W hen you visit Carlino, the new Italian restaurant in the Shangri-La Hotel, you might expect to find your favourite meatballs, pizza and burrata. But chef Mark Perrier is not going to give them to you. “I tend to cook what I want. I don’t necessarily worry about what people want,” he says, adding firmly, “If people trust you, they are going to get a better meal.” If you’re going to trust one chef in Vancouver, especially with Italian food, Perrier is your guy. He’s cooked red-gravy spa- ghetti and truffle-lavished Tuscan fine dining, he’s been a butcher and a hunter, and he’s opened not one but two estab- lishments that landed on enRoute magazine’s top 10 list of the country’s best new restaurants. Now he’s the chef at Carlino, the latest from Kitchen Table Restaurants. But this time, he’s not cooking the same old to- mato-drenched favourites. He’s cooking the dishes of Italy’s northeastern corner, which owes as much, culinarily, to the Austro-Hungarian empire as it does the Roman one. “I like the idea that it’s under-represented in Vancouver,” he says. “Here, it tends to be follow the leader. Every menu has agnolotti, every menu has cacio e pepe, every menu has car- bonara. It’s boring.” ‘Too far gone’ Although Perrier has spent most of his career cooking Italian fare, he is not Italian. “I didn’t grow up eating Italian,” he says. “I grew up eating burgers.” He began his career in f ine dining, at West, CinCin Ristorante (where he rose to the position of executive chef ) and a year-long stint at the two-Michelin-starred Le Gavroche in London. In 2009, he was Neil Taylor’s sous chef when they opened Cibo Trattoria, which was named Canada’s Best New Restaurant by enRoute magazine. He followed that by spending two years working as a whole-animal butcher for Two Rivers Specialty Meats. Then in 2015, he opened Osteria Savio Volpe as chef and partner. Savio went on to earn a top 10 spot on enRoute’s list, and Perrier went on to open the old-school Pepino’s Spaghetti House and the cosy wine bar, Caffe La Tana, as well. But despite his key role in some of Vancouver’s most popular eateries, in early 2020 he seemed to disappear. He’s not the only one, of course. Since COVID shuttered restaurants in
March 2020, countless cooks have hung up their aprons and quietly left the business.
“They’ve stopped cooking. And they are not coming back,” Perrier says, noting that the COVID pause gave everyone from line cooks to executive chefs a chance to find other, less terrible, ways to earn a living. “It isn’t a good job. It doesn’t pay the bills and Vancouver is an expensive city. And the hours never change. For the 20 years I’ve cooked, I’ve had no hobbies. You’re just a cook. That’s all you do.” But Perrier’s journey was a little different than most. “I’m a chef. I have ‘line cook’ tattooed on my arm. I’m too far gone,” he says with a laugh. He’d been thinking since summer 2019 of selling his interest in Savio and in January 2020 signed the papers. It couldn’t have been better timing. He spent the next year and a half away from the kitchen, mostly doing a lot of hunting and fishing. “It’s kind of the next step if you want to have control of what your family is eating,” he says. “I’m an intense person, so if I get into something, I really get into it.” He also dabbled in a burger pop-up called GTO Burger, serving some of the city’s best smashburgers at random venues that would be announced on Instagram (gto.burger). “That’s sort of my long-term interest,” he says. “Fine dining is challenging, and it’s getting more and more challenging. The juice isn’t worth the squeeze. I wanted to do a burger restaurant and that’s still in the works.” But he wasn’t quite ready to open it yet, and by September 2021, he says, “I was getting antsy — you can only sit around so much.” That’s when he had a chat with Kitchen Table’s culinary director Alex Tung. “I was curious as to how everyone else was pulling back and these guys opened three restaurants. I wanted to know why they were so optimistic,” Perrier says. “I guess when everyone else is running for the exits, if you’re brave, you can be successful.” ‘Just the best’ When the pandemic began, Kitchen Table comprised Pourhouse, Ask for Luigi, Ristorante Di Beppe and Pizzeria Farina, as well as its North Shore sibling Farina a Legna. During COVID, it took over Giovane in the Fairmont Pacific Rim and re-opened it as Giovane Bacaro, a Venetian-
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