sugar
1 lemon, zested
1 vanilla bean, split
1 spring of fresh basil
2 kg cherries
Boil wine, sugar, lemon zest, vanilla bean together for 1 minute. Add cherries, basil and bring to a simmer. Cover and remove from heat. Let macerate overnight. The next day, strain and reduce liquid by a third. Pour hot liquid over cherries and can, processing according to the jar manufacturer’s directions.
And here’s an idea: stir some (pitted) preserved cherries into sour cream ice cream while it’s still soft. Bliss. (Photo above!)