By Kathy Mak
For chef Dan Leung, the unexpected road to a successful catering and restaurant business started as a teenager. Leung’s first restaurant industry job was in the kitchen of Vancouver’s legendary Elbow Room Café. The job, he says, sparked his interest in food and cooking.
After a sharp career detour to the field of electronics, Leung circled back to follow his true calling as a professional chef. He graduated from Dubrulle Culinary Institute (now The Art Institute of Vancouver) and gathered experience at various restaurants and caterers before starting his own catering company, Danz Gourmet, with wife Wanda Lai in 2003.
Fittingly, Leung’s desire to expand his culinary ingenuity led the husband-and-wife duo to open their restaurant–The Rise Eatery – in 2017. Located in the well-appointed neighbourhood of South Granville, their unique cuisine champions unconventional, global-fusion which Leung describes as the art of blending and balancing flavours/ingredients despite their country of origins. There’s no shortage of innovative takes on cross-cultural dishes that merge local and global food influences, paired with playful names. Noteworthy menu items include: “Chicken Seoul Good”, “Lo Hay Salad”, “Wheel of Nosh”, “Heart Attack Rice”, and “Upstream Maple”.
Get to know the passion behind the contemporary cuisine of the Rise Eatery in our recent sit-down with chef Dan Leung and Wanda Lai.
What is the one thing that people don’t know about your restaurant?
Wanda Lai: That it is own and operated by a local husband & wife team who took a rather late start in the restaurant business; has no glamorous industry background but has true passion and determination to offer this city a dining option that we feel was lacking.
Why did you become a chef and want to open a restaurant?
Dan Leung: I wanted to make my passion into my career. I’m a true believer that best results only come when one absolutely adores the process of creating those results. Having my own restaurant allows me to have much more room for creativity than if I were to work at someone else’s restaurant.
What do you like most about being a chef?
Dan: Being able to create exciting dishes, to strike a perfect balance of flavours on any dish, and to make a positive moment in someone’s day when he/she enjoys a meal while putting aside any challenges that are present in all our lives.
Why do you love fusion cuisine?
Dan: The think-out-of-the-box aspect of fusion cuisine fuels my creativity. I do not wish to be bound by traditions.
Which is your signature dish?
Dan: “Heart Attack Rice” with schmaltz stir fried rice pilaf, chicken confit, sous vide free-run egg, and chicken crackling. This item has been on our menu since opening. It’s a popular item that not only celebrates my cultural background but also showcases what I believe fusion cuisine should be – utilizing cooking methods and ingredients from different parts of the world because they happened to work well together. No fancy plating necessary either; just allow the flavours and texture to shine through.
Name your favourite dish and drink pairing from your menu and why?
Dan: On our current menu, I’m quite pleased with the “To Ssam it Up” made with smoked pastrami-spiced Fraser Valley pork belly, sweet gem lettuce, fresh chilies and garlic, pickled apples, and grainy mustard aioli. This is a fun DIY lettuce wrap with amazing flavours and textures which pairs well with our signature cocktail “Castaway”, a drink that blends coconut rum, grapefruit aperitif, lime, olive brine, and pineapple foam, then served with a message in a bottle. Both menu items are epitomizing what The Rise Eatery strives to achieve: light-heartedness, ingenuity, and of course deliciousness.
What inspires your choice of dishes and their names in the menu?
Dan: A dish must be perfectly developed in my eyes before going onto the menu. There have been perfectly good dishes but did not end up staying on our menu due to difficulty in the execution or in keeping with the consistency. We also like to use seasonal ingredients, so you’ll find items that go on and off our menu depending on the time of the year. Regarding the funky titles, most names were my doing at the restaurant opening but our team has taken that fun task on and many members of our team have contributed to naming the dishes and cocktails. Our bar manager, Joel Bennett, has a creative writing background so he largely contributes to the fun names on our menu.
Is there an ingredient that you love to cook with?
Dan: I like to use katsuobushi/dashi to create an umami taste in many of my dishes. My other favourite ingredients to use for seasoning are ginger and garlic.
What is the latest flavour combination you created or discovered?
Dan: Thanks to the help of my sous chef, I discovered that miso butter, toasted sesame tahini and dukkah is an unexpectedly good combination. The flavourful richness in the miso butter pairs so wonderfully with the aromatic, nutty taste of the house-made Szechuan peppercorn dukkah in our “Short Tempeh”.
What other cuisines would you like to include in your menu?
Dan: Canadian indigenous, Northern Vietnamese and Nordic.
What other chefs do you admire?
Dan: Chef Susur Lee for his creativity and the late Chef Anthony Bourdain for his sense of adventure.
What restaurants do you like to eat at, other than your own?
Do you work directly with any farms or purveyors?
Wanda: Fresh ingredients are sourced and produced locally whenever possible. We support local businesses such as Living Produce Aisle and Seed of Life Farm. In fact, the owner/operator at Seed of Life was a past employee of ours for many years at Danz Gourmet Catering. We’re so pleased to see that he pursued his dream and is now growing his farming business! We’re also a big supporter of local wines, craft beer and spirits in our bar program. We work with Dirty Laundry Vineyard, Joie Farm Winery, Powell Brewery, Main Street Brewery, Goodridge & Williams Distillers, and Bohemian Spirits to name a few.
What is the goal of the restaurant?
Wanda: To offer our guests quality, one-of-a-kind menu items along with friendly, attentive service and in an inviting atmosphere. We aim to become one of the city’s favourite gathering place where diners come to experience a culinary adventure.
Is there anything new coming up for the restaurant?
Wanda: We’d like to work towards promoting fusion cuisine via various public relations opportunities. This is rather important to us because we have all heard how fusion dishes can easily take a bad turn and therefore this style of cooking has become highly underrated. The Rise Eatery also has plans to put on some collaboration dinners with other chefs in the city. We are currently working with a chef, whom shall remain anonymous for now, on a spring dinner collaboration