Macau-born Steven Che is one to watch on Vancouver’s dining scene. The Chinese-Canadian chef talks about storytelling through food

He began cooking in high school, as his single mother was busy working and not good in the kitchen. His interest in cooking came from watching “bad infomercials” like those advertising former boxer George Foreman’s “grilling machine”, Che says.

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“Once I got upgraded cable I started watching Food Network religiously, all the cooking shows and cooking competitions like Top Chef and stuff like that,” he says.

Rather than go to culinary school, Che studied dietetics and nutrition at the University of Florida, which made him realise he wasn’t interested in the clinical aspect of food, but the actual creation of it in the kitchen.

After a few restaurant jobs in Orlando, Florida, including opening fast-casual chain Domu, he decided to travel abroad and learn as much as he could.

I would say most of my inspiration is from just things I love to eat which are in Vancouver

Steven Che
Che’s first stop in 2017 was at three-Michelin-star restaurant Maaemo in Oslo, Norway, where chef Rob Drennan was working at the time in research and development.

“Working there was the most I ever learned … [It] was one of those restaurants that was like a zero-compromise kind of restaurant where they had unlimited labour, meaning they had people just lined up to work for free,” Che says of starting out as a stagiaire, or intern.

Che was thrown in at the deep end, the pastry section – which he recalls was the most difficult without experience.

Che’s dish of tunnel-boned quail stuffed with pork, chestnut, shiitake mushrooms, chestnut purée, hawthorn quail sauce and star anise-glazed pea shoots. Photo: Steven Che

“But once I got it, I was like, Oh, this is the same as cooking, essentially, except things take a certain amount of time. And you have to work around the same schedule, like breads – need to mix them, proof them, shape them then proof again, bake.

“So like that’s a schedule that you have to work around … there was no time to redo things; they had to be done properly.”

He describes the experience as challenging, but was able to prove himself, and within three months was offered a full-time job at Maaemo and worked in other stations, including garnish, meat and fish.

Che’s soy and Chinese almond milk with ginger oil. Photo: Steven Che

Aside from the culinary skills he gained, Che was inspired to create a story through food by chef-owner Esben Holmboe Bang, whose set menus featured 15 to 18 dishes highlighting Norwegian heritage and traditional ingredients.

“At that time, I had been forming my concept of what I wanted to do that is true to my identity – so being a Chinese-Canadian immigrant, and being queer and gay. And knowing that I want to do it in Vancouver, because one, my family is here, and two, I can’t really see this concept working anywhere else in the world. Just because it’s really true to who I am. I’m very rooted in Vancouver.”
On his days off, Che worked at a bakery called Ille Brød, which he says has the best sourdough he’s ever tasted. He learned as much as he could about sourdough from this bakery, which has played a part in his culinary career since.

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After his stint in Norway, Che was keen for somewhere warmer and went to Adelaide, Australia in 2019 to work at Restaurant Orana, which closed the following year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Its late chef-owner Jock Zonfrillo presented indigenous Australian cuisine, which was completely new for Che. There, he learned about ingredients such as Dorrigo peppers, quandong (a fruit) and Geraldton wax (a flowering plant), and frozen ants that had the taste of sour candies.

Che also had to adapt to working in a small team producing a lot of food, which led to him standardising all the recipes, thus making cooking more efficient.

Che prepares a pizza in Vancouver. Photo: Steven Che

“I’m one of the few chefs that would weigh absolutely everything, because a lot of chefs when they make things they pinch pinch pinch, taste taste taste. When I make things I weigh it once, and I write it down.”

Che returned to Vancouver in early 2020 just as the Covid-19 pandemic began. He worked as head chef at Scratch Kitchen in North Vancouver, which serves casual dishes such as pizza.

He was able to double sales of the restaurant through systemising and standardising operations in the kitchen, which led to him and Scratch Kitchen owner opening Wild Flour Pizza Co last April in Burnaby, a municipality east of Vancouver.

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The place serves sourdough pizzas, and Che says when it is very busy it can serve 250 pizzas a day. It offers toppings such as crispy prosciutto, butter paneer and blue pear. He competed in the Canadian Pizza Summit with that umami-laden pizza, which is covered in caramelised onions much like French onion soup.

Che is pleased to have achieved his goal of becoming the co-owner of a business at the age of 30, but has now set his sights on honing his fine-dining culinary skills again.

“I would say most of my inspiration is from just things I love to eat which are in Vancouver, like cheap Asian food and using my knowledge of technique and seasoning and flavour and infusing it with my Chinese heritage,” he says.

Che’s dish of prawn tamago with prawn tartare sauce and purple yam chips. Photo: Steven Che
One of the new dishes he served at the recent pop-up was mala cold prawn noodle laced with a chilli prawn oil inspired by a Sichuan noodle stall in a food court.
Another that he has further honed is tunnel-boned quail stuffed with pork, chestnut and shiitake on a bed of chestnut purée, served with a sauce made from the bird’s bones and hawthorn flakes.

With more time to experiment, Che has delved into hobbies, including making ceramics, some of which were used to serve food in his pop-up.

He is constantly thinking about all aspects of the dining experience, and sees such extras as “more like customisation”.


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