The team behind Vancouver’s The Flying Pig restaurants, Vancouverites John Crook and Erik Heck, recently opened a new Yaletown restaurant called WildTale Coastal Grill, where the focus is on coastal ingredients and the menu highlights the region’s merroir, which is the ocean-side version of the winemaker’s term terroir.
“Working our way up as cooks in Vancouver restaurants, John and I were exposed to this region’s most delicious ingredients,” says Heck, whose passion for local seafood has him leading WildTale’s kitchen. “We believe that our rich soil, temperate climate, and salty air all contribute to the outstanding flavours of West Coast ingredients, whether we’re using Yakima Valley lamb or Dungeness crab. But don’t get me wrong — we’re also fans of the ‘merroir’ of ingredients sourced from the Atlantic, and coastal regions beyond. If it was raised by the sea – any sea – it’s all good!”
LIKE A LOCAL
John Crook’s Vancouver
Favourite Vancouver cafe and why? Revolver in Gastown, because of its great coffee and vibe.
Where do you go for brunch? Flying Pig in Yaletown is my regular weekend brunch spot.
Where do you go on date night? Blue Water.
Favourite pursuit when you’re off the job? Golf. And cooking!
What’s your idea of the perfect day in Vancouver? Being outside, rain or shine, with my wife and son.
Where do you take out of town visitors? Joe Fortes.
What’s your latest food obsession? Fish. Always has been, always will be.
Your go-to drink? Crisp, cool glass of Rose or a cold beer at the end of a long day.
How many drinks does it take to get you on the dance floor? I stopped dancing in public when I was 21.
Like Crook and Heck’s other eateries, WildTale features a warm and inviting atmosphere, a place where guests are equally comfortable holding a business lunch over BC Honey Mussels & Frites and a pint of craft beer, and where couples with kids in tow can share blueberry pancakes and an honest to goodness Canadian breakfast in the patio. WildTale doesn’t disappoint come night time either: the bar is casual but chic and the dinning area feels intimate enough that you’d be comfortable bringing your date for a plate of just-plucked-from-the-sea oysters paired with a bottle of Louis Roederer Brut champagne. Unlike many restaurants in Yaletown, WildTale delivers delicious food with none of the pretentious attitude.
We chatted with John about merroir, his favourite local ingredients, and challenges of managing multiple restaurants.
How would you describe WildTale and how does it differ from The Flying Pig?
WildTale has a warm, lively and relaxing vibe, just like The Flying Pig, but its menu focuses primarily on seafood — locally, as well as from other coastal regions. Flying Pig is all about comfort food and home-style cooking, just like Mom used to make.
What’s the meaning behind the name, WildTale?
Wild references wild and fresh seafood. Tale comes from the tall tales of fisherman. We want WildTale to be a place where friends get together to share stories and have a great time, while enjoying delicious food.
What, in your opinion, defines Canadian West Coast cuisine? And how do you implement those flavours or traditions into the menu at WildTale?
Any Farmers Market in the world showcases what’s fresh and seasonal. The ingredients we find here, locally, all contribute to what our west coast cuisine is all about. Our menu is designed to reflect this — weekly, and sometimes daily.
Can you explain the term “merroir” and how that plays into your menu?
Just as wine enthusiasts reference terroir to describe environmental conditions like soil and climate that contribute to the flavor and aroma imparted to grapes grown in a specific region, we use the term ‘merroir’ to describe the flavors of the sea, from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
What are some of your favourite seasonal ingredients for spring, summer, fall and winter? Will your menu change with the seasons and what are some dishes we can expect to see in the coming seasons?
I have so many favourites. Halibut and Spot Prawns in the spring and tomatoes and corn in the summer are a few ingredients I love highlighting. Our menu will change with each season, and is also based on customer feedback. We really value the relationships we nurture between chef and guests.
What is the one dish that everyone should try at WildTale and why?
Blackened-crusted Snapper. It’s slightly spicy and served with scampi risotto. Pair it with a glass of Syncrocmesh Riesling from the Okanagan and you’re all set!
What is your favourite local ingredient to work with? Are there any ingredients or resources you wish were more readily available in BC?
Salmon is a favourite for sure, especially when it’s right off the boat and we’re filleting it an hour later. We are simply blessed with all the fresh and local ingredients we have access to.
Do you serve Ocean Wise seafood? How do you see the label has helped the industry? Do you think diners are more aware now about eating sustainable seafood than they were 5 or 10 years ago?
Absolutely. We are big supporters of Ocean Wise seafood and are grateful for the awareness it’s generated within our industry and for our guests. Diners are certainly more aware of it when ordering, and it seems to have become common knowledge over the past few years.
What’s it like overseeing a number of popular restaurants? What are the challenges?
It’s an amazing and rewarding feeling and something I’ve been working towards my entire life. Mind you, it was never the plan to have four restaurants. It was about being in the right place at the right time, and of course being in the right frame of mind. Collaborating with like-minded, hardworking people has made it possible. If only I could be at all four restaurants at the same time! That’s probably the biggest challenge I’m currently having, but I have an amazing team to rely on. We keep busy and have fun too.
WildTale Coastal Grill
1079 Mainland Street