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Behind the Line: Coastal celebration
Line-caught local seafood important for Executive Chef Peckham
By Lauren Kramer
May 05, 2011
When Coast Restaurant opened in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in November 2009, the goal of parent company Glowbal Restaurant Group was a seafood eatery that celebrated coastal life with a modern, energetic Vancouver aesthetic. Today, the 280-seat restaurant bustles night and day as a staff of 44 juggles ingredients to create dishes for some 20 varieties of seafood. Executive Chef Dennis Peckham presides over the kitchen, revising the menu every couple of months to ensure its dishes are simply stated and easy to understand.
Peckham, 34, fell into the restaurant business by accident. Until he entered his 20s he worked in construction, but after getting laid off one winter, he became a dishwasher at a golf course, moving to food preparation and later line cooking.
“I really enjoyed it, so I decided to follow it as a career,” he says. By 1999 the Vancouver native had graduated from Dubrulle Culinary Institute and began a series of positions that would take him from Vancouver’s renowned Lumiere Restaurant to Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Napa Valley, Calif., before returning to his hometown.
He joined Coast in May of last year, drawn by the simplicity of the menu. “It was one of the first things I noticed when I started working here,” he says. “The food is just simple. It’s the freshest seafood we can get, sold at the best price.”
The dishes are grouped under categories like “chowder,” “flat breads,” “shells,” “raw,” “crisp” and “steamers.” The basic ingredients of each menu item are listed, and most of the seafood dishes are accompanied by information about the seafood’s origins.
“I deal with five different suppliers, and I always ask them where the seafood comes from,” says Peckham. “I had a supplier offer me a great deal on salmon recently, but he couldn’t tell me what water it came out of, and who caught it, so I declined. I won’t stand behind the seafood unless I know where it comes from, even if the product is significantly cheaper. For me, it’s a trust thing. I want to be able to tell my customers where their food comes from.”
While there are some signature dishes on the menu that remain unchanged, Peckham was given free rein to add new items within the overall vision of the restaurant. His first task was to revamp the sauces, stocks and vinaigrettes and to ensure they were consistently good.
“It takes a long time to get a kitchen staff of 44 up to a consistent level, but if you don’t have good stock, you’re done from the start,” he says.
To the menu he added a lobster tempura served with an Asian-inspired salad, and a lobster macaroni and cheese, which he describes as a creamy comfort food that “flies out the door.” His personal favorites are the fish and chips hand rolls on the sushi menu, which consist of tempura cod and Japanese tartar sauce, and the smoked salmon flatbread. The latter, one of Coast’s five most popular dishes, is served with dill crème fraiche, red onion and capers.
Under the category of “big fish,” Coast offers a selection of eight finfish that arrive grilled with olive oil and accompanied by baby carrots, Brussels sprout leaves and a citrus beurre blanc. The three most sought-after finfish on the menu — salmon, sablefish and halibut, when it’s in season, — are from local waters.
Utilizing local products is important to Peckham, who sources 65 percent of the seafood locally. The majority of it is line caught, which he considers a more sustainable, fair practice. “The damage done by a big boat dropping a drift net and scraping the bottom of the ocean is unreal. I don’t know how you can do that and feel good about what you do,” he says. “By contrast, line-caught seafood gives the fish a fair chance and makes me feel better about supporting fishermen who practice a quality technique.”
The Coast menu mentions not only where various fish and shellfish come from, but also who harvested them. In March, Atlantic lobster was listed as being caught by Wayne Boudreau aboard the Jacob William out of Wedgeport, Nova Scotia. Sea tiger prawns were harvested by the Nguyen family in Vietnam and king crab was caught by the Northwestern out of Anchorage, Alaska, captained by “Deadliest Catch” star Sig Hansen.
Peckham follows the sustainable guidelines of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program whenever possible, and says ahi tuna will be coming off the menu in the next few months. “We try to never go beyond the program’s caution level, but if you ran a restaurant with only Ocean Wise products, you’d be very limited,” he confesses. “All you can do is know where your product comes from, make sure it’s a sustainable practice and do the very best you can.”Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in Richmond, British Columbia