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A new chapter for Tapenade

By ARLENE KROEKER February 21, 2014 · 4:52 PM
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Chef Colin Uyeda of Tapenade and coq au vin. / Arlene Kroeker

A week ago, I sat at the same table I sat at 11 years ago when I dined for the first time at a new restaurant called Tapenade Bistro.

Mediterranean flavours and a warm décor were a welcome addition to the food scene in Steveston.  With owner Vince Morlet at the helm, and in the culinary hands of Chef Alex Tung, the urban bistro became a staple for locals and a retreat for visitors.

Every business undergoes challenges at some point or another, and Tapenade was not immune, even after 10 years of success, to learning a lesson. When Chef Alex left Tapenade to pursue other interests, the role of executive chef was filled by Chef Kayla Dhalliwal, a young chef with a decade of experience. Vince thought this was a good time to change up the menu and let Chef Kayla cook her “food from the soul.”

She also added drama.  As much as Vince would like to forget the 2013 transition year, technology makes that impossible. The Top Chef contender chose to leave the show after finding herself at the bottom of three challenges.  Of course it is television and we all know that drama is carved out by those behind the cameras, but the outcome didn’t help with Tapenade’s reputation as Chef Kayla deviated from a sustainable, predictable menu.  Another change was destined.

Chef Colin Uyeda grew up in Steveston, influenced at an early age by both his grandfathers —one a chef and the other a gardener.  He landed his first job in a kitchen at the age of 15 at Sammy J Peppers and balanced his remaining school years with cooking and competitive sports—baseball and soccer.

A graduate of The Art Institute of Vancouver, Chef Colin worked with the finest chefs at Seasons in the Park, The Observatory at Grouse Mountain, King Pacific Lodge, and most recently at Mark Best’s Marque Restaurant in Sydney, Australia (it won Australian restaurant of the year in 2012).  Upon his return to Steveston he joined the Tapenade crew as sous chef, working with Chef Kayla. With her sudden departure from the bistro in August, Vince appointed Chef Colin as acting head chef and listened to what his core clients wanted.

Vince took responsibility for the 2013 menu blip and by November, Chef Colin had proved his ability and turned the restaurant back to a “simple, yet elegant” French bistro showcasing local, sustainable, and seasonable ingredients. Vince promoted him to head chef.

Can you go back? I say yes. Vince is excited about finding his way again and he’s even celebrated by doing a few renovations—artwork, window coverings.  He graciously moved about the busy dining room as I sat at the table I first sat at 11 years ago. I felt like I was trying the menu for the first time, again.

With a glass of Tapenade’s Tigress Cabernet Sauvignon, a friend and I shared Grilled Vancouver Island Octopus. Local fisherman Frank Keitch delivers a 20- to 40-pound octopus and the rest is up to the chef. Succulently braised and served with in-house merguez sausage, harissa paste, a combination of pickled and fresh vegetables, and a citrus emulsion, the Moroccan-inspired dish works as winter fare, but would also be a perfect summer entrée.

The Fraser Valley Duck Confit with crispy skin sat on a bed of great northern bean ragout, squash, apple, and smoked maple. Definitely a comfort dish and well executed.  We also shared the Coq au Vin, a bacon-wrapped Cornish hen, slow roasted with spaetzle, Brussels sprout leaves, and burgundy jus. My friend took one bite and paused for a long time, as one does when they taste something memorable.

The menu is a good read. No drama here. Beef Short Ribs, Scallop and Pork Belly, Veal Cheek Parpardelle…  But I had to ask Vince, “Where’s the Boscaiola?” I’m not the only one to ask for this pasta dish. Vince is asked this same question about four times a week. Alas, with Chef Alex went his version of the recipe. Although, after talking to Vince, my fingers are crossed.

Welcome Tapenade back, and try their Sunday night family dinner - $25 each for a family-style Provencal dinner—perhaps roast chicken with salad, vegetables, duck-fat roasted potatoes and an apple toffee pudding. Check its website for the winemakers dinner series, which pairs local winemakers with seasonal menus.

Tapenade.ca, 3711 Bayview St., Richmond, 604-275-5188