There’s a unique new chef’s resource planned for Vancouver


The proposed CTS Culinary Library aims to preserve the past while building the future.

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Nothing captures the taste of a place — its history, its landscape, its culture — like the food its people eat. But food is ephemeral. Clean your plate and it’s gone. Close a restaurant and you lose memories and traditions along with the recipes and menus.

If only there was a way to preserve all that.

Well, if the Chefs’ Table Society of B.C. has its way, there soon will be. The chefs’ collaborative is working toward building a culinary library that is at once a resource centre and what CTS executive director Shawna Gardham calls “a meeting place for chefs to call home.”

“The idea came from talking to a bunch of chefs who are part of the board, we’re talking 10 years now, about a legacy for B.C. and Canada that is bigger than any one chef, bigger than the ego of any chef,” says Chef Robert Belcham, past-president of CTS. “Everything we’re planning has the idea of the Culinary Library behind it.”

A heritage preserved

Other societies have centuries-long traditions of preserving their culinary heritage.


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“We’re very young compared to the culinary guilds of Spain and France,” Belcham says. “They have their heritage archived in guilds that go back hundreds of years.”

London’s Guildhall library has a collection of more than 10,000 cookbooks dating back 600 years, and the New York Public Library’s General Cookbook Collection comprises 16,000 volumes and 20,000 menus. They offer a fascinating glimpse of how food items, prices and graphic design represent an era.

“To see those trends happen throughout the years is really incredible,” Belcham says.

In Canada, the University of Guelph’s Culinary Collection features more than 17,000 volumes published as far back as the 17th century, as well as archival resources that include the collections of Anita Stewart, Jean Paré, Elizabeth Baird and other Canadian food writers.

These historic materials are invaluable for chefs, writers and researchers, and Belcham is passionate about creating “a storehouse of all our culinary heritage in British Columbia.”

That alone would be impressive. But the CTS has a much more ambitious plan than that.

Rendering of the proposed Chefs Table Society Culinary Library.
Rendering of the proposed Chefs Table Society Culinary Library. Handout

A place of connection

Say you want to know what Indigenous people on this coast were eating a century ago. Perhaps you’re wondering where you can find farmed quail or local hazelnuts or the best place for xiao long bao. Maybe you need some advice about mushroom foraging. Or you need a place to launch a cookbook.

All of that would be found under the roof of the CTS Culinary Library.


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It is, in part, inspired by Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks, the beloved cookbook store that closed in 2017 after 20 years of hosting local cookbook launches, cooking classes and events featuring international superstars like Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson and Yotam Ottolenghi.

“Every chef went to Barbara-Jo’s and it was an incredible place to connect with chefs,” Belcham says.

But while the library would preserve culinary heritage, it would also help chefs in the here and now. It would be a place to take cooking classes, discuss important issues, track trends and even source ingredients.

“Even chefs have a hard time finding the farms to go to, and the very special places that only those people in the know would know,” Belcham says.

While the library would be designed for chefs, the organizers are adamant that it would be open and accessible to anybody interested in food.

And it would be an attraction for tourists too, “a bucket-list place if you were a foodie,” Gardham says. “I see this as a place for cooks to call home, and a way to get closer for that community.”

Rendering of the proposed Chefs Table Society Culinary Library.
Rendering of the proposed Chefs Table Society Culinary Library. Handout

Finding a home

All that said, the CTS is a group of chefs, not librarians. Just how hard will it be to build a culinary library?

“Assembling the collection I don’t think would be very hard. Just put the word out and things will come. Everybody has stuff they want to get rid of,” says Kate Bird, a former librarian for The Vancouver Sun and The Province who now writes books about Vancouver history, including City on Edge: A Rebellious Century of Vancouver Protests, Riots and Strikes (Greystone Books, 2017). “It’s a great idea. I really hope they can get it off the ground.”


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In addition to cookbooks, she notes, the collection could include photos, menus and articles that could be scanned and posted online, as well as stored in the resource centre.

The CTS would need to contract a librarian to set up the collection and a computer expert to build the website, which would be easy enough to do, Bird says. The bigger challenge is finding a physical space for the library, especially given Vancouver’s expensive real estate market.

Of course, that’s also where all the revenue opportunities are.

“You can’t really make money out of a library, as we all know, but if you have a physical space you can hold ticketed events or have members who pay a fee,” she says, noting that those events could also be shared online.

Asking for help

“There’s a lot of things we need,” Gardham says. “We need volunteers, we need architects, we need designers, we need money, we need a space. We want it to be downtown because we want to bring people downtown, and we want it to be accessible to chefs and people in the industry.”

And so, Belcham says, “the next steps are to raise as much money and get as much public awareness as possible.”

They aim to raise $100,000 in seed money, but the fundraising events the CTS would normally hold — such as the Spot Prawn Festival and Cooks Camp — have been put on hold because of the pandemic. Instead, they are encouraging donations of both books and money.

“If COVID didn’t happen, we’d have the seed money now,” Gardham says. “So the goal has been pushed back a year, but it’s still alive.”


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“Everybody we’ve talked to loves the idea and wants to help as much as they can,” Belcham says. “We just need to get the word out to as many people as possible about what we’re trying to do. The ideas are there. We just need the people to bring them to fruition.”

How you can help

Help build the Chefs Table Society Culinary library by donating books or money, and attending CTS events like the Spot Prawn Festival (when we have events again).

Mail cheques to the CTS office at Heritage Hall, 301-3102 Main St., Vancouver, B.C., V5T 3G7 or donate through their GoFundMe campaign.

Books must be related to the culinary industry and must be in good condition. Email to set up a time for drop-off.

Culinary professionals should also attend Cooks Camp, which will be virtual this year (Sept. 15) and in-person in 2022 (

For more information, visit

Recipe: West Coast Chowder

Among other things, the CTS Culinary Library would preserve restaurant menus and recipes like this versatile, gluten-free chowder by Kayla Dhaliwall from the now-closed Hook Seabar. Excerpted with permission from Vancouver Eats, by Joanne Sasvari (Figure 1. Publishing, 2018). Note that you can replace the mussels with clams; you can also add scallops, crabmeat or any seafood you like.

12 live mussels, scrubbed and debearded

8 medium prawns, peeled and deveined

1/2 tbsp (7.3 mL) kosher salt or to taste


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2 tbsp (30 mL) finely chopped fresh chives

12 sprigs fresh chervil (optional)

5 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 shallot, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 cup (125 mL) good-quality dry white wine

1 1/2 cups (375 mL) cooked and mashed potato

4 cups (1,000 mL) high-quality fresh fish stock

1 cup (250 mL) heavy (36%) cream

1/2 lb (8 oz) fresh skinless fin fish, such as halibut, ling cod or snapper, deboned and cut into bite-sized pieces

Put bacon in a stockpot and render over medium heat until firm and crisp. Add shallots and garlic and cook for 30 seconds, until softened. Pour in wine and deglaze.

Add mashed potato and fish stock. Simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture has emulsified.

Add cream, fish, mussels and prawns. Cover and simmer 1 to 2 minutes, until shells are opened. Discard any unopened mussels. Season with salt — taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

To serve, remove the mussels and prawns and set aside. Divide broth and fish between four bowls, then arrange mussels and prawns on top and garnish each plate with chopped herbs.

Serves 4


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