– Words by Susan Lundy Photography by Lia Crowe
“The concept of Bruno is all about sharing and bringing people together through the gift and creativity of food,” says Will Lew, executive chef of Richmond’s newest high-end destination restaurant, Bruno, located in the brand new Versante Hotel.
“It is dictated by what is found locally around us: the seasons, the passions and talents of so many local purveyors in Richmond and in BC—the suppliers, artisans, farmers and fisher folk. It is also created around food meant to be shared, be that in a casual way or in the most elaborate and theatrical dining experience.”
With this in mind, my husband and I sat down to an unforgettable tasting journey at Bruno. We feasted with our taste buds and our eyes and we moved through the five-course Bruno Board Experience—each course paired with exquisite wines.
So many aspects of this meal stood out, from the artistry of the plated food to the impeccable service and, of course, the heavenly flavours. There was drama too, as Will undertook a table-side torching of the first course—raw and torched oysters—the result of which was a melt-in-your-mouth rendering of one of my most-cherished foods. The oysters arrived plated on a seashore-mimicking bed of sea rocks, shells and seaweed. A fall-season salad—appropriately coloured in green, yellow and red—followed, dairy-free for me, with burrata for my husband. Pork belly tomahawk was up next, alongside my favourite course of the evening, the saffron shellfish. A massive board of duck breast, Brussels sprouts and potatoes followed.
The selection of wines was impeccable, from the crisp Vigneti Del Sole Pinot Grigio to the smooth Roche Pinot Noir and silky Nicolis Seccal Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore.
For the dining experience we were seated comfortably ensconced in a private glass area with available space for 10. The main-floor restaurant, with its sleek, contemporary blue-beige decor, seats 130 people, including an 18-seat central community table.
The entire experience was unforgettable and, in looking at others in the restaurant—people enjoying the camaraderie forged by sharing food and lingering at tables well into the evening—it seems Bruno has hit a chord with locals as well as guests staying at Versante Hotel, itself a vibrant and colourful destination.
Will says the desire to “communicate through creativity and artistry” has always been at the forefront of his career choices, and growing up in East Vancouver surrounded by many cultures—both his parents immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong in their youth—he believes his specialty as a chef is “diversity.”
This means “taking any concept and transforming it into coherent, engaging and immersive experiences for our guests and our colleagues.”
He adds: “Cooking this way—translating a story, a moment, a place, a time, a message, a purpose and so on—is what allows me and the team to be most creative in telling a story that has significance.”
Before becoming a chef, Will obtained a Bachelor of Science in animal biology from UBC, and also spent many years as an orchestral violinist.
But he says, “My earliest memory was cooking with my grandfather. I learned art, cooking and creativity from him and that fostered a lifetime passion towards all forms of art.”
Although several careers interested him, he recalls: “One summer I decided to find a job in the food and beverage industry, while still pursuing music. I went into almost every restaurant in Yaletown asking for a job. All the restaurants said that without experience it wasn’t possible…”
But eventually he met a chef willing to give him an on-the-spot job in the dish pit of a new and busy establishment.
“As I washed dishes that evening, I saw how food and the industry brought so much creativity, leadership, intensity and satisfaction to not only the guests but to the chefs and cooks as well. I finished that shift at 4:00 in the morning. My culinary life flashed before my eyes and I knew that I wanted to be a chef!”
Will worked his way up from washing dishes to running almost all Glowbal Restaurant Group establishments, and was eventually recruited to run restaurants for Fairmont Pacific Rim.
Here, he says, his “ultimate passion and life mission for ocean sustainability came to life as we opened the first 100 per cent Ocean Wise sushi restaurant, RawBar, in the lobby of the Fairmont Pacific Rim.”
Will became chef de cuisine of Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, later headed up Black & Blue and eventually opened his own fine-dining restaurant, Quanjude.
“Then the pandemic drastically shifted the landscape of the industry,” he says. “It led to my greatest dream, which was to work for a non-profit organization focused on sustainability.”
Will became the executive chef of Ocean Wise Conservation, which encompassed Ocean Wise Seafood as well as the Vancouver Aquarium. When the aquarium shut down, he worked for Nootka Marine Adventures, creating culinary programs focused on seafood sustainability. This season, he was asked to take on the role of executive chef of Club Versante, which will open several restaurants, the first of which is Bruno.
As one of seven official Ocean Wise Seafood Council members in Canada, Will stresses that eating lower down the seafood food chain is crucial to sustainability. Eating restorative species like kelp and bivalves is “an essential part of keeping the abundance of wild seafood viable for the future.”
The joy Will finds in creative collaboration with his colleagues shines through in everything at Bruno, and a swing through the breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and dessert menus sets the mouth watering. We also sampled a number of items at breakfast the following morning and although I rarely eat breakfast, I couldn’t help but tuck in to the so-tempting plates. Throughout both meals, I was impressed with how Chef Will seamlessly altered my food to meet dietary restrictions. I can’t believe anything could taste any better by adding back in the gluten and dairy!
“My favourite cuisine to cook is one that is dictated by a story with significance and meaning,” Will says in summary. “Specifically, I aim to create custom menus that transport our guests to another place—somewhere with meaning. I want to tell a story through the canvas of food. Creativity is the vessel through which we create significance in the meaning of our food.”