“Chef Hamid Salimian loves to go foraging,” says Ellen, a representative for Diva at the Met in Vancouver, Canada, and my dinner companion for the night. “You’ll see what I mean soon.”
We are seated at a long polished bar at Diva surrounding an open-kitchen. I introduce myself to Chef as well as his staff, my eyes curiously fluttering to the chopping, slicing, dicing and molding going in below eye level.
Ellen and I will be enjoying Diva’s Tasting Menu tonight, and her comment becomes clear as soon as the first snack arrives. It’s s piece of chicken bacon. The chicken skin is brined and smoked for days then baked and flavored with salt, thyme and a bit of JD molasses before being served on a piece of stone. Apparently, Chef enjoys searching for organic matters right down to the serving dishes. This is followed by mussel bread soaked in squid ink and topped with roe to appear like coral, watermelon ice and feta served in a crystallized rock dish and fois gras walnut sitting on a piece of torched bark.
Chef Hamid loves working with local farmers, cheese makers and fisherman to procure the best local ingredients and use them in his innovative dishes. For example, most of their vegetables are sourced from the regional North Ant Farm, Sapo Bravo, Glourish Organics and Cherry Lane Farm. Knowing this, I’m excited for the meal to continue.
The first course after the snacks is a mock fried egg, using Sun Gold tomatoes from the local Sapo Bravo Organics, Parmesan cheese, toasted croutons, basil and black Russian tomatoes also from Sapo Bravo. The rich-colored yolk is made from the Sun Gold tomatoes, surrounded by Parmesan cheese, which makes up the “egg white.” The dish is served with garlic croutons, basil and pureed black Russian tomatoes. It’s a very light dish with many layers; the freshness of the two types of tomatoes and basil combines with the salty sharpness of the cheese and crispness of the toasted croutons. It’s a delicious illusion for all the senses.
“Where does he come up with these ideas?” I ask Ellen, unable to contain my amazement.
“He visualizes what most would not even fathom.”
Next we’re on to a locally sourced, yogurt-fed veal sweetbread. The sweetbread is brined in milk and then roasted with celeriac, apples and hazel nuts. Like most of Chef Salimian’s culinary creations the dish uses many local ingredients; apples from Sapo Bravo and hazel nuts from Agassiz, BC. And of course, the meal looks more like it should be on display at MoMA then sitting on my dinner plate.
The culinary masterpieces don’t stop coming. A Humboldt squid is presented in a Persian tamarind glaze, rolled up like tiny turnovers and featuring a soft, almost creamy texture. There’s also a roasted tenderloin served with Walla Walla onion, sherry lentil and, my culinary weakness, truffle. The meat, which is already tender and juicy, melts in my mouth even more with the creamy oil. Dessert is a puzzle. It looks like a solid black stone covered with white and green moss and surrounded by flowers. However, it’s really just Chef and his team showing off their love of foraging and the outdoors, as the stone is a butter toast ice cream – actually made with dark toast and brown butter – dipped in liquid nitrogen and malt powder to give the dessert a dark velvety appearance.
Just when I think the epicurious magic show is over, a small treasure chest filled with glimmering sand and two unwrapped chocolates are placed in front of me.
“Do I wipe the sand off?” I ask the server, confused why anyone would serve chocolate covered in tasteless granules.
“Yes,” he winks. “Make sure to get all the “sand” off.”
I know the drill by now. I take the candy whole in my mouth – sand and all – and soon realize it’s sugar that Chef has dyed to look like multicolored sand.
By the time I leave the restaurant I’m utterly confused yet amazed and overjoyed by what I ate. Chef Hamid’s culinary art not only appealed to my taste buds, but to all my senses as well as my mind. It was not just a meal, but an experience, and one I surely will never forget.