By Deepi Harish
Shaun Maclean, chef at The Westin Bayshore, which is part of the Marriott Family, has worked his way up the ranks, while never leaving beautiful Vancouver. Chef Maclean previously worked as a Sous Chef at Cactus Club Café. A few years, Shaun returned to the hotel space after accepting a position as Chef de Cuisine at Fairmont Vancouver Airport, followed by Pan Pacific Hotel as Senior Chef de Partie. Most recently, Chef Maclean was the Executive Chef for a plant-based cafe/catering company based in Vancouver’s Chinatown and Kitsilano called Kokomo Café, opening two new restaurants within a year. Chef Maclean is always excited about highlighting the best that Vancouver has to offer to guests that visit The Westin Bayshore. When he’s not in the kitchen, you can find Chef Maclean walking his dog, Cooper, or building custom furniture.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
CRFN: What are your earliest memories of cooking?
As a kid, one of my favourite go-to dinners was lasagna. My mother always made it from scratch and the recipe never changed. Helping her assemble the layers, then having the house filled with the warm aromas as it cooked still sticks in my mind like it was yesterday.
Why were you drawn to a culinary career?
I love food as a medium for creativity but also for connection. Food is the reason we get together with the people we love. It’s the reason we travel abroad and take interest in foreign cultures. When someone arrives home after a vacation, usually the first thing they talk about is the food they ate on their trip.
To me, the history and evolution of food in every culture is fascinating. Being a part of that in my own city is a lot of fun. I’ve also met so many incredible people because of the career path I’ve chosen.
Tell me about your cooking background and culinary training?
I took on an apprenticeship through a French chef in Tsawwassen, British Columbia when I was 19. I expedited my three-year program into 14 months so that I could get back into the kitchen and learn by doing. From there, I moved into roles with Cactus Club Café, Fairmont Hotel, Pan Pacific Hotel and then moved on to oversee the culinary operations at Kokomo, a popular vegan restaurant to learn more about plant-based diets.
What made you choose The Westin Bayshore?
The Westin Bayshore is a great property that has a lot of history in the city. Its location is incredible. We have the opportunity to offer a number of spectacular products to our guests which keeps things exciting in the kitchen.
What’s your philosophy about food?
Everything should be simple. The freshness and the quality of the ingredients should be the main focus. Over-manipulation just takes away from what the food should really taste like.
Who are your biggest influences and inspirations for becoming a chef?
I loved watching the classics like Emeril, Marin Yan and Jamie Oliver. Nowadays, influence and inspiration come from travelling, books and going out to eat at both new and long-established restaurants in any of the cities I end up in.
What do you think is the most overrated food trend right now?
I don’t pay attention to trends much, but I would prefer to see more spaces open up that are owned and operated by chefs and bartenders. Instead of seeing big cities overrun with chain restaurants that have the same menu at every single location.
What about the most underrated food trend?
I’d love to see more Filipino restaurants open up. It’s one of the most exciting food cultures in Southeast Asia, but it doesn’t get the attention that it should in western cities.
Is there a type of cuisine you’d like to experiment more with?
I’d definitely like to dive a bit deeper into Middle Eastern cuisine by using the authentic ingredients we have available to us here. The depth of flavour and regionally-specific profiles in their food is incredible.
Vancouver is known for having fresh products from the land and the ocean, how does cooking in Vancouver differ from your past experience of working in another province or country?
I’ve only worked in BC, so I’ve been fortunate enough to have a great selection of ingredients and suppliers to work with from around the city and province.
What type of seafood would you recommend for the summer verses the winter?
We utilize the Ocean Wise seafood program on all of our menus. Sustainability should be everyone’s responsibility. One of the first things that we ensure is that we’re making sustainable choices before menu development goes any further.
This concept of designing the drink menu first, food menu second is truly unique. Tell us more? How has this changed your cooking creativity?
Our bartenders at The Westin Bayshore are very talented in what they do. The methods of preparation for many of the drinks on the menu utilize equipment in our area, so connecting and collaborating with them just makes sense. We, the chefs and bartenders, often talk about the ingredients and the vision for specific drink recipes that have in turn helped us open up a new avenue of thought that goes into the menu design in the kitchen for our dishes. Also, because our kitchen is small, and our lounge menu is largely centered around the beverage program, we let the cocktail program take center stage. Then we do our best to complement those drinks with shared plates that are simple, often raw and stripped of the extras.
Why do you think other restaurants haven’t caught on to this unique idea of developing a food menu around the drink offerings, since they both work hand-in-hand?
It’s definitely something that is touched on, but not widely seen. Gastropubs do a great job of offering well-executed small plates and sharing menus. At the same time, offering a top-notch drink program. But at the end of the day, a great dinner menu is typically a larger driving force to fill a room which is what any business wants.
What’s next for you?
This February marks my one-year anniversary working at The Westin Bayshore, so the plan for now is to continue working with the talented team here to deliver food that resonates with both locals and traveling guests.