Chef Jean-Francis Quaglia

The Motorcycle-Chef Diaries of Jean-Francis Quaglia

by Samantha McLeod

“Robust. Dynamic. Strong character. Wherever the journey takes you, the R 1200 GS is bound to draw attention. Unquenchable thirst for adventure, unmatched, individual – just like you.”

That is the introduction for Jean-Francis’s BMW motorcycle, but it could just as well be about the chef.

Chef Jean-Francis Quaglia’s (Provence Marinaside Restaurant) journey has been, and continues to be, impressive, not too many chefs you meet will have worked under a total of 5-Michelin Stars.

By no means would Chef JF, a native of Marseilles, be called an accidental chef, he was born into a world where food is celebrated at every meal. At the age of eight, Jean-Francis made his first “Tarte Au Citron” from his mother’s recipe – I should mention his mom is acclaimed Chef Suzanne Quaglia of Marseilles’ famed Le Patalain. He was 16 years old when he enrolled at the prestigious École Hôteliere de Marseille.

After graduation, Jean-Francis apprenticeship started at Hôtel Sorbitel in Marseilles, then it was off to Côte d’Azure Monte Carlo to work with Chef Bruno Caironi, formerly Sous Chef to 3-Michelin Stars Alain Ducasse. JF’s next chef-diaries took him to work as Chef de Partie Tournant, under the direction of 2-Michelin-Stars Chef Dominique LeStanc at Hôtel Negresco.

Fast forward to 2002, and Chef JF and his wife Alessandra opened Provence Marinaside.

In 2012, TWB was launched within Provence Marinaside, and Yaletown had it’s very first waterfront wine bar.

Then in 2015, Provence Marinaside underwent a full renovation from the ground up. Along with the new look, came a new focus to make Provence Marinaside the best wine programs in the city. With 48 newly installed wine taps, and more than 200 wines available by the glass, it is not a surprise that the wine list has received numerous awards.

There is a sense of Mediterranean magic at Provence Marinaside, one can feel it from the get-go as you walk up to the entrance, and one can taste it right down to the final morsel of Tarte Au Citron.

Lush baskets of flowers strung along the long outdoor seating area, snug under shade trees, and boats bobbing gently on the water, all invite guests to step into a world of Southern French comfort. Provence Marinaside Restaurant can be described as sexy and welcoming, new age and state of the art, warm and inviting, classy and simple. The colour scheme of sandy-cream accents in the wood, the floors, and the feature walls mingle with dark chocolate-brown leather, while the impressive glass and gold wine bar beckons commandingly. Floor to ceiling glass windows and doors reflect the outdoor hue, bouncing the light of the sunny skies throughout the room, highlighting here and there with silken silver.

The low music from hidden speakers is familiar and relaxing, the sounds of wine-pours and muted tinkling of wine glasses, the soft bustle of the front of house, and the artistic and fragrant small plates placed before guests, all of it gently awaken the senses, and arouse the taste buds like a dreamy South of France embrace, right here in British Columbia.

The food is quite simply…divine. Food that is made with love by celebrating the goodness of the ingredients. Where ingredients come from, and when it is seasonally available is very important to the chef and luckily enough B.C’s bounty of the sea is very adaptable to the South of France’s cuisine. 

One of his signature dishes, Dungeness crabs, is roasted with tomato basil and lemons in the true flavours of the South of France and it is a slurping-ly succulent dish. Sable fish factors in as well on the menu, and of course lots and lots of local clams and other shellfish. When it comes to halibut, the chef only serves halibut when it is in season, when it’s local and fresh and in season you will find it on the menu. Otherwise, off season it would be frozen or from another part of the country so that does not mesh well with his sustainability beliefs.

Another is the spot prawn dish that is only available during the very short season. This dish was pleasurable in its simplicity. Gorgeous and plump spot prawns so fresh they were jumping, were quickly sautéed in a pan with butter, dashes of salt and pepper, garlic, chopped parsley, marinated tomatoes and lemons. The taste of sweet prawns from a salty pristine ocean, creamy butter, fresh garlic, tangy lemons and herbs all sang like a symphony with each delectable bite, one symbiotic song of a land-and-sea celebration.

His mama’s bouillabaisse recipe – the Mediterranean fisherman’s soup – is followed right down to the grains of salt required, the only difference is the chef uses B.C seafood to make the broth.

Provence was one of the first of 10 restaurants to be a part of the initiation of the Ocean Wise movement. Chef Jean-Francis’s passion for local, sustainable, seasonal and fresh has always been of the utmost importance on his menus. In his seventeen years of business in British Columbia he has always made sustainable the focus of his dishes

There are celebratory chefs I don’t often praise, and there are chefs whom I celebrate.

Chef JF is one of those chefs I am honoured to pay homage to. Here is why I admire him…he truly makes a difference within the industry, he cares about people, life and food, and he acts on his every belief.

The highest honour a chef can achieve is to be celebrated by other chefs and Jean Francis Quaglia is that kind of celebratory chef. JF is celebrated not only for his accomplishments as a chef that has worked with the best in the industry, 5-Michelin Stars in total, and for his Provence restaurants, but also for mentoring some of Vancouver’s new and best chefs, like Chef Cullin, Calabash Bistro, and Chef Han, Kosoo Korean and Raw Bar, and of course his own Chef de Cuisine, Sheldon Maloff.

When it comes to being a mentor to others, Chef JF thrives on being the kind of chef he is, for him it is about living with an open mind and an open heart, being able to teach and learn is as fluid as the ebb and flow of the waters of the oceans for this man.

“I love it actually, I definitely like to do, and enjoy to do. I love to coach, and teach and mentor and learn. I think that for me, that is what I would want to dedicate myself fulltime to in my semi-retirement for sure. I mean I will never want to be not involved in the restaurant I will always be involved but I want to be able to choose when I am in the kitchen or not, enjoy life more, ride my motorcycle more, teach, inspire and most of all learn more, always learn more.

“I mean, I have a good brain, I can think about a lot but no one can think of everything so when anyone makes a suggestion, I think about it and if it makes more sense, I adapt. I will take any advice from my team, I hope never to have a big ego. But after 17 years I don’t think I will ever get a big ego.

“I am always open to everyone in the kitchen, if they have the passion and want to learn, if they have an idea and want to share them, then I will listen them, whether it is the line cook, sous, dishwasher, I am always open,” said Jean-Francis.

The best place to be in Yaletown

Did you know there is Wednesday nights jazz at Provence, and it has been happening for over two years? They are also in collaboration with the Jazz festival this year, and the dinner series is definitely the place to be to feel all that jazz. As the song goes it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing, so swing on down to Provence for the jazz festival’s 5-days of music, food and wine in the restaurant.

Tappy hour at Provence is not only about great food, great location and great service, it is about the choice of wines, “not one white and one red at one price”, Provence offers several reds, whites, and roses at a mere $6, $8, $10. There are at least 25 choices to choose from, which is far more attractive to anyone. How often does one get to go to a wine-and-tasting tour any day or night of the week, right here at home in Vancouver?

The wines are paired with tapas’ dishes, which is great because you don’t have to have a big commitment, you can pop in and grab a glass of wine and a tasting plate or two, or gather your crew and try everything on the wine and food menus.

“Lately we have been getting a lot more attention again and I think it is because we keep busy with new ideas. Like last Saturday we did a Weiner dog and Wine, really it was champagne and hot dog, so that is fun and interesting and turning things upside down, the industry is always evolving so things like these keep it interesting and fun, after all we should always be having fun.”

Although the Spring/Summer menu is happening right now, there is always something new being added to the menu. Spot prawns season is almost over, but that is leading right into the Jazz festival, next it is July lobsters, and following that it’s August tomatoes.

“We celebrate seasons and occasions and wine and food, and life is really what we do at Provence,” said Chef JF.

Chefs love to eat out when time allows them to, and I always ask them to name a few of their favourite go-to places for me, so I too can eat well.

Grub, a neighbourhood restaurant, the chef/owner been there for 10 yeas, simple just really good food, check it out. I also like Yuji’s from Japan, on 4th and Alma, a Japanese restaurant owned by Japanese, been there for a long time. Kosoo and Calabash and Le Crocodile, I really try to get to those too when I can get out to eat,” shared Chef JF.

Chef Jean-Francis will be at the Signature Weekend of the BC Seafood Festival in Comox Valley. When asked about his participation in the 2019 BC Seafood Festival, he said he’s happy to go and he knows it will be a big success for everyone when it comes to promoting B.C seafood.  

“I’m taking my motorcycle, chef jacket and a knife. I keep it simple. Good food, good life, that’s my motto,” said Chef Jean Francis.

Keep on trekking, chef, and I look forward to visiting Provence Marinaside for the various summer series.

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