Chef Brian Skinner of Kelowna is passionate about vegetables – eating them, growing them, cooking with them and plating them up into mini works of art in his new restaurant Frankie We Salute You!, the combined vision of Skinner and his business partner Christina Lovelidge.
One of Skinner’s goals as a chef is to create food that appeals to non-vegan customers.
“I love it after a meal when someone says ‘Wait, that was vegetarian? No way!’” Skinner laughs.
“Vegans and vegetarians will always come to a plant-based restaurant, but if we can make meat-eaters happy, they’ll come back too. It’s all about educating people about other things that are delicious. As a chef I have a duty to feed plant-based eaters but also to open the eyes of others about the wild and crazy world of vegan cooking.”
“At Frankie We Salute You! I try to have something familiar on every plate we serve. Things like pasta, tacos and burgers make people feel comfortable. With The Acorn [his previous award-winning restaurant in Vancouver] we pushed the envelope a lot but many people don’t feel comfortable when the food is too different.”
Growing up in a traditional Canadian family in the Vancouver area, there was a lot of meat on the table, which Skinner says he never connected with. When he left home 22 years ago, he began following a plant-based diet and hasn’t looked back.
“I eat what makes me happy and vegetables make me happy,” says Skinner. “There’s so much stigma around the whole diet conversation. If people can do their best for animals and decrease the amount of suffering in the world, that’s a good thing.”
Skinner didn’t realize he had a passion for food or cooking until he was living on his own and trying to find vegan recipes. With only a few cookbooks on the market, he began experimenting.
“I realized there was an opportunity to make food delicious,” he explained “and have done most of my learning through trial and error. Basically, I put different ingredients in my mouth to see if they work together. Ninety percent of the time, they don’t, five percent of the time they’re horrible (strawberries and mushrooms) and five percent of the time they work (grapefruit and fennel.)”
Skinner trained in Vancouver as a Red Seal chef then worked in various local kitchens before moving to Europe to gain expertise at three Michelin-starred restaurants.
Returning to Vancouver, Skinner felt the vegan market was ready for “more than brown rice and tofu” and set about opening The Acorn, to provide a plant-based fine dining experience. Winning Gold Medal Plates, and participating in the Canadian culinary championship in 2013, Skinner became one of the few to receive top honours with a vegan dish, proving the success of his approach.
Skinner sold The Acorn in 2014, did some consulting then moved to Kelowna in 2017. As one of a handful of restaurants in Kelowna offering vegan dishes, Skinner has found a welcoming community of customers from all walks of life, eager to try something new. Considering the growing appetite for good vegetable-based food, it seems the future for this veggie maven is going to be deliciously busy.
Lead image by Natalia Anja