By Gail Johnson
North Vancouver’s Lower Lonsdale neighbourhood has seen massive growth and development lately, but when Shallaw Kadir opened Fishworks (91 Lonsdale) eleven years ago, he was an outlier: there was no other seafood restaurant in the community anchored by the SeaBus terminal and Lonsdale Quay.
Focusing on sustainable, locally sourced ingredients, Fishworks has been earning accolades ever since, and Kadir still thrives in the heat of the kitchen. (In fact, he wears shorts year-round, even on the most miserable of days, his apron over top.) Here, he dishes on life as a North Shore chef.
Due to COVID-19, Fishworks’ dining room is currently closed, but you can sample some of their best dishes, along with some wine, though their take-out service.
How did you get your start in the restaurant biz?
I moved to Vancouver in 1999 from Eastern Turkey as a teen.
My first job in my whole life was on Lonsdale. I worked at Bravo Cucina as a dishwasher for about three [years]. By the time I left, I was sous chef.
Sami [Bentroudi, Bravo’s chef-owner] taught me so much. I told him I was going to leave school to work there voluntarily. I washed dishes in the morning then he taught me how to cook. Basically, I learned everything there.
You went on to work in Edgemont Village, eventually going in on an existing restaurant with a partner and renaming it Edge. You went without a day off for three years, then ended up selling your stake. What happened next?
I had gotten a job at a restaurant in California and was getting ready for that. I was walking my dog like I do every morning. I was on Lonsdale and I saw this big sign “For Lease”. I called, and the landlord said ‘I know you from the Edge. I eat there all the time. I really want you to open a restaurant here!’ There was no kitchen or ventilation, but there was a walk-in cooler. That was 11 years ago. I just signed another 10-year lease.
I knew I was going to open a restaurant, but I didn’t know what. I checked the area to see what was missing. There was Quattro, for Italian; there was Chez Michel for French; there were a couple of bistros. But there was no seafood restaurant. At the time, there was no Pier 7 Restaurant or Pinnacle Hotel. I decided on fish even though it’s the hardest thing to do after brunch.
It can be hard to cook seafood!
If you put chicken inside the oven and you forget about it for five minutes then take it out, it’s still good. Fish, if you forget it for two minutes, it dries out. In two minutes, it’ so dry, overcooked, just like poached eggs. I tried making brunch at the Edge. I love brunch, but I just keep it for myself now.
What are your signature dishes?
There are a few dishes that will never change. Sockeye salmon Wellington has been on the menu since day one. Because we opened at Christmastime, it’s stuffed with cranberries and almonds; there’s pesto sauce made from pistachios for different flavours.
Halibut poutine is another. I use fresh goat cheese, gravy, and hollandaise. There’s my mascarpone mac and cheese with butter-poached lobster meat. And clam spaghetti: classic Italian with fresh clams, white wine, and garlic.
I use Ocean Wise seafood 99 percent of the time. I have a West Coast wine list. All the beer is local–really close, like North Vancouver.
As you enter your second decade in business at Fishworks, what’s next?
I really, really want to learn how to make wine or beer. I know some people in the industry. Maybe I’ll go volunteer there and they can teach me for free, just like how I started cooking.
When I come in, I really work. I don’t have much turnover here. One of the guys who works here has been here for nine years; guys in the kitchen have been here six or seven years. If I see my dishwasher behind, I help my dishwasher. When my chefs see that, they do the same; the front staff too. Most people think it’s a family restaurant. We actually are like a family.
To order take-out, visit their website at fishworks.ca.
For more information on how to support Canadian restaurants during the COVID-19 crisis, visit breakingbreadnow.com.