H.A.V.E. Cafe Culinary Training Society becomes Cafe 374!
A fundraiser dinner for Project 374 with Bocuse D’or Canadian Chef Alex Chen at the new Cafe 374.
Pull at my heart strings. I’m almost embarrassed that it took me so long to discover this hidden gem, and I didn’t even discover it, but I was introduced to it. It’s been 5 years in the making and it took me until now to even find out what it was. It’s not the typical “hidden gem” most people refer to, but this cafe was more like a diamond in the rough, on many metaphorical levels too.
It started out as H.A.V.E. Cafe (Hope. Action. Value. Ethics.) Culinary Training Society and is now going through a restaurant makeover and re-launching as Cafe 374 (located on 374 Powell Street). Along with this makeover I hope will be a slew of new customers and students.
Students? Yes. It’s not your traditional culinary school, but the talent, courage and drive under this roof is second to none. This place is a story book that I’m excited to share because the food is prepared by people from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside who are facing all types of life barriers and challenges.
I had the opportunity to speak with the inspiring Executive Director and Chef Amber Anderson who spearheads and manages this unique program. I was overwhelmed by what Cafe 374 is really about and the easiest way for people to enroll is simply by walking right in.
The people who enroll are those wanting to make a positive change. With Amber and her small staff, they provide the necessary training required for these individuals to develop the life skills to eventually find jobs in the culinary world. From teaching them how to debone a chicken and fillet a fish, to finding them the right shoes for their interviews, these students are given 8 weeks of training before being employed in the culinary industry.
On this occasion I was honoured to be invited to Cafe 374 for the “Amber & Friends” fundraiser where Chef Alex Chen, the Canadian representative for the world’s most prestigious culinary competition Bocuse d’Or, prepared an extravagant dinner with the help of his chef colleagues and the students from the school. All proceeds went to Project 374, an initiative to help renovate and upkeep the school.
I actually had the opportunity to check out the kitchens and based on the equipment they were working with, I don’t know how Alex and his team executed the dinner with such class. Talent would be an understatement, and I really hope they get the help and funds they need because without the proper tools, they’re working twice as hard. I have so much respect for Cafe 374 and what it represents and I look forward to coming back on a regular day.
Cooking is much more than chopping vegetables and throwing food in a pot, and in fact, no processed food or cans are used here and everything is made from scratch. Along with proper technique, these students are learning discipline, patience and attention to detail. With every perfectly cut and square butternut squash I ate, and every consistently sized dollop of sauce I saw, I could only imagine how far these students have come which made for food that was emotionally touching.
Originally I came with food in mind, since I didn’t know anything about the cafe, but what I left with was a story that’s worth sharing, a cafe worth trying, and people who are worth supporting. For cafe operations/catering/donations/inquiries see here.
**Note: Due to the nature of the event and fundraiser I’m not going to comment too much on the food. The following dinner was also a one time menu and this is not representable of what is on their regular cafe menu or what would normally be served.
On the table:
- With Asian flavour
- It’s one of the best amuse bouche one could ask for.
- A chilled, small and sweet oyster with perhaps the slightest drizzle of ponzu or Asian citrus vinigarette for that refreshing quality.
- Sylvetta arugula hazelnut streusel
- When I think I’ve seen all the ways a “beet and goat cheese salad” can be prepared I was presented with another one. (Sh*t Foodies Say).
- The alternating layers of tender and sweet golden beets and salty goat’s cheese terrine was as perfect as perfect can be.
- The hazelnuts were showcased in 3 forms: whole, toasted and as is, ground and in a streusel, and lastly as an oil in the aioli.
- The streusel was the perfect balance of salty and sweet and I could have filled up on those alone.
- They were tender, crumbly and shortbread like crusts that tasted and breathed hazelnut especially from being toasted to an extra nutty brown.
- Although this was a one time menu, I can recommend you to try Cento Notti’s Baby Beet, Goat Cheese & Hazelnut Salad for a similar concept.
- Shellfish, rouille, fennel veloute, olive oil
- This was perhaps the most creative dish of the night and I would have never thought of it.
- It was a very contemporary take on a bouillabaisse and a very smart dish.
- Due to the context of the event it made sense to prepare a chilled soup where the seafood would never risk being overcooked in it.
- Upon presentation was a drizzle of fennel veloute (cream) which is essentially my favourite sauce also known as “the mother of all sauces”. It’s very similar to a velvety rich bechamel.
- The texture of the soup was of jelly so it was comparable to a savoury jello, but full of seafood flavour and the aroma of saffron.
- To create texture with liquids is quite a journey for the palate, but the smoothness of both components melted together with the heat of your mouth and warmth of the veloute which melted the gel ever so slightly.
- The juicy poached lobster (which I thought was sous vide) was infused with aromatics and the 2 little pieces had flavour that stretched to last the entire course.
- I’m a fan of sauces when they’re not used to mask, but used to enhance, and in this case they just built upon each other without fighting for the spotlight.
- There were a few thin rounds of sliced croutons, but those did get soggy, but execution for that is always a challenge.
- The dish was probably a bit acquired as it was more along the lines of competition food, but it was refreshing, innovative and I actually appreciate it more thinking back about it.
- Confit, poach and sear, kale, carrot, daikon
- Duck and orange are like peanut butter and jelly.
- The duck was executed in 3 ways: confit and in a croquette, seared as a foie gras, and poached in a roulade.
- For me, seared foie gras can’t be beat and it’s the best way to enjoy foie gras.
- I would have loved if both sides had been seared, but it was still more than enjoyable as is with a nutty caramelized charred crust on the one side.
- Foie gras melts like butter so searing both sides is tricky.
- The croquette was crispy and juicy with shredded duck leg meat inside and it sat on an orange marmalade that was actually sweeter than expected with lots of fresh orange zest.
- The poached duck was tender as any sous vide meat can get and it was the perfect squeegee for the orange caramel like jus on the plate.
- The kale was sautéed with some gizzards which were perfectly cut into cubes. It was a lovely way to incorporate them and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was prepared confit (sautéed in duck fat) for that extra meaty flavour.
- The slices of ruby red blood oranges and sweet dollops of carrot puree gave the dish more contrasting sweet and citrus flavours to play with.
- I’m quite sure the carrots were also minced and used in the duck croquette as well for aromatics.
- The fruit and meat flavours were equally as strong and the colour of the sides almost pulled the eye away from the main features.
- As elegantly and light as the dish was presented, it was indeed rich, yet well balanced.
- Butternut squash brussel sprouts, marrow truffle oxtail jus
- Truffle oxtail jus? Brilliant. I recently had a home made oxtail gravy and this was reminiscent of that, but much more elegantly prepared.
- The beef was sous vide with a sprinkle of grey sea salt for that little bit of crust, texture and rounded salty flavour.
- The beef was cooked perfectly and was soft as a cushion.
- There were a few bone marrow gels which I didn’t expect would be showcased in that form, but regardless I happily ate each and every one of them. I was almost most excited for those as I was for the oxtail jus part.
- The cubes next to the butternut squash were cubes of cow’s tongue which I was also enthusiastic about and those melted in my mouth like tofu.
- The butternut squash was the sweetness to the dish and overall it was a dish anyone could appreciate, even if you’re not an adventurous eater, because everything was disguised so well.
- Vanilla, caramel, chocolate ganache, crème anglaise
- The dessert was much more simple compared to the savoury dishes. Pastry is a whole new ball game.
- This is a bit embarrassing, but not really, but I was drinking the caramel sauce like tea and I never do that with caramel because I usually find it too sweet. The caramel sauce was the highlight here.