When you have as many moving pieces as Chef David Hawksworth, you need partners that you can count on. As the owner of Nightingale, as well as Hawksworth Restaurant, Bel Café and Hawksworth Catering, he oversees a staff of more than 300. We recently chatted with David about Nightingale’s scene, dependable vendors and the next generation of chefs.
Talk about the Nightingale’s location.
We’re in the Coal Harbour neighbourhood of Vancouver, which is the financial district by the Convention Centre. It’s quite the vibrant part of town. We have cruise ships nearby, lots of hotels and business towers. The building we’re in was built in the 1920s. They kept the façade of the original building and added a tower. I had always loved that building. When I heard there was an opportunity to open a restaurant there two years ago, we jumped at it. We were able to keep the original fireplace and some of the artifacts.
Describe the vibe of the restaurant and its food philosophy.
We have some friends in Los Angeles that we would visit frequently. They have a cool restaurant scene down there. I had been doing high-end food for such a long time and thought that this nice, relaxed atmosphere would be perfect for Vancouver. That’s how Nightingale was born.
Our plates are created for sharing. We want to keep dishes simple, flavourful, fresh and in a constant state of evolution. Food always tastes better if it’s been picked or caught that morning. That’s why we try to use local ingredients when we can. We have three farms that we work with for our vegetables – one grows almost exclusively for us. We go through eight cases of cauliflower a day!
How have you built a brand image for your restaurants?
It’s all based on quality. Whether you’re having the journey tasting menu at our Hawksworth Restaurant or a pizza at Nightingale, the same amount of attention has gone into making each dish. Our recipe for the pizza dough took years to perfect. That’s all part of our authentic brand.
How important is it for you to work with the right vendors?
If you don’t trust your vendors, it becomes a nightmare that can consume you. You have to find the right business that you can rely on. It’s extremely important for us to work with people we trust and that uphold the same standards and levels of professionalism as we do.
What does a reliable partner allow you to do?
It allows us to focus on what matters. In the restaurant world, the day offers a lot of chaos so you want to minimize that as much as possible. Having a reliable linen company is part of that equation. I want to have that peace of mind.
How were you introduced to Canadian Linen?
When I opened Hawksworth Restaurant seven years ago, I looked at everyone who was a potential provider. It was all about consistency, price and reliability. Since then, I’ve partnered with Canadian Linen at all my other restaurants. They have been very consistent and loyal to us.
Talk about your Hawksworth Scholarship program.
I started it six years ago. When I worked in Europe, they had a major scholarship program that was a great inspiration for young chefs and the community. There weren’t any similar programs for restaurant chefs in Canada so that’s when I decided to start a culinary cook off. We do heats in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. And then we have a final round where the winner gets $10,000 toward the college of their choice. Second place gets $5,000 and third place gets $3,000. I keep in touch with the previous winners, and they are all doing well.
What is on the horizon for Hawksworth Restaurant Group?
It is very busy! We created the meals for Air Canada’s international outbound and domestic business class flights. We have a cookbook coming out next year. And we’re working on two new projects that are about a year and a half out. Everything will complement our brand well.
Photos courtesy of Nightingale Restaurant
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