The clean and organized culinary style that won Dale MacKay the title of first Canadian Top Chef is a hit with guests at his upscale restaurant ensemble in downtown Vancouver.

Born in Saskatoon, Sask., MacKay moved to the West Coast at the age of 15 and began washing dishes at family-style burger restaurant Red Robin. He got his first culinary break when he filled in for a line chef cooking fries.

“As soon as I started working on line, even at Red Robin, I knew I wanted to be a chef right away,” MacKay said.

Though he didn’t attend culinary school, MacKay said he honed his cooking skills into world-class talent by working in numerous “massive food cities” across the globe.

“Part of it is that I’ve had really good exposure to amazing restaurants,” MacKay said. He said that by spending time in cities like London, Tokyo, New York, and Rome, he gained experience with different cuisines.

He also attributes his work ethic and precision to working with English chef Gordon Ramsey, famous for his hot temper and high standards.

“No one gets away with anything in my kitchen,” he said. “Nothing goes out even if it’s a little bit off. That was what was drilled into me by Gordon.”

MacKay believes it was this diligence coupled with his clean, modern French style “with a twist” that gave him an edge over his competitors in Top Chef Canada.

“Some of the people [on the show] were a little more geared toward rustic, casual food,” he said, “I didn’t really care, I was going to cook my style of food.”

The refined and controlled dishes that MacKay produced from week to week on the show garnered him the title “Fancy Pants” among his competitors, a nickname he sees as more of a compliment than a criticism.

“I’ll be fancy all friggin’ day,” he said laughing, “I’d rather be fancy than sloppy. I’m like that with everything I do in life.”

His new restaurant ensemble embodies this mantra. Each medium-sized dish is a perfectly arranged piece of edible art, the black and silver place settings are meticulously placed, and every geometric chandelier, mirror, and burnt-red wall is exceptionally clean and sharp.

At the same time, ensemble has a laid-back atmosphere and a more affordable menu that have attracted diners from every demographic since its inception in May of this year.

“I have always done fine dining, but you don’t get to reach as many people,” MacKay said. “I want more people to taste my food and have a good time and relax.”

A mix of fine dining and casual atmosphere make ensemble stand out in a city teeming with restaurants.

Guests will find several upscale dishes such as beef carpaccio, oysters on the half shell, and pavlova on the menu. However, MacKay offers pulled pork sandwiches, bacon and onion flatbread, and chocolate sundaes for those in the mood for more casual fare.

While working with Daniel Boulud at acclaimed French restaurant and the adjacent DB Bistro Moderne, MacKay learned that the whole point of the restaurant industry is the hospitality shown to guests.

“Being a chef is about leading a team and leading a restaurant,” he said. “And if you come in and you want your lamb well done, I’ll cook it well done. That’s your prerogative.”

With MacKay’s newest restaurant still in its youth, his plans for future endeavours are still on hold. In the meantime, he continues to experiment with new ingredients and flavours from around the world and hopes to incorporate more familiar, pub-style dishes into his menu.

“It’s a buzzy restaurant where you can have awesome food with a big city feel,” MacKay said, “I don’t really think I have any direct competition in town because I have created my own identity and my own style.”

Photo courtesy of Sandra Garcia