Alex Chen says he has wanted to be a chef since he was 13. The influence of his mother and grandmother, both from Malaysia, have instilled in him a love of food that he’s carried into adulthood and to the international stage.
In 2013, Chen represented Canada at the international Bocuse d’Or championship in Lyon, France, where he placed an impressive ninth. For those unfamiliar with the Bocuse d’Or, it is one of the world’s great culinary competitions, pitting chefs from 24 nations in a competition that lasts eight intense hours and results in each competitor producing one fish dish and one meat dish that must please the palates of some of the most finicky judges on the planet.
Chen did well. Buoyed by that performance, he has returned to his hometown with the intention to push more boundaries. On Thursday night, Chen and his team hosted a VIP launch party at Boulevard, his new restaurant that’s attached to the well-known Sutton Place Hotel in Vancouver. It is an outstanding venue — an opulent 290-seat space with a sunken dining room, cozy private seating area and an ornate bar that looks very L.A. — and promises a fine-dining experience in a city that has lots of casual fare but lacks the white-glove treatment many diners still want.
“We have big expectations but at the same time we just want to have fun and give people an experience they’ll remember,” says Chen.
The focus is on seafood, he notes, gesturing to the oyster bar that will have 12 seats and serve oysters from Sawmill Bay Shellfish Company, an Ocean Wise-certified supplier in British Columbia. The restaurant’s shellfish selections were the highlights of the grand opening party, which featured wines from the Okanagan Valley‘s Haywire, among other wineries.
Prior to joining Boulevard, Chen was an executive chef at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, one of North America’s most glamorous properties. He has also worked with Daniel Boulud in Toronto and spent time in Chicago. Travel, Chen notes, has influenced his career and his life.
“Wherever you go — whether it’s Toronto, L.A., Chicago — it all impacts you. You take in all of the things you learn and all of what you experience and you incorporate it into what you do,” he says.
For Vancouver, that may translate into a menu and atmosphere that is similar to what you might find in larger cities. At the opening night bash, plenty of glitterati were out, decked in swanky attire and buzzing with excitement for this hot new space. I admit I was taken aback. Coming from Toronto, where multiple restaurant opening parties occur in a week, and having been to several openings in Vancouver over the years, the revelry and the turnout were a surprise. But it shouldn’t be. This restaurant, owned by the Gaglardi family that controls the Sutton Place, is a big deal. Chen is a big deal.
Downtown Vancouver has needed an elite fine-dining restaurant besides the impeccable Hawksworth. Boulevard just may be it.
Written by Adrian Brijbassi, the editor of Vacay.ca. Want to read about some of the best restaurants in Vancouver and around Canada? Check out Vacay.ca, the leading Canadian travel destination spot, and follow them on Twitter.
Featured Image: Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca