Acclaimed Vancouver chef David Hawksworth readies a new restaurant

David Hawksworth | BCBusiness

Hawksworth is extending his brand with a new scholarship program—and a new eatery

It pays to lunch with chefs. I’m whisked ahead of a long lineup to the best table at the West End’s buzzing Santouka Ramen restaurant to meet David Hawksworth, one of the city’s most acclaimed restaurateurs. He’s fresh off a plane from Memphis (to experience barbecue culture) via L.A., where he popped into Nobu and Bestia on a recon mission for his second restaurant, set to open next year.

“It’s going to be fun and boisterous, based on Italian/Spanish sharing with a California style—no coat check, thoroughly interesting music and a vintage feel to it,” the 44-year-old enthuses, diving into the minutiae of the soon-to-be-revealed concept. “I just had this burning need to open something else.”

That “burning need” to spread his wings has long motivated Hawksworth. Beyond launching his 140-staffed eponymous restaurant at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia and neighbouring Bel Café in 2011, he also established the Hawksworth Young Chef Scholarship in 2013.

David Hawkworth’s favourites

1. “For coffee meetings, I’ll order a croissant and an Americano at Thomas Haas (2539 W. Broadway, Vancouver;”

2. “I will sometimes say to Dan, ‘Feed us,’ when we head as a family to Dan Japanese Restaurant (2511 W. Broadway, Vancouver;”

3. “L’Abattoir (217 Carrall St., Vancouver; labat does very good seasonal food. I love the authenticity of it—the exposed brick and how the servers dress.”

This year’s competition, which takes place on Sept. 28, sees nationwide chefs aged 28 and under vying for $10,000. “It’s about giving back,” he explains over pork ramen, “helping those who perhaps have a debt from culinary school and connecting them to restaurants worldwide.”

You need only glance at Hawksworth’s own CV to see how the program was inspired by the long-running Albert and Michel Roux’s scholarship in the U.K. as well as his veritable “baptism of fire” in the industry there. The Vancouver native apprenticed at the original enfant terrible Marco Pierre White’s Canteen in London and Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons after seeing their cookbooks in the ’90s.

“It was like suddenly reading Lord of the Rings for the first time—a total fantasy world for a chef—and that’s when I knew that’s what I was supposed to be doing,” says the Point Grey resident, who also worked at Philip Howard’s The Square and L’Escargot where he met his future wife, Annabel, a PR professional.

“I thought, ‘Holy shit, this is just horrendous,’” he says of his stint at Canteen. “They would say, ‘Hey, you’re from Canada—you can cook on fish’ and they’d fling out names of Atlantic fish like turbot and I would shrug and not know what they were talking about. There was no time to be friendly or train; it was just super-aggressive.”

Hawksworth returned to Vancouver in 2000—first to West for eight years before establishing his own restaurant, where he’s at the vanguard of the city’s gastronomic firmament and a regular award winner. Invited to make guest chef appearances at James Beard House in New York and Hong Kong’s Sevva, today Hawksworth sees no reason why a Canadian restaurant can’t make the World’s 50 Best Restaurants competition: “We’re here now at a real cosmopolitan level and can do just about anything that any other city can.”

Outside the kitchen, Hawksworth can be found heli-skiing (“my guilty pleasure”) in Whistler—where he and his wife often take their six-year-old son—and fishing, especially at Haida Gwaii’s West Coast Fishing Club.

However, despite exhaustive, irregular hours and the very high demands made of chefs every night (“there are far easier ways to make a living”), even work time at the restaurant can feel like play. “It always feels like people are coming out and going into your ‘home’ to have a great time,” he says. “To me, it’s like I get to go out every single night.”