Chef Lew’s Enchanted Forest Tea
As tea fanatics, we’re always looking for new and exciting ways to get our fix. Add some sweets and we’re scraping at the door. How exciting, then, to see the incredibly creative Enchanted Forest Tea that Chef William Lew is serving at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver until November 18th.
We wanted to learn more about this Chef Lew and his magical creations…
1. What inspired you to create this beautiful Enchanted Forest Tea?
I think that to be a story teller you need to be able to express these thoughts and translate concepts through whatever medium you are presented with. As afternoon tea is a means of pleasure – an escape to take time out of a hectic day, to connect with friends-share thoughts-reminisce about memories, to celebrate, to honor, and countless other forms of meaningful socialization – then to create one with the emotion and scene of serenity that nature so naturally provides would be a special way for others to connect and share stories with each other.
2. Can you describe some of the specific menu items in this Tea and how you went about inventing them?
As this tea is about the enchantment the beauty of nature can inspire us with – which will mean a variety of things to each individual – personally I wanted to find a way to immerse my thoughts and mind in this “story” in order to create the elements within it. Some may be simple culinary delights and others may be more varied artistic portrayals of nature, but each element is meant to have a meaning within the grander theme of this tea experience.
May it be an item such as “butterfly wings,” which is a spiced stone fruit chicken salad open faced sandwich topped with what looks like a butterfly made up of pansy flowers for the wings, to a toasted sliver of almond for the body, and fine chili threads for the antenna. The seasonality-lighter flavor-and herbal essence provided by the flowers not only gives the imagery of a forest and nature but also the edible and effervescent qualities of what could be interpreted as an “enchanted” forest flavor.
For other items, such as the White Chocolate Meringue “toadstool” mushrooms, the imagery and light almost instantly dissolving qualities of the meringue is like the fleeting imaginatory glimpses once could experience in such an enchanted forest experience or dream.
3. How does this Enchanted Forest Tea reflect your more general philosophy around food creation?
Food’s function is not only for sustenance; it’s a way to create emotion for others. Food should tell a story, taste good, make people happy, sustain life, and bring people together. As importantly, food should inspire, teach, give and offer different perspectives, and open the minds of others to experience cuisine beyond the physical sense and to tap into deeper creative perceptions.
May it be this themed tea to see and appreciate the true beauty of nature and its natural wonders, to a seafood dish that inspires others to become advocates for ocean conservation, and to using the idea and profession of food to mentor and help the next generation of artists and conservationists.
4. And how does this Tea reflect your own experiences growing up in BC?
The beauty of nature surrounds us and we are extremely lucky to be able to appreciate so many diverse habitats and ecologically significant locations in our province. Floating peacefully along our BC shorelines, to the serenity and vastness of our coniferous coastal rain forest, to the awe inspiring grandeur of the Rockies, we are surrounded by inspirations of beauty.
Writing this tea was really just a whimsical expression of the natural wonders that enchant us all in experiencing our ‘Supernatural British Columbia’. Diversity is the other key component to the selfless inclusivity of where we live, not only through culture, race, or politics as we have experienced growing up in Vancouver, but also appreciating the diversity of our natural resources and finding ways to tell a story of sustainability and conservation through the use and choices of mediums in writing menus and through our restaurants.
5. Can you tell us a bit about the role your chef grandfather played in your own upbringing and interest in becoming a chef?
My grandfather was my greatest inspiration as an artist. From cooking Sunday dinners together every week, to learning how to draw, to wood working, to gardening, and even to the art of calligraphy, he shared with me the passion of artistry no matter what the medium. He showed me that food was not only for filling our stomachs, but that it was a vehicle to bring people together to share a common appreciation for each other and to respect the ingredients, the culture, and the nature that they derive from.
6. How does your serious training as a violinist colour your approach to food?
Food is art, music is art, drawing-painting- sculpting is art, so no matter what the medium we are all composers-artist-and conductors in the relm of creativity. Music and performing as a violinist and playing in various orchestra and bands has allowed me to see food as more than sustenance and taste.
The entertainment, the theatrics, and the performance cooks/chefs need to execute to be able to tell a cohesive and engaging story. The metaphorical culinary music manuscript helps us shape the tones of our performances through textures, flavors, and presentations that extend beyond our medium of food. Notes and ingredients surround us constantly. From my experiences as a musician to my experiences as a chef, it’s the ability to capture, choose, and reinterpret these elements floating around in our creative universe to tell a story/play a piece that has significance and meaning.
7. Can you tell us a bit about how you worked your way to Chef Cuisine at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver’s Notch8?
The first job I ever dreamed of doing was to be a chef through the experiences I shared with my grandfather. Growing up, I did forget about being a chef for a period of time after venturing and growing further into other creative fields such as music and fine arts. My career path and my original dream took hold the first day I was hired as a dish washer while completing my degree at UBC for animal biology.
Not truly understanding the professional cooking world into which I was thrust – (literally as I was asked when I could start, I eagerly said anytime, and the Chef said you start immediately, this second) – I joined the culinary world as a dish washer and immediately came to the epiphany that all my experiences had come full circle as I washed my first dishes in the restaurant staring admirably at the cooks creating dishes and food I had never even dreamed of until that point, all the while getting drenched and stained in the dish pit while still wearing the suit I was interviewed in.
Eventually I was allowed to go home to change as several servers urged the chef to let me go home to find more appropriate clothes, but that still stands as the most influential day in my career as I drove home after closing the restaurant at 4 in the morning and completely emotionally and inspirationally high on the creative theatre that the world that opened up in front of my eyes that would lead to a greater culinary journey than I could have imagined.
I worked as a dish washer for two years while finishing my degree and every day I asked the question, “how do you make that?” to every cook and every chef I saw creating a dish. I was so fortunate that some specific Chefs decided to take the time to actually answer my questions and made efforts to teach and guide me through a time when many others who went through the culinary ranks in a traditional manner wouldn’t give at the time a nerdy university student any chance or opportunity in the kitchen (“I don’t believe in what you’re doing, I will show you how to do this, but you will never make it” were words that resonated for years to come) what so ever.
Eventually, I was given the opportunity to start as a full fledged cook in pastries. I, as many others who are passionate about their craft do, came in day in and day out on my own time to learn the craft. Next came the appetizer/cold station which was my first station ever working with savory food. At the time while working pastries, I thought that I was going to become a pastry chef, but once I worked with savory items the realization and vision of becoming a Chef became clear.
From that point, growth was what one put into it. After a period of time and slowly as the stigma of a university educated cook that never went to cooking school eroded away and my colleagues saw me as a peer the growth became more exponential. I worked my way up through various positions, various styles of restaurants, became a senior cook, became a cdp, eventually a sous chef, and eventually worked my way up to become a Chef of a restaurant.
Your work ethic, creativity, passion, and abilities follow you around this industry. One day during this journey I was asked if I wanted to run the Sushi Bar and the Italian Restaurant at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel. Hotels were completely different than independent restaurants, and that experience along with then taking over the main fine dining restaurant at the Pac Rim continued to grow my influences, perspectives, and creativity as a chef. Eventually I was asked if I wanted to run Notch8 at Fairmont Hotel Vancouver which continues to build on the culinary story telling journey we thrive on sharing with others.
8. What are 3 key pieces of advice you would offer to those looking to build careers as chefs?
i. To have a passion for positively influencing others around you so that you are able to inspire and help others grow not only as cooks but as people through the support of ones leadership and selflessness to others
ii. To be patient, flexible, and adaptable through the journey of becoming a chef and to immerse fully in any experience regardless of position or rank
iii. Self Motivate, and self-learning is essential as you only become as influential and successful through the time and effort you put into your craft.
9. And, bringing us back to the tea, what would you like visitors to walk away thinking or feeling after they have had tea in your Enchanted Forest?
I would like for others to have enjoyed an immersive experience at tea, to be transported to somewhere different in their minds, and to be able to live a dream. As well – beyond the culinary taste and experience – ultimately it would be an honor if our guests walk away being and feeling passionately Inspired, and to take that positive inspiration to create art or an experience that they can influence others with as well to perpetuate and express each individuals own versions of artistry. To not be bound by the normal, but to venture emotionally and creatively outside preconceived expectations.
10. Anything you would like to add?
Just wanted to thank you and others like yourself who help perpetuate and give a platform and voice for artists like yourself in this world to continually inspire others to push the envelope of their crafts.
Enchanted Tea Photos: Leila Kwok