Understated finesse and precision. Classical French training. Tireless dedication to both craft and time-honoured family traditions. A true taste for high-pressure culinary competitions. These are just some of the ingredients that have helped write a recipe for success for Alex Chen.
Chen carries with him an impressive pedigree of culinary success, from his time at the helm of the world-renowned Beverly Hills Hotel and Polo Lounge, to his roles at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto and the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, to his top-ten finish as the Canadian representative at the prestigious Bocuse d’or in Lyon, France in 2013 and his most recent win at the Gold Medal Plates in Victoria in 2015.
And while Chen boasts more than a decade of experience at some of the most acclaimed and revered hotel properties across North America, Boulevard marks the first occasion that he has shepherded the opening of a restaurant from inception through construction to rollout.
It’s been a homecoming for Chen since opening Boulevard in 2014. Vancouver is where he got his first taste of — and respect for — the restaurant industry while working as a dishwasher and busboy after emigrating with his family from Malaysia at the age of 13. It’s where he developed his affinity for the unique bounty of fresh produce, proteins and seafood available year-round from local farms, fields and fisheries. It’s where he apprenticed under renowned chefs and culinary pioneers such as Robert Sulatycky and Bruno Marti.
Vancouver is also where he and his wife Elizabeth raise their two children and try to instill in them the same respect for cultural touchstones and time-honoured traditions — for instance, the abundance of love and care that go into preparing and serving food for family and loved ones — that was fostered in Alex as a young child in his mother’s kitchen.
“Home is where I often create my best work. When you’re cooking for friends, family or loved ones in your own kitchen, that is when you put in the most energy, because there is no pressure or any time constraint — you just infuse the best flavor into that dish, present it at the right moment and show that it all comes from a moment of purity and love,” says Chen.
Following Georges Auguste Escoffier’s Brigade de Cuisine system of kitchen hierarchy, Chef de Cuisine Roger Ma is the Boulevard general, second in command to only Executive Chef Alex Chen’s commander in chief. And there’s no doubt Roger boasts the necessary experience, expertise and savvy to execute a successful back-of-house battle plan.
Roger began his career in the industry by helping to launch Fifty Two 80 Bistro & Bar at the Four Seasons Resort Whistler in 2004. From there, Roger became an integral part of the kitchen engine that drove a number of restaurants in esteemed chef Daniel Boulud’s empire.
In 2006, Roger rose in the ranks at Boulud's flagship restaurant, Daniel in New York, from chef de partie to banquet sous chef to sous chef. After six years Roger took the role of corporate sous chef in Boulud’s Dinex Group and moved on to help open Café Boulud and dBar at the Four Seasons Toronto as well as Maison Boulud at the Ritz Carlton in Montreal before returning to his hometown of Vancouver. Roger is no stranger to accolades either, having claimed the top prize at the 2015 Vancouver Aquarium Ocean Wise™ Chowder Chowdown from a field of 14 chefs.
While both Roger and Alex hail from Vancouver, Boulevard marks only the second time that they have blended their unique talents.
“It’s extremely exciting to be able to work with Alex again” says Roger. “While the menu has a definite West Coast feel, there is also plenty of global inspiration — things that have been influenced by our travels and personal tastes.”
The fine art of delivering an unparalleled guest experience is something that is deeply ingrained in JP Potters. He developed a taste for the hospitality industry at an early age while working in kitchens and soon transitioned to front-of-house roles, which afforded him the opportunity to nurture his appetite for service and wine.
After graduating from the University of Toronto, Potters set out to work in top restaurants in North America in beyond. Three years in Whistler saw stops at iconic Araxi Restaurant & Oyster Bar and Val d’Isere restaurant where a love for wine began.
Living in Melbourne Australia for almost five years, Potters worked as sommelier at The Park Hyatt’s Radii restaurant and subsequently relaunched The Botanical, both multi-award winning institutions of gastronomy and wine.
Upon returning to Canada stops at Susur, Splendido, The Spoke Club and finally George Restaurant as General Manager completed 12 years of training in highly creative, demanding, award winning restaurants.
Most recently the West Coast called Potters to Vancouver where he is proud to continue to develop top restaurant properties. “Joining the team at Boulevard represents the culmination of many years of training and hospitality focus,” he notes. “I am excited about the prospect of working with such a wonderful group of people’
JP brings to Boulevard not only an abiding passion for providing superior customer service and connecting with his guests but a deep knowledge if New and Old-World wines and a desire to help mould and mentor up-and-coming industry professionals.
“At Boulevard, I have a unique opportunity to work with not one but two true culinary talents in Executive Chef Alex Chen and Chef de Cuisine Roger Ma, who are both turning out world class dishes. The opportunity to build a service program to match that high standard of excellence is a great and welcome challenge.”
The Front of House is front and centre for Boulevard Maître d’ Brian Hopkins. It’s where he and his team greet guests and forge that all-important first impression — and Brian never forgets how vital that job is.
“The most important thing is to have your team truly believe in what you’re creating and in your service philosophy,” says Brian. “It’s so important to make guests feel welcome. They have to believe in you. They’re going to ask you for recommendations about a good portion of their evening out, so you have to establish that trust. You have to be professional without being standoffish, and warm and sincere without being casual or aloof. It’s a delicate balance.”
If there’s ever been a virtuoso of exemplary service, it’s Brian. A true pioneer of table-side service with a smile and a testament to the power of a positive attitude, at whatever high-profile establishment Brian has been at the helm, accolades have soon followed — from his tenures in Toronto and Los Angeles, to launching Vancouver’s critically acclaimed West Restaurant in 2000, to heading up operations at CinCin Ristorante + Bar and at Whistler’s lauded Araxi, Brian has earned a stellar reputation for providing top-shelf service.
One of three accredited sommeliers on the front-of-house management team at Boulevard, Brian was inducted into the B.C. Restaurant Hall of Fame in 2010 and also singled out for the Premier Crew Designation at the 25th annual edition of the Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards in 2014.
For Isaac Olivier, plying his trade in the often demanding and high-stakes world of the hospitality industry is more than just a calling —it’s a true, homespun family tradition.
When the Vancouver native first launched his career at Water St. Café in 2006, he followed in the footsteps of no less than four siblings, three cousins and an aunt who had also worked in a variety of roles at the Gastown restaurant. He quickly developed an affinity for the trade and rose through the ranks in a variety of roles ranging from busboy to server, pastry prep, line cook and eventually manager. After a six-year tour of duty, he moved on to take on a managerial role at Hawksworth for two years before joining an accomplished front-of-house family at Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar.
Isaac brings to Boulevard not only his extensive foundation, innate knowledge and affinity for the subtle and elegant touches of fine dining but a commitment to supporting his fellow staff and continuing to foster the unique brand of exceptional service that greets each of Boulevard’s guests on a daily basis.
Pastry Chef Kenta Takahashi not only brings the requisite traditional French panache to the line at Boulevard, but his Japanese heritage also lends a modern and sophisticated twist to each exquisite dessert he creates.
An award-winning pastry chef in his home country, Kenta worked in a number of restaurants in Tokyo and Kanagawa, Japan before coming to Vancouver and continuing to hone his craft under renowned pâtissier and chocolatier Thierry Busset. Armed with the discerning eye of a true artist and the classic skill and training of a chef, Kenta oversees Boulevard’s menu of tantalizing desserts as well as its varieties of flaky pastries and fresh-baked breads created in-house each day.
Since joining the Boulevard kitchen, where he oversees a talented team of pastry cooks, Kenta credits Executive Chef Alex Chen’s ability to infuse both plate and palate with an elegant-yet-understated flair as a constant source of culinary inspiration.
“Alex is extremely talented and passionate and each dish he creates has big impact but is also very delicate in terms of presentation and taste,” says Kenta. “I’m excited to bring my talents to a team that has an uncompromising standard of excellence and to blend my creativity with the restaurant’s classic, signature style.”