Vancouverite Melody Fury is serious about food, and cocktails—though not so serious that she shies away from describing herself as a “cocktail ninja”. She started her blog, Gourmet Fury in 2009 and launched the Vancouver Food Tour in 2010.
On her blog you’ll find recipes, lots of restaurant reviews in Vancouver and Austin (the two cities where she’s based) and more reviews from her travels around the world—all accompanied by gorgeous, mouth-watering photos and fun videos. GourmetFury.com won Best Travel Blog at the 2011 Canadian Weblog Awards.
We talked with Melody to get her take on the Vancouver food and drink scene and plied her for tips on how she gets those great food shots!
How did you get into writing about and photographing food for a living?
I started my food blog with passion but without much expectations. Over time, it opened doors for me to write and photograph for various media outlets. As my experiences grew, I also became increasingly critical of my work and strove to push my own boundaries. Currently, I’m a cocktail writer and photographer for Serious Eats, covering Vancouver and Austin, which is one of my favourite gigs thus far.
Did you grow up in a food-centric household?
Very much so. I grew up cooking with my grandmother, who was a fantastic cook. Every Sunday dinner, she would crank out enough dishes from her tiny apartment kitchen to feed more than 20 people. My parents were the type to make me try everything—twice. I developed an adventurous palate quite young, eating anything from sea urchin to durian before grade school.
You’re a self-described “cocktail ninja”. What makes Vancouver a great city for cocktails?
I’m not sure how the term came to be but I do bar-hop a lot, partially because I can’t sit still but also because I’m all for trying new creations. I believe Vancouver’s great for cocktails because it’s simply a great city. What that means is it draws the brightest and most talented bartenders from across the country and beyond. I’m inspired by how knowledgeable and humble many of our city’s bartenders are and especially appreciate their strong camaraderie.
Since Vancouver is also such a walkable city, it’s easy to go from one spot to the next, imbibing along the way. Lastly, the weather. When it rains, it makes Vancouverites crave stiff drinks. When it’s finally sunny, we pour onto the patios and order icy drinks by the dozen. So really, we’re destined to be a world-class drinking city.
Why did you decide to launch the Vancouver Food Tour?
After receiving endless e-mails requesting dining recommendations, the idea of starting a physical tour to showcase BC’s best restaurants dawned on me. Two years later, we’ve hosted numerous international guests and done local events. We’ve recently added a new Gastown Craft Beer Tour to our repertoire, which has been receiving rave reviews.
To the rest of Canada, Vancouver is probably best known for its seafood and its Asian cuisine. What are some examples of what you find most unique about Vancouver cuisine?
Of course, there are countless reasons why Vancouver’s culinary scene is so unique. If I had to sum it up in three points, it would be:
1. Variety. The sheer variety of cuisines available in the city is mind-blowing due to our colourful ethnic makeup. You can really eat your way around the world in Vancouver. Beyond that, chefs share (or steal) ideas and techniques to propel Vancouver’s forward thinking food scene. Some wacky ideas really take off and become our signatures, like the Japadog. Love it or hate it, you can’t resist one every so often.
2. Bounty. Vancouver is blessed with access to top-notch, fresh ingredients in our backyard. BC is known for unbelievable seafood, produce, dairy products, meats, wine and beer. When in doubt, eat local.
3. Obsession. It must be something in our rain because Vancouverites are downright obsessed with our food. We not only dine out constantly, but we photograph it, play with it, tweet it, and brag about it. Some may think it’s annoying, but I think it’s endearing…unless if you use flash in a restaurant, then you’re dead in my books.
The best part about being in such a food-centric city is news travels quickly. Hidden gems do not stay concealed for long.
I know it’s hard to choose favourites, but if you had to choose, where would you go in the city for:
…indulging in something decadent?
It’s not fancy by any means but I’m a sucker for the stone bowl ice cream at Guu in Gastown. They line a hot stone bowl with baguette slices, drown it in custard, and top it with a huge scoop of coconut ice cream. It arrives at the table bubbling and spattering while the custard soaks into the bread to create a crusty bread pudding. Eat it quickly or it’ll turn into ice cream soup!
…an al fresco meal?
I like picking up a soup and sandwich at Thomas Haas in North Vancouver and heading down to the water for a picnic. Oh, and several slices of cake too, naturally.
Latitude on Main Street does a pretty killer brunch. I love sitting on their patio with a bottle of Prosecco and soaking up the sins of the night before with their huevos rancheros, French toast tres leches or both.
Now you’re putting me on the spot. In terms of quality and attentiveness to detail, L’Abattoir in Gastown and Hawksworth at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia are high in my ranks. For cocktails outside the box that reflect Vancouver’s dense Asian demographic, I’d head to Chinatown to hop from Keefer to Bao Bei and doing last call at the Union Bar.
Food can be so hard to photograph. What are your best tips for amateurs who want to capture great food shots while eating out?
Photography is all about lighting. Without great lighting, it’s impossible to capture a decent photo. Using flash in a dark restaurant will inevitably overexpose and flatten the image. It’s also highly irritating to fellow patrons. I rarely ever shoot at night anymore because I usually end up cranking my ISO up and getting yellowy, grainy photos. Shoot in daylight if possible. Shoot at an angle, either at table level, fork level, or at 45-degree angle. Square shots from the top of the plate rarely look good and you lose any height created during plating. Snag a table close to a window if possible but avoid direct sunlight.
If you must shoot at a dark restaurant, this is when a good camera and lens comes in handy. Adjust your white balance if the option is available on your camera. Steady your hand by stabling yourself on both elbows. Position tea lights to help achieve more light. This may sound silly but I always exhale as I pull the trigger. It makes for a steadier shot. Finally, enjoy your food before it gets cold!
Are there any foodie souvenirs visitors should pick up while in Vancouver that they’ll never find at home?
When I leave town, I usually bring BC wines, craft beers, and even Osake (sake brewed on Granville Island) as souvenirs. I adore BC hazelnuts, so roasted nuts or hazelnut butters are also great gifts. If you’re not travelling long distances, take a few rounds of Salt Spring Island Cheese with you—the Blue Juliette, a surface-ripened goat cheese, is my favourite BC cheese. You can pick that up at most fine food stores or at the Public Market in Granville Island. While you’re there, head to Oyama for some handcrafted charcuterie for the road.
What trends do you think are on the horizon for Vancouver, or what do you hope is on the horizon?
As Vancouverites have become so accustomed to our city’s plethora of multicultural cuisine, throwing the word “authentic” around without much thought. I believe new establishments will become increasingly regionally specific. For example, instead of just having Chinese food or South American food, we will become more particular about the province or even the city the food originated from. Hopefully without becoming cheesy or creating a breed of über food snobs.
I think that Vancouver is re-embracing fusion cuisine. (Although we’ve never lost our zeal for izakaya or HK cafés). Whether if that’s due to the likes of Momofuku’s remarkable success or our openness eat anything under the sun, a new generation of fusion food is already thriving. Bring on the crazy Frankenstein creations!
Like many, I hope to see BC’s liquor laws loosen up. Our movie theatres recently got the okay to serve booze so I think we’re on the right track.