Michelin recommended in 2022 and enRoute top 10 for “Best New Restaurant” in Canada in 2013, Pidgin combines multiple cultures and cuisines to create a new language in dining. Chef Paul Coleman shares his culinary adventure.
My journey started out of necessity. I was young, 17, and needed work. I didn’t have a career, was just getting out of school, got into cooking, and immediately found a passion for it; what I guess I would say was my calling. And as soon as I started, I knew right away that this was probably something that I was going to do for the rest of my life.
I started cooking in pubs and within months was running the kitchen. The culture was so much fun. Eventually, I changed positions and worked under the tutelage of a chef on a private riverboat that went from Kingston to Montreal and Quebec City on the St. Lawrence River. It consisted of doing things outside of pub work: from opening a jar of mayo at the pub to making a mayonnaise from scratch; and it was mind-blowing for me to see my creations were putting smiles on people’s faces. This connection with people has always been with me throughout my career. And it’s one of the things that I thrive on now.
To go out on your own
The experience of immersing myself in the culture of fine dining with Chef Pino Posteraro and Cioppino’s – it’s one of the top restaurants in the country, he’s one of the top chefs in Canada – and I would say he had the most influence on my career. I was with him for almost 13 years on and off, and with him, I ran through the gauntlet of stations. It’s his tutelage that made it so that I could go out on my own and do the things that I’m doing now. I’ve taken so many of his systems and the way he works along with me.
I eventually figured I had, well, not ‘all’ the techniques, but enough technique that I could start to implement my own thoughts and ideas about how to create food and create dishes. And I went out, did a few different places, and tried new styles of cuisine. It brought me to realize that what I really enjoy – what I survive at – is small restaurants and closer-knit teams, and that’s what brought me to Chef Robert Belcham and Campagnolo, a top farm-to-table restaurant in Vancouver. And it was because of Covid and the closure of Campagnolo that I found my way to Pidgin.
Pidgin is a very small restaurant. We have a kitchen of five cooks. When you think of the type of food we’re making with the small amount of stuff that we have, it’s pretty phenomenal.
We’re a variation of PNW Asian cuisine with a very specific Northwest Asian influence. We like to be farm-to-table and work with local producers and farms.
We have a nice melting pot of Asians with very broad Asian skills. I‘m Korean. We have two Chinese: a Chinese chef and a Chinese cook. And then we have another Asian Dutch. We have Korean kimchi and try to steer our menu towards the Japanese style of a cleaner, more finessed technique, showing the quality of the ingredients we’re using.
The Michelin recommendation
The Michelin recommendation is great, but I was never looking to get Michelin recognition. There was no thought in my head that we were gonna go or get anything; that’s never been in my thought of making a dish. We don’t want to exclude people from the dishes that we’re making, so we want them to be comfortable. We want to cater to every single person.
I like pressure, and I enjoy bringing comfort and joy to people through the food. If I can also give them a little bit of myself then that relieves the [external] pressure that comes. It can be tough with Vancouver being the city it is. It’s a high-pressure city and we have lots of great, top restaurants, but at the same time, you try not to think about them.
Me, I like to stick to my own story. I don’t want to waver the influence to try to compete or try to do it in a way that ‘they’re’ doing. Pigeon is unique. And I think that’s why the people that work here do work here.
The 10-year plan
You know, personally, I want to stick around. I find a really nice fit here. I have free reign to cook anything I want. I have no restrictions, and I don’t have anybody to tell me “No.” It’s really fun in that way, especially when it comes to cooking.
Outside of that, it’s just a matter of trying to get that life balance; that goal of both cooking and being able to enjoy what we’re doing. As a team, we’re very close to being there. And it’s one of those things. It’s hard to leave a place that’s treating you so well. My five-year plan is probably to be here, but my 10-year plan? I’m old enough that I just don’t know how much longer I can do it. But it’s one of those things I also don’t know if I could ever stop.