Expressing himself through food is what chef Brian Luptak lives for. The Meaford, Ont. native once considered a career in graphic design, but shifted his focus to the culinary industry after a series of cooking jobs in his hometown. Growing up in the country also gave him an appreciation for agriculture — from picking apples on farms to plucking wild greens in nearby forests — and instilled in him a deep level of respect for fruits and vegetables and the farmers that grow them.
That passion and dedication to the craft led to his dream job as the head chef at The Acorn in Vancouver. But, it wasn’t an easy path. After working in a number of hotels, including the Lamplighter Inn, The Fairview at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and The Pan Pacific Vancouver, Luptak was burnt out by the pace and politics of the industry.
“I was almost done with cooking [at one point] to be honest,” he says. “Cooking in hotels [was tough]. There were multiple menus for the restaurants and I was managing a huge number of staff; the politics [were difficult to deal with] and the treatment of staff [irked me]. It was as if they were just numbers. I was tired of it; I was tired of fighting.”
After taking six months off to recharge, he found The Acorn — a 44-seat vegetarian restaurant with a small, tight-knit family feel. Built for vibrant 30-somethings looking for creative dishes and good, healthy food, the eatery features appetizers such as the Allium (arugula salad, roasted-garlic duchess potatoes, caramelized candy onions, $14) and mains such as beer-battered halloumi, zucchini-and-potato pancake, smashed peas, mint yogurt and lemon balm ($22), as well as a slow-roasted rosemary cabbage with butter-whipped Pemberton potato and charred cabbage with red-wine jus ($22).
“It was a resurgence of motivation [to be creative again],” he says. “At [The Acorn], we’re constantly fishing for new flavours. We have people come in that are vegetarian for maybe their whole lives, or maybe they’ve been vegetarian for a short period of time. So, it’s our chance to try to recreate that [food] and bring back memories for them — or maybe give them something new they’ve never tasted before.”
The Acorn makes use of its environment, sourcing local products from foragers who bring in wild ingredients with the flavours of horseradish, mustard and even pineapple, which he uses to make vinegar, jelly or syrup. And it’s worked; the restaurant has received critical acclaim, recently named The Best Vegan Restaurant in the World by Big 7 Travel — a travel site geared towards young mobile users.
“One of my greatest accomplishments has been helping to transform The Acorn into a [globally recognized restaurant] — not just in the vegetarian world, but also just as a good restaurant,” Luptak says. “It’s super humbling. It’s also somewhat nerve wracking and makes you want to raise the bar even more.”