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New "Gastown Foodie" book celebrates the neighbourhood's restaurants, history

The Gastown Foodie is a beautiful tribute--with recipes!--to the restaurants and the history of one of Vancouver's oldest and most storied neighbourhoods.

The third in an ongoing series of cookbooks, The Gastown Foodie is a beautiful tribute--with recipes!--to the restaurants and the history of one of Vancouver's oldest and most storied neighbourhoods.

Following the prior release of his North Shore Foodie and East Van Foodie, photographer Brad Hill made what he says was a very logical turn to historic Gastown for his most recent tome.

 Photo courtesy The Gastown FoodiePhoto courtesy The Gastown Foodie

Teaming up with writer Chris Dagenais, who provides not only details about each participating restaurant but also creative pieces between the recipes, Hill tells Vancouver Is Awesome via telephone he sees The Gastown Foodie--and all his books--as "a celebration of the importance of independent businesses and how they shape the food industry."

Featuring nearly 40 Gastown cafes, bars, and restaurants, Hill says he worked closely with the contributing chefs and owners to ensure the recipes reflect an array of dishes. Hill also tested each and every one out in his own kitchen to make sure it was possible for home cooks to recreate these restaurant favourites.

The book features everything from La Mezcaleria's signature Queso Fundido to a sourdough loaf from Nelson the Seagull. Recipes are as simple as Pourhouse's Warm Olives or as complex as the Bounty Opera from dessert house Mosquito.

"It is a celebration of what the restaurants do," elaborates Hill.  "Everything is eminently make-able at home--if I can do it most people can do it!"

Hill, who hails from Australia and has lived and worked in the UK, came to Vancouver with his wife, a Canadian citizen, just a few years ago. The photog says he's a "mad keen mountain biker," and he and his missus fell in love with Vancouver, settling on the North Shore.

The North Shore Foodie was a natural first for Hill, who was getting to know his new neighbourhood through its food. But he calls The Gastown Foodie the "coming of age" of the ongoing cookbook series, since he's refined the concept and Gastown happened to be the first Vancouver area Hill really got to know after his move.

 Smoked Salmon Tartare from Pourhouse (Photo by Brad Hill from The Gastown Foodie)Smoked Salmon Tartare from Pourhouse (Photo by Brad Hill from The Gastown Foodie)

Unsurprisingly, the "research phase" means Hill takes any and every opportunity to dine out in the featured neighbourhood--not a hard assignment for a food lover like Hill. "I love taking photos of food and I love eating out," adds Hill.

Getting to know Gastown's food means getting to know its stories, too. The end result is a "historical document" that stills the neighbourhood in its place and time.

One prime example is that The Gastown Foodie features Chill Winston, the much-loved restaurant known for its tremendous patio that closed down after several years this fall.

In that respect, the Brussels Sprouts, Braised Pork Cheek, and Madeleine Sponge Cake recipes from Chill Winston are already letting the restaurant live on a bit on our bookshelves and kitchens.

Gastown is full of notable restaurants, and Hill acknowledges that much of its evolution into the gastrohub it is in 2017 began 10 to 20 years ago. The neighbourhood has been "setting Vancouver up for a style of food, service, and design that will continue to influence the greater dining scene" in the city, remarks Hill.

While we can go out to many of the spots included in The Gastown Foodie today and enjoy these dishes, the restaurant biz is fickle, and we won't always be able to. On one hand, the photos freeze time a bit, but Hill says he turned to North Shore News food columnist Dagenais to craft the writing with a very specific aim.

Some of the interstitial pieces are fiction--not your typical cookbook fodder--and some even take the form of letters.

"One thing I wanted from the stories is to be timeless," explains Hill. Dagenais' directive was to write what he pleased, so long as it was okay with the venues, to avoid advertising copy speak, and to not avoid being honest about Gastown.

The end result are "neighbourhood stories," that provide "background and depth." But in the Gastown Foodie they "don't shy away from some of the issues of neighbourhood," with the aim of sparking conversation about Gastown and its plights.

"I know it's just a cookbook, but by not focusing on some of the problems there it would have done a disservice to the area," adds Hill.

Hill says he's eager to continue the series, and is considering Vancouver's west side, along with Victoria, and the Sea-to-Sky corridor as upcoming focal points.

It's tremendously gratifying work for Hill, who relishes telling stories through food, and getting the chance to immortalize those stories on paper. Hill also loves collaborating with the chefs.

"I really appreciate and respect the trust that they put in me," adds Hill.

The Gastown Foodie is available in the featured restaurants, at select stores, and online. Check out the Foodie Books where to buy guide here.