Food can be many things: a source of nourishment, comfort, and connection. At Fuel, tucked into the bustle of Vancouver’s 4th Avenue, the aspiration is to make it all of the above.
Co-owners Chef Robert Belcham and Sommelier Tom Poirier realize this lofty goal is attainable only by keeping things rooted to source. For both, the world of fine dining was an awakening to the plate’s potential as a way of communicating both philosophy and passion.
Poirier, who has culinary papers of his own, pursued this philosophy by becoming a winemaker, as well as a sommelier, with his own line of Montague wines. Chef Belcham, who was groomed in part at The French Laundry (a California restaurant considered by many as one of the best in the world), expresses these values with his ever-closer relationships with his suppliers, with a vigilant eye on the end goal–making people feel good about and with the food they eat.
“A lot of our food starts with an ideal memory that we want people to connect with,” said Belcham, who ably recounts tales of trout fishing with his grandfather and the fresh raspberries picked roadside in Raleigh, BC. “Good food should feed and warm the soul.”
Having emerged from the über-conscious domain of Vancouver’s C Restaurant, both are well schooled in matters of sustainability, but have found a new raison d’etre with Fuel’s ardent support of local growers. Good taste is key.
“We’re not out to preach, but we know our farmers and fishermen. When we work with organic, heritage-breed chicken or pork, we are aware of the politics and happy to be supporting a sustainable network,” explained Belcham. “It is the right choice, but it just tastes better, too.”
Teaching his crew the vanishing art of working with whole cuts, Belcham dresses his protein in a wide window facing the street, sharing both an education and evidence of Fuel’s waste-not, want-not philosophy.
“The entire menu changes regularly, but you don’t see a specific cut of protein. People rarely think about the lack of variety in most restaurants. There are always pork chops, lamb racks, and beef tenderloins. What about the rest of the animal? We do our best to respect the entirety,” said Belcham, who also cures his own charcuterie on-site.
Passionate omnivores with a sense of self and source, both Belcham and Poirier agree that people need to break out of the cryo-vac culture of supermarkets by getting closer to source.
“Good food culture is all around us. It can be as complicated or as simple as you want. Getting back to cooking in season, cooking for pleasure, and sharing a table is one of the most important aspects of living well,” said Belcham.