Apparently I am a “food blogger”, I put it in quotes because it was never really my intention, it’s just how things evolved. My palate is fairly discerning. That is, I can pick flavours out of foods and usually recreate the basic stuff. I feel confident in my kitchen skills, let’s say intermediate level. I’ve never been formally trained but I like to think of myself as a lifelong learner and I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way. I’ve been overwhelmingly disappointed in restaurants because the food was terribly prepared or desperately unimaginative and I knew I could have done better. I’ve also been thrilled with a very basic meal while out, simply because I didn’t have to cook it. In other words, don’t call me a food snob but this isn’t my first time around the food cart! The most memorable restaurant meals though, are those ones where I am in awe of the skills presented. Where food transcends simple cooking and becomes art. It’s an uncommon find and is not always tied to the price of the meal…
Ryan Zuvich at Hilltop Bistro isn’t just a chef. He is one of those rare people for whom food is an extension of thought. Where planning, process and presentation are equally paramount and meticulously sculpted. Nothing is left to chance, the entire culinary experience is choreographed for the guests. Now THAT sounds a little intimidating doesn’t it? Well, the Hilltop isn’t. That’s what makes it special.
His culinary background is both easy going, grassroots and somewhat formidable at the same time. Born in Vancouver, he grew up there and in Europe. Thinking back, he claims he never really had a distinct comfort food in his childhood, “anything that my Nana made”. For Ryan the best meals were always about the company and experience rather than the specific food. His Croation, food-based culture was a strong influence in his respect for quality, local hand crafted fare. Despite starting young in “the biz”, where many do…in the dish pit, restaurants were always ‘feel-good’ places for him. When it came time to decide what to do for his career he realized “people always have to eat” so…culinary school it was. He attended the Du Broulle School of Culinary Arts, now part of the Arts Institute in Vancouver. Then went on to study under several chefs in Michelin Star restaurants in Europe including London and Munich.
He spent years working his way through fine kitchens in Vancouver then several years ago Ryan and his wife made the move to the Island. The Hilltop Bistro, tucked away at the top of Rutherford road in Nanaimo, evolved from Ryan’s Markt Artisan Deli. Once he realized that the monthly dinner parties they hosted, were more popular than he could keep up with, the move to a full service restaurant made good sense. The space itself is intimate without pretension. Ryan’s father meticulously hand crafted each piece of the room. Although the intricate quality of the food and beverages served would perhaps suit a more formal space, that’s not what they want. Ryan’s passion is all about that locally sourced, ingeniously prepared and comfortably served ‘perfect’ meal.
He prides himself on knowing his market well. The priorities for his ingredients are number one, quality. Which is why the menu is in regular rotation, this allows him to use the best of what the season has to offer. Next would be sourcing local and if possible, organic. Researching his meat products to ensure they are coming from ethical farms is also of great importance.
We are all creatures of habit and it is so easy to just head to the same old spot when going out for a romantic dinner or meeting with friends. Next time I urge you to look for a truly local spot, a restaurant that is not only using locally sourced foods but presenting some wonderful choices in local wines. Trust in a chef’s expertise and palate, try something you’ve never tried before, you will be pleasantly surprised. Ryan has the ability to take every day ingredients and manipulate them in a way that is surprisingly delicious. Have any questions about the menu? You can most certainly ask the servers, they are well-trained, knowledgable and are happy to share the information. The team at Hilltop Bistro is presenting delicious ‘big city’ food in a warm and friendly casual environment, a winning combination.
The Hilltop is open from Wednesday to Sunday, 5pm-11pm at 102-5281 Rutherford Road.
Phone for reservations 250.585.5337 or check out their website www.hilltopbistro.ca
Make them a part of your next evening out, it’s time to head for the Hilltop.
I shared one of Ryan’s amazing recipes for Gnocchi with chanterelles here.
Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence. ~Vince Lombardi