By Brittany Tiplady
How do we identify true members of our community? The term community albeit, chalk full of good intentions, has been tossed around so much that we often forget the true meaning of the word.
North Vancouver’s Chef Joel Green certainly has not forgotten the meaning of community-in fact, he embodies it. I met with Green at Lonsdale’s Pinnacle Hotel on the Pier on a sunny Saturday afternoon, opening our interview with light conversation about the early Vancouver snowfall and the beginnings of winter that’s upon us West Coast wimps. He is simply giddy about an early snowfall- “I love it!” he beams. “Last winter was great, I spent 30 days on the mountain.”
We start to chat about Green’s impressive career, his deep and passionate involvement with the North Shore, and the contents of his last meal. It’s evident that Green loves where he lives, loves what he does, and loves to give back to the North Vancouver community.
Green’s joie de vivre for the food industry doesn’t stop at his Executive Chef role at the Pinnacle; he has helped fuel local events like Dinner On The Pier: an August soiree that includes cocktails, live music, dinner, and desert on the Lower Lonsdale pier with proceeds benefiting organizations like Growing Chefs.
“I’m a family guy, who loves the North Shore and enjoys everything it has to offer,” says Green. “I feel like I’m a real part of the community and when I walk out, I almost know everybody and I feel really grounded here. My heart would just be torn out if I had to live anywhere else.”
BT: How did you start your cooking career and how did that come to be?
Chef Joel Green: I was in Banff when I was 18 and I needed a job to fuel my snowboarding, so I got a job dishing washing at a place called Melissa’s Mistake. And I started to learn prep-work there as I was dishwashing and I really loved the culture of restaurant life, and started to bounce around from restaurant to restaurant. I always oved the environment, and I slowly evolved into this career.
When I finally got into Vancouver, I walked right into Gastown and saw “help wanted” at The Old Spaghetti Factory, and I had never actually been a cook before, but they hired me as one and I was there for six years. I loved it! During that time, I [studied] at [Vancouver Community College] and once I finished that, I went to work at Aqua Riva to work under Deb Conners.
She was a real big lady chef in the city, and she was tough. I learned so much under her and became so passionate about cooking. From there I went to The Beach House, and learned a lot of fast cooking, and how to do specials, and I loved having that freedom.
I started then working part-time at The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, and really got a feel for banqueting and hotel work. There I also learned a lot about French cooking and I got my red seal at Hotel Vancouver. Once I did everything I could do there, I went to the Convention Centre, and I eventually developed my own technique and I think it’s the best.
BT: What are some cool accomplishments under your belt?
Chef Green: When I was working at the Convention Centre, I got to go to Washington DC and I did the biggest plate-up of history, a world record. It was 19,000 people, sit down three courses, cooked by myself and 25 other chefs.
About a year later, after [hurricane] Katrina, the Superdome was re-opening and I helped with that re-opening. It was life changing in a way- I saw all the people of New Orleans live through it and heard all the stories, and those experiences really shaped my love of this industry and where it’s taken me.
BT: What brought you to the Pinnacle Hotel?
Chef Green: When this place was being built, I said: “I’m going to be the chef of that place one day.” Later, the Pinnacle restaurant job came up, and I didn’t hear anything. Three months later, I applied again, and they called me right away. It turned out that they had this huge [event] that was in 10 days, and they had no chef. When they saw what I had done banquet wise, they [were eager]. And that’s how it all started I’ve been here now for 7 years.
They really allowed me to grow here and have a blank slate. They really gave me a chance. My concentration at first was to get the banquet department up and running, and eventually I [balanced that] with helping the restaurant succeed. I built a menu that I thought would be good for the place and people started to come and eat here, and now we have quite the local customer base.
It took two years to build this restaurant to where it is, and get our #1 on Trip Advisor. I built a core menu for all of our restaurants in the Pinnacle Group: The Harbour Front Hotel, The Pier 7, and here. And I oversee the production and menu for every location now.
BT: I have a feeling you love North Vancouver.
Chef Green: I’m a North Shore guy, I’ve been here for 20 years. I live in Lynn Valley and I love the nature. This is my home-I could never leave here.
BT: Let’s talk about your community involvement in North Vancouver. I’ve heard something about a little dinner on the pier you might be a part of.
Chef Green: Alex Troll from The Juicery Co. asked me if I wanted to be a part of this thing called Dinner on the Pier. And I said, “Absolutely! I’d love to be a part of that. What are we going to do?” We had a month and a half to organize the entire event which was 150 [guests]. The last two we hosted have been 300. Tickets are around $150.00 for three courses, with a fourth course on the table when you arrive.
Tap and Barrel, Browns Social House, and Deep Cover brewery also vend at the pier during the night at The Pipe Shop, so the whole area gets involved! Dinner on the Pier is an August event that is for a charity called Growing Chefs. [Eventually] I was also able to volunteer and actually taught my son’s grade four class the Growing Chefs program and we had a great time.
BT: Tell me more about the Growing Chefs program
Chef Green: So, you have one class for the season, and you plant a whole bunch of seeds, and over the terms the kids water their little crops, and give them sunlight, and by the end of the term they have a crop. With that, we teach them how to make a salad, or a stir fry and teach kids about vegetables and agriculture, and how in this condensed community that we are now living in, we can still grow our own food.
I also have worked with the North Shore Neighbourhood House. Even though Christmas day is the busiest day of the year here, and we do about 1,500 covers, I sneak off to bring Christmas dinner to the Neighbourhood House, and then they plate it up.
BT: What’s your favourite thing to eat? What would be your last meal?
Chef Green: Probably a rack of lamb with a gnocchi with a shiraz demi glaze and roasted vegetables -just my favourite stuff all the together. That would be my favourite. Sometimes a bouillabaisse is also a nice comfort food option-something filling without feeling heavy. My go-to food is French. I like the look of French cooking, I like the way it’s plated, it’s really lovely food.
BT: What’s the style of food here at Pinnacle?
Chef Green: Pacific Northwest casual. Semi-fine, with everything having a tip of the hat to the French style of food.