Hired Belly: Books to Cooks to close, Rivas remembered, Burns celebrated

One for the books

Barbara-Jo McIntosh says it’s time to move on. The person who’s arguably done more for Vancouver’s culinary culture than anyone in the last 20 years has decided to close the “bricks and mortar” version of her beloved Books to Cooks at the end of February.

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When McIntosh announced plans to open her original location, in Yaletown, I remember wondering what on earth was she up to. Why would someone who was a successful chef, caterer and restaurateur want to go sell cookbooks? However, curiosity piqued, I went to check it out and was duly impressed. As were many others.

Among the vast glitterati, real and imagined, of the international dining, cooking and authoring business, if there was anybody worth having visit, then McIntosh made it happen. She also played an indispensable role in furthering the careers of many Canadian authors and chefs. Her store, with its compact but smartly appointed kitchen, became a mecca for cooks of every skill set.

Much of that “magic touch” has to with the fact she’s just a class act.

“I am truly grateful for the continuing support of my culinary community as well as the many friends and patrons who have so warmly embraced the philosophy of the shop,” she says. “Your contribution over the past two decades has helped to make Books to Cooks my true emotional home.”

And she’s not done yet, with a promise of more “Cooking and Booking” to come. More details at bookstocooks.com.

Feel the Burns

Looming large on the horizon for any serious Scotophile is Burns Night, Jan. 25, in honour of Scottish poet Robbie Burns. While correctly celebrated on Burns’ birthday, the traditional supper has grown over the years to become something more like “Burns Week,” and embraced by other cultures. Todd Wong’s Gung Haggis Fat Choy has even made it to Seattle, with the celebrated Burns and Chinese New Year hybrid slated for Jan. 19.

If you want a more classic take, you can still find tickets to a couple of bard-worthy celebrations at the Scottish Cultural Centre. The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society does it up in style (with a full program of reels, jigs and strathspeys) on Jan. 21. In short, you get the works, including dance performances.

The Moray Nairn and Banff Scottish Cultural Association presents “A Taste of Burns,” Jan. 28, also at the centre, with address to the Haggis and other de rigueur activities. Ticket prices to suit all. Details for many Burns events at scottishculturalcentre.com/cultural-events.

If you prefer to play your own pipes at home, there's still good Haggis to be found, including at the Celtic Treasure Chest (604-261-3688), Tenderland Meats on Granville Island (604-688-6951) and Jackson’s Meats and Deli (604-738-6328).

Let there be haggis! At least during the upcoming Robbie Burns celebrations.


Tapas trailblazer

A touching memorial last week for legendary Francisco (Paco) Rivas, who, with friend and business partner José Rivas (no relation)introduced Vancouverites to true Spanish tapas in 1971. It was a novel idea — one that preceded today's more liberal licensing laws. In the ’70s you couldn’t drink alcohol in a restaurant without food. No wonder La Bodega was always packed for patatas bravas, even late at night.

Proving that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, a few years on Gord Martin came up with the idea of “West Coast” tapas at Bin 941. And California took it from there. Martin’s now happily ensconced in Cuba. And even though we lost Rivas on Dec. 19, his legacy is thrives at Bodega on Main.

La Bodega co-founder Paco Riva brought tapas to the masses in the early 1970s.



Gastropub is an overworked word in the culinary lexicon. Not to suggest the calibre of food to be found in your average pub hasn’t improved vastly in the last while. But some haunts are a cut above your typical nachos and wings. One good indicator is the drinks list. After all, if you can’t tap a decent pint in Vancouver (and pour it properly), chances are you don’t have the kitchen chops to go with it. Richard Goodine (ex-Glowbal, Goodwolfe et al) is currently shaking things up at Steel Toad Brewery, shaping some decent bites to match the great variety of brewed on premise ales. Worth a try: fried squid tubes and tentacles with jalapeños and peppers, and zippy tuna tartare with Albacore, mango, avocado, ginger, lime, sesame and perfect wonton crisps. Stay tuned for Whisky Wednesdays.

Doing Dine Out

Deal alert: Dine Out Vancouver Festival touches down Jan. 20 to Feb. 5. The little post-Christmas blues breaker has blossomed into Canada’s biggest food and drink festival, with myriad special events, tours and tastings, in addition to the famous $20, $30, $40 set menu deals at 280-plus restaurants, paired with BC VQA wines. It all kicks off on Granville Island on Jan. 20, where your ($5 and up) donation for the Chefs Experiment Soup made by PICA goes directly to the United Way. Full info on all events and restaurants at dineoutvancouver.com.


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