Photography - HIRO
Text - MINA
Photography - HIRO
Text - MINA
"Forage is a Vancouver experience. There aren't many restaurants that provide knowledge about where your food comes from. It has a very West Coast, laid-back style but elevated. We've carefully considered each plate, showcasing what BC can be about and what produce we have here.”
Craig Sung, the Executive Chef, and Mark Fitzgerald, General Manager
Forage is in The West End on the vibrant Robson Street in the heart of downtown Vancouver. It's part of The Listel Hospitality Group (LHG), renowned for its association with the Green Hotel, offering travellers to Vancouver a taste of "The Best of BC." The story of Forage goes back a decade when terms like "Farm-to-Table" and "Foraging" weren't yet commonplace in the culinary world.
Forage's menu is a map that guides you through the bountiful landscapes of British Columbia. They have three main categories for dishes: "LAND," "SOIL," and "SEA." Each dish served at Forage celebrates Canadian cuisine, with most ingredients sourced from the natural bounty of British Columbia. What sets them apart is their unwavering commitment to sourcing locally, including their beverages, which feature carefully chosen craft beers, wines, and spirits, all produced by small-scale, high-quality artisans.
But perhaps the most beautiful aspect of Forage is the enduring relationships they've nurtured with local producers over the years. From fishermen and farmers to foragers and winemakers, they have consistently delivered the best of what BC can offer. If you plan a trip to Vancouver, we strongly recommend experiencing Canadian dining at Forage.
And it's not just the tourists. People who live in The West End love this place; people from all over Vancouver and other parts of Canada come here to savour the flavours of Canadian cuisine at Forage. The secret to their widespread appeal? It's the perfect blend of upscale service and a cozy, welcoming atmosphere that feels like home.
During our recent visit to Forage, we enjoyed experiencing the culinary expertise of their new Executive Chef, Craig Sung. His friendly and approachable personality complements his culinary skills. Mark Fitzgerald, the General Manager, originally from Ireland, is known for extending warm and welcoming hospitality to each guest. Together, they create a truly inviting atmosphere in Forage's dining room.
In our chat with Craig and Mark, we talked about what makes Forage special and their creative Farm-to-Table style.
VOICE (V): What is your history before joining Forage?
Craig (C): My love for cooking began in high school when I discovered the joy of making cookies and sweets in Home Economics class. This early interest soon grew into a deep passion. In my senior year, my high school introduced the ACE IT program, allowing me to pursue dual diplomas in Professional Cook 1 and Dogwood.
After completing my studies and a year of apprenticeship, I joined the team at Hyatt Regency Vancouver. Here, I began to explore and experiment with various dishes. I had the privilege of working alongside accomplished chefs, some of whom had earned Michelin stars. They generously shared their culinary philosophies and insights, which greatly influenced my culinary journey. They helped me define who I am today.
After dedicating seven years to Hyatt Vancouver, I had the opportunity to transfer to a Hyatt in Australia, where I spent five transformative years. This experience not only exposed me to a new culinary landscape but also deepened my understanding of diverse culinary traditions.
In 2019, I returned to Vancouver and joined Forage as a sous-chef. Collaborating closely with local farmers and having access to an abundance of homegrown ingredients reignited my passion for Canadian cuisine. I feel incredibly fortunate to create dishes with these exceptional local ingredients, showcasing the best that BC has to offer on every plate.
Mark (M): My journey in hospitality and restaurants began at a young age in my hometown of Dublin. With an abundance of bars, I found myself working behind the bar and as a floor server when I was just 15-16 years old. What I truly enjoyed was the front-of-house aspect of the business – meeting different people every day. I had the pleasure of interacting with travelers, regulars, and locals, some of whom you see more often than your friends. They sometimes become like friends. That's where my passion for working in restaurants and bars started.
As I grew older, I pursued a course in event management in college. Eventually, I embarked on a two-year adventure in New Zealand, and I worked as a bar manager in a high-end cocktail bar in Wellington. Upon my return to Ireland, I took on the role of operations manager at various locations within the Irish pub scene.
In 2017, I made my way to Vancouver after assisting in the opening of the largest Irish pub in New York City, known as McGettigan's. I joined the Forage team in 2021, and it's been a wonderful experience connecting our customers with the food we serve. Forage has been a sustainable and local restaurant for the past ten years. There's no other place quite like Forage, making it a unique Vancouver experience. It's heartwarming to see our regulars engaging with our staff at the bar table. Despite the bustling atmosphere of Robson Street, it's nestled in the West End, and we are privileged to have a strong local following and repeat customers.
V: What is Forage's approach to farm-to-table philosophy?
C: At Forage, our commitment is to sustainability and supporting local producers to the fullest extent possible. Our menu is entirely Canadian, and we focus on sourcing our vegetables from local BC farms whenever possible. Protein is a bit more challenging, but we try to keep it 60% from BC and 40% within Canada.
The biggest hurdle in creating dishes from local ingredients is their seasonality. Sometimes, the ingredients I want to work with are only available for a brief two-week window, after which I must cook up entirely new dishes. It's a challenging, but incredibly fun aspect of the job, pushing me to be more creative.
What I've learned at Forage is to plan our menu as seasonally as possible, making the most of ingredients when they're in their prime and finding innovative ways to preserve and reintroduce them throughout the year. For example, local fruits are only available in the summertime, so we make preserves and jams to keep their flavours on our menu year-round. Similarly, garlic scapes are only in season for three months, so we dehydrate them to enjoy their unique taste throughout the year.
M: Our Beverage Manager, Peter Sullivan, also has a remarkable philosophy that aligns perfectly with Forage's values. He has been an integral part of the Forage team since its inception in 2012. Peter's commitment to all things small and local is evident in our bar. If a small local distillery is bought by a bigger company, Peter shifts his support to the next local option. As a result, all our spirits, wines, and beers are 100% local, reflecting our dedication to supporting the community.
A recent addition to our spirits collection is vodka from The Liberty Distillery on Granville Island. Peter has thoughtfully hand-selected approximately 50 local wines, representing around 15-20 wineries. Additionally, we offer wines on tap to minimize our carbon footprint, demonstrating our conscious effort to reduce environmental impact.
V: What is your favourite local ingredient to play with right now?
C: I love squash and sunchokes. Currently, we're featuring sunchokes Crème Brûlée on our menu that I'm particularly excited about. It's a truly unique dish, maintaining that delightful custardy and velvety texture. What sets it apart is the lovely, nutty undertone from the sunchokes, complemented by crispy sunchoke chips and citrus-infused madeleines on top. It's a flavour experience that I believe you'll truly enjoy.
M: Craig launched our new fall/winter menu just yesterday(as of October 27th), which highlights the incredible bounty of local produce during these seasons. When Craig first introduced me to the Sunchoke Crème Brûlée, I admit I was a little skeptical about what it would taste like. However, once you take that first bite, the transformation is remarkable. If you were blindfolded, you'd be hard-pressed to distinguish it from a classic Crème Brûlée. It's truly incredible. To complement Craig's menu, we've also introduced a fresh seasonal cocktail list, perfectly paired to enhance your dining experience.
V: Where does your inspiration come from when creating a dish?
C: It revolves around the ingredients I receive. Whenever our local farmers bring in something, such as beautiful radishes, it sparks my creativity to craft a dish that highlights those specific ingredients. While my culinary training encompasses Classic French-Italian cuisines, my time in Australia has infused an Asian influence into my cooking.
I believe that, as chefs, we each bring our unique history and experiences to the kitchen, resulting in distinctive flavors and dishes. If you were to ask five different chefs to prepare the same dish, you'd end up with five entirely different interpretations.
V: What does food mean to you?
C: For me, food goes far beyond nourishment for the body. I love food so much, and I see endless possibilities in the world of cuisine. After all, everyone needs food; it's life.
M: Food, to me, is an experience. It's something we need daily, but the diversity of experiences it offers is remarkable. Growing up in a close-knit, family-oriented Irish background, I've always believed that food has a unique way of bringing people together. Whether it's a holiday celebration or a regular day, sharing a meal is a wonderful reason to gather and engage in conversations. Unlike alcohol, food has no age boundaries; whether you're 2 years old or 50 years old, we can all sit down and enjoy a meal together.
V: How do you see your role in the community?
M: Our presence in the West End plays a big role, having been an established part of this community for over a decade. In this vibrant neighbourhood, there's a thriving LGBTQ community, and our Forage sign in front of our restaurant shows our unwavering support for these individuals.
In the realm of local cuisine, we take pride in being one of the few farm-to-table restaurants in the West End. It's heartening to see that many locals appreciate and choose to dine with us, making us an integral part of the local food community.
V: Can you recommend a few dishes for the first-timers at Forage?
C: If you were to ask me about my top picks right now, I'd recommend starting with the Beetroot Salad, made from the beautiful beets sourced from Klippers Organics Farm. As for the main course, you can't go wrong with the Cutter Ranch Berkshire Pork. It's a hay-smoked bone-in pork chop, served with pearl onions, charred cabbage, horseradish crema, and a pork jus..
M: One of our classic staples, our gnocchi, undergoes seasonal transformations, and I highly recommend trying our Kennebec potato gnocchi with butternut squash.
For dessert, don't miss out on the Sunchoke Crème Brûlée!
In the coming weeks, we're excited to launch our "Best of BC" menu. It is our take on an early bird menu, featuring a three-course meal at a set price. It's an excellent opportunity to savour the chef's creations and experience the very best that BC has to offer on your plate. We plan to update this menu every two weeks, so you can come in once and return to discover a whole new selection.
And for those special occasions, keep an eye out for our famous holiday Turkey Takeout, coming up soon!