KIERAN FANNING

 …on wanderlust, weltschmerz, and wine [grape juice]

Curator & Writer | Hakan Burcuoğlu · Venue | Kieran’s Home & Pepino’s · Gear | Leica

Life doesn’t come easy for a wunderkind, especially with the countenance of a 13-year old [his words, not mine]. And as is the case with most of his ilk, Kieran, too, vacillates the grey areas between weltschmerz and wanderlust, searching for his place in this world. Otherwise, he’s heedful—tending to thirst—pandering to the baser instincts of impish patrons with burgundy lips, and bubbly spirits. And though he brandishes an unassuming patina, he’s studious—and forever curious—holding a panoply of grape [and classical music] knowledge that is unassailable. This, coupled with his unorthodox ways, imparts a much-needed fleck of sunshine into two worlds that are otherwise rigid, and pantheistic. And for that, he’s deserved of any paean.

Kieran also holds a dear place in our heart for being the inaugural subject in our newly founded exposé—SpeakEasy. Partial to the life stories of beguiling boozers & belligerent bon vivants, it’ll serve as an insightful, yet electric, echo chamber for those who hail from the world of hospitality. Expect no aphorisms, and assailants to the inviolable. Welcome to The Curatorialist, Mr. Kieran Fanning.

& & &

HB: Tell me about your provenance.

KF: I grew up in Dunbar. It was an idyllic childhood—my parents were very present and supportive, and created a healthy and happy home for my brother and I. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, as well as a jazz singer, so she’d work some nights when my father was off shift. My father was a cop for 31 years, known as Constable Sunshine by his colleagues. He was on the mounted squad for almost a decade, riding horses through Stanley Park. He was also one of the first cops in Vancouver to ever take paternity leave; never being afraid to break convention a little bit—he just wanted to spend time with his kids.

Bubble Beard Bowl Cut, 1996.

HB: I know your penchant for shocking convention, but it seems you take more after your mother, since you’re quite the musical mind.

KF: Yes, but he’s also a musician, an Irish one, who plays the uilleann (Irish) pipes—this incredible instrument which looks like a small motor on your lap—with bellows placed under one arm, and a bag under the other. There’s a lot of wrist action as well. They have a lovely continuous drone to them, and are one of my favourite instruments.

HB: That’s one musical household.

KF: Very much so. From a young age, my father would play a game with us at dinner—he’d put on a piece of classical music and ask us to guess the composer—whether is was Schubert, Mozart, or Beethoven. I was exposed to classical music, and jazz, very early on. Music was definitely my main focus until I was about 14.

Kieran’s parents on their wedding day, 1987.

HB: Did they make you take music lessons? Most kids loathe that.

KF: I actually forced my parents to get me piano lessons when I was 4. They wanted me to wait until I was 6. I said “No, Mozart started younger”. I was born on Mozart’s birthday. Turns out I didn’t measure up, which is good, because hopefully I’m not in line to die in my early 30s, or whatever. [Chuckles]

HB: It’s crazy to me that a 4 year old would demand music lessons from their parents.

KF: I just wanted to play. I don’t think anyone under a certain age really loves the classical music you learn through the Royal Conservatory. I don’t think there are many 11 year olds that love the intensity and technique of Chopin; so I did end up getting sick of it. Most of my friends had started playing the guitar, so I gravitated towards that as an alternative. As it didn’t come as easily as the instrument I’d started on, I went back to piano, and took up jazz instead.

Kieran’s piano recital in his first suit, 1997.

HB: Was the understanding, at least from the parental side, that you would become a professional musician?

KF: My father definitely had that expectation. It’s what I wanted as well, but once I started playing jazz, I had this conundrum. I knew, even at that age, that jazz was dead; and it’s died even further in this city since The Cellar shut down. What remains—Frankie’s and Pat’s Pub—are some of the last vestiges of Jazz in Vancouver. Some of the best jazz musicians in the country play those dives—like Miles Black, who taught me as a young guy, and saxophonist Tom Keenlyside, who’d played with Chet Baker and toured the world with Aerosmith. It’s hard not to be sad about it.

HB: It must’ve been very difficult to juggle music with schooling.

KF: I dropped out of high school when I was 17. I’d been previously going to private school on a full scholarship, where I gradually progressed a couple of grades ahead in certain subjects. As much as I loved the faculty and curriculum, I couldn’t stand the kids that I went to school with. I was bullied, ostracized… isolated. It forced my mind inward. Private school was where a lot of my cosmic pessimism came from. I suffered from insomnia and developed a pretty severe existential depression.

HB: My favourite kind of depression.

KF: [Chuckles] I got into researching natural resource depletion, like “Where is the world going?” Turns out it’s not looking great, for now. “All ocean life will be dead by 2030”. Like oh… OK. That sounds serious. It severely impacted my life, being that alone. Around 16, before I went back into public school, I had my first relationship as a teenager and kind of realized that, unless I devoted my life to saving the planet, it wasn’t something I should be focusing all of my attention towards. It wasn’t healthy. Human connection has the power to make this world worth enduring.

HB: Creative minds do fixate. And with fixation comes anxiety, at times.

KF: I think I come by it hereditarily a little bit. My grandfather on my mother’s side was an engineer—a very smart man. He left me a lot of his books, like The Myth of Sisyphus by Camus, and Existentialism and Human Emotions by Sartre, which are still very impactful on me. Every year for my birthday, he’d send me a book, and he did it in reverse order. The early ones he sent me were books like Moby Dick, and the more approachable books, like Treasure Island, came much later.

HB: There’s something absurd for you.

KF: [Chuckles] Yes, but The Myth of Sisyphus may actually have saved my life. It hashes it all out. It’s applied existentialism and absurdism. The first essay is ‘Absurdity and Suicide’. It’s basically him solving why life is worth living, which is very hard, especially with his outlook which is: [Paraphrased] Life is inherently meaningless—but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth living. That was huge for me to hear when I was 16. I accept the tenants of existentialism but don’t necessarily practice them [chuckles]. I don’t always accept responsibility for myself.

HB: How were young existentialists eating in those days?

KF: [Chuckles] I was raised vegetarian, and then pescatarian. It wasn’t idealistic, it was a matter of health and budget. Neither of my parents came from culinary households. My father’s mother had 8 kids, Catholic, and his dad was a travelling salesman—rarely at home. So his mother would cut corners to make ends meet—hence, mystery meat. She may have inspired my father to become vegetarian. Neither of them really relished cooking. It was utilitarian, for the most part. And I’m that way too, unfortunately. I eat to survive. I go out to lovely restaurants, and dine quite well, but for myself, I make smoothies and enough food to keep my blood sugar level.

HB: What about wine? Are you yourself a wine drinker?

KF: Not a drinker, a taster. I used to be a drinker until I got deeper into it. It’s not that it feels like work, absurd to say, it’s just that depending on who I’m with, it can become work—“Oh bring a wine and we’ll talk about it!”. It bores me to no end. I’m interested in the wine world, there are so many facets to it—history, geology, meteorology, philosophy to a certain extent… but there are a select few I relish getting into that with. My favourite people will open a beautiful bottle of wine, and just say “That’s beautiful”. My friend Dylan Jones—an incredible bartender who currently works at Di Beppe, loves Champagne, but it’s not his life. So we’ll share a bottle of Champagne, chat about it for a second, and then talk about other stuff. I usually drink beer, or cocktails—mainly beer, because I do try to avoid getting drunk… though I do. [Chuckles]

HB: Jaded by wine. Isn’t that blasphemy?

KF: If you’ve been tasting wine all day, there’s nothing you want more than a light, refreshing beer. It’s why most wine people don’t love full-bodied reds. Most people who work in wine for a living don’t regularly drink big Bordeaux. Obviously they’d relish the opportunity if it were traditional and properly aged. But for the most part, you’re drinking Burgundy, Beaujolais, Riesling, or sparkling wine. I want something that I can have two glasses of and not feel like I want to go to sleep. The palate gets tired.

HB: Do you remember that first glass?

KF: After I dropped out of highschool, my parents said “If you’re not going to school, you have to work and pay rent”. So I moved out, and starting living with my girlfriend—an heiress—at the time. She played a big part of what got me interested in wine. She’d take me to West and all these fancy places, after rarely having gone out for meals with my family growing up. I tasted some amazing wines, and can vividly recall this Chilean red called Coyam by Emiliana—predominantly Syrah. I remember going “Whoa”. It didn’t smell like grapes, or grape juice. It smelled of pepper, fresh-cut grass and rich soil. It transported me a little bit—to those times I dug in our garden and picked blackberries as a child.

Cortado by Kieran, Momento Café, 2011.

HB: But you started tasting things primarily with coffee?

KF: My first job, when I was 16, was at Kokopelli Café on Dunbar; but shortly after that I started working at The Salty Tongue, with Shawn Heather, and was trained in coffee by Alistair Durie, the current owner of Elysian Coffee. We were the first café in Vancouver to serve the coffee of the famous Stumptown roastery from Portland. I learned a lot about coffee and got really curious about it then. But I was a heartbroken teenager working far too much, and I wanted to get away from Vancouver, to some place far away, but culturally similar. So I moved to New Zealand on the promise of a job.

HB: Them Kiwis… a nation of good samaritans.

KF: I’ve never been to a place where I’ve liked so many of the people. So warm, so generous yet also bitterly sarcastic good samaritans. They have this overdeveloped sense of sarcasm which is completely inclusive. They’ll tear you apart, and you’ll laugh, but you love it because they’re so funny that you feel a part of the joke.

HB: And the job?

KF: Turns out the owner was an alcoholic and he’d totally forgotten he ever promised me a job.

HB: Should’ve got that shit on paper.

KF: I had emails! 13,000 KM and he’s like “Who are you?!”. So I was a little shaken up upon my arrival. But I was staying in a home with some wonderful people, and played some music with them, which ended up on my album years later. I met some marine zoologists in a bar, and it turns out they needed interns for a field expedition. They were studying endemic freshwater wildlife, and how much was left of it. I wrestled a 4-foot eel—ostensibly the manliest experience of my life. [Chuckles] That trip around the South Island of New Zealand was beautiful; it was unsurprising to learn that there are 7 times as many sheep as people. It’s truly Lord of the Rings country down there.

Kieran at Pepino’s.

HB: But eventually all roads lead to Melbourne—the food [and coffee] capital of Australia.

KF: I have family all over Australia, and an Australian passport, but the plan was to stay in New Zealand. But like many Kiwis, once I couldn’t find work, I had to make my way to the big city. I stayed with my mother’s cousins for the first month or so then found my own place. That was where I really learned about coffee. I thought I knew something from my Stumptown training, but when I applied at a café and made them a cappuccino the response was “I guess we could use a server”. Tasting and flavour-profiling espresso was really how focussing on my palate began. As for my Australian experience—I saw only one spider while I was there. And no snakes.

HB: So how’d you make your way back to Vancouver?

KF: It was a sad turn of events. A friend of mine, who I’d been in a band with as a teenager, took his own life and I came back for his funeral. I immediately got into a relationship, and after working in a few cafés while I recorded my album, I started serving at Jules.

HB: And Jules was where you cut your teeth?

KF: Wine-wise, yes. I’d dined at Jules before my trip to New Zealand. After that initial lunch, I’d noticed this unassuming piano covered by candelabras. On my way out, I’d asked if it’d be alright to play it. It’s still a magnetic impulse for meif there’s a real piano, I can’t not play it. Everybody came out to watch me play a little jazz.

Solo show at Purple Crab, 2009.

HB: They liked the sounds of you.

KF: During our lunch, I was served by the Maitre’D, a gentleman by the name of Mikel Kanter, who later became a big influence on me learning how to serve. After my impromptu jazz session, he asked whether I’d like to play for the guests during service. I was taken aback, and said yes. They paid me 50 bucks, along with dinner and a couple of drinks. So I started drinking wine there, like Saumur-Champigny. While I was playing I’d have a glass or two, and at the bar afterwards. It’s largely how my interest in wine began.

HB: It must’ve been difficult, leaving Jules.

KF: I played piano there on and off for 5 years—it was a family. That busted me up, I was bedridden and depressed as hell. I didn’t even seek other work for a while. But my partner at the time had been working at Chambar, and seeing the way it ran, she said “I think you should apply. You’d love it here”. At that time, I didn’t think I was good enough to work at Chambar, but applied anyway.

Opening a 5L bottle of Bordeaux at Chambar, 2016.

HB: That’s good schooling.

KF: I applied to be a server, but had written “Wine Waiter” on my resume. Jason Yamasaki [JY] was running the wine program. It’s about a 280 seat restaurant, and they had 300 or so wines on the list, if not more. The volume they were doing was absurd for one person to be doing alone.  

HB: You must’ve been quite nervous going in for the interview.

KF: I was interviewed by Justin Tisdall (now, Juke Fried Chicken)—the GM of Chambar at the time. He was an inspiring person to work for—one of those people you want to work hard for because you want him to like you. He offered me a stage because of my wine serving experience. I was terrified. He’s like “Meet with JY and see if you two get along”.

HB: Devil wears Prada.

KF: [Chuckles] So I show up in this three-piece suit, and JY comes in wearing cargo shorts and a red t-shirt, carrying two boxes of wine. I felt hilariously overdressed, but we got along right away. I worked with him and Terry Threlfall—the opening sommelier of Hawksworth, and honestly, the Godfather of the Vancouver wine scene. He’d worked at Chez Bruce in London, a Michelin-star restaurant with one of the best wine programs in the world.

HB: You learned from the best.

KF: I was immediately blind tasted on wines made from grapes I’d never even heard of before. There was a collector who came in and poured JY a 1946 Château Chalon, which is made from a grape called Savagnin. I was like “Holy shit”. Savagnin is super distinctive—not a tough call—but I was lucky enough to have tried it once before. I asked “Is that a really old Savagnin from the Côtes du Jura?” to which JY responded, “Yes. Good job”. That’s the most congratulations you’d get out of JY. [Chuckles]

HB: Any life-changing wines, drinking on the job?

KF: On that same first shift, a blind taste of 2003 Dominique Laurent Clos de Bèze which is a Grand Cru Burgundy. It’s the one that changed my life—my A-ha wine. The Coyam was the first one I paid attention to, but this, I got lost in. As soon as I smelled it, I started hearing Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet in B Minor. I saw an old man raking leaves in a tweed suit… I saw things… heard things. It was hallucinatory—a frighteningly transportive experience.

HB: What is it about wine that’s so compelling to you?

KF: It’s the generational element that’s so beautiful to me, and also what I find lacking in the natural wine movement. Some of the new natural wine producers lack what I find so interesting and unique about wine. Some winemakers are 16th generation—that’s hundreds and hundreds of years. Imagine a family, tilling these same fields, making the exact same thing, the exact same way. And you taste it—all of it. You taste the fact that their parents taught them things, and that they’re experientially exposed to things no one else could accomplish. They don’t feel the soil in their hands the same way other people do.

HB: The Masters, so to speak.

I always go back to this one man, Olivier Zind-Humbrecht—the second winemaker to attain the Master of Wine. His wines were some of the first I truly revered. He’s situated in Alsace, and is beyond-the-generational level, making some of the best wines in the world. He did a seminar a year and a half ago and posed a question—“What came first? The plant, or the soil?”. And everyone in the room went “Oh Jesus”. But you could taste the knowledge at a certain point. There are some winemakers who don’t make the best wines from the incredible sites they operate. But in Burgundy and Alsace there’s that element you just can’t escape.

Kieran tests wine before the opening of Pepino’s.

HB: So it’s more about the man made factor for you, as opposed to the dead Romans in the soil which make for fertile lands.

KF: The human factor is driving for me. It’s something that carries me through. At the onset, it was purely hedonistic, like “I’ve never smelled something this good”. I’d never been able to get lost in a meditative experience. Even when I play music, I’m still thinking. I’d always be taking a bit of an intellectual approach to wine, especially when I started, but there’d be a physical response. How does this make me feel? Drinking my favorite wines hurt a little bit—this prickling sensation in between your eyebrows. I think that’s what a lot of people call “minerality”, that electric static charge. And being drawn out of my mind, and calmed, was new territory for me. Because up to that point, I’d always been in my own head.

HB: What’s the monofilament that runs through music and wine for you?

KF: It’s pure art. Music to me music is the purest art form, simply because it’s useless. Sure, it can drum up your battle urges—or tell a story, as with folk music—but one of the oldest instruments to be discovered in an archeological dig was a flute. Like 40,000 years old. That’s crazy to me, and tells me that there’s been an urge for melody—a weird and innate sensation that you need to feel. And that urge is very much evident with wine. Why plant this weed, and then why ferment it?! There are mentions of specific vineyards—mostly in Burgundy—dating back 1000 years, that had been walled off by monks for being superior. Even today, you take one step, and it’s the difference between a $50 bottle of wine and a $600 bottle of wine. One step! It’s absurd.

Tasting at Blue Grouse Winery in Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island with winemaker Bailey Williamson, 2018.

HB: Could I do what you do? It seems somms have this intrinsic palate, or this heightened sense of smell.

KF: If you care enough about it, there’s no innate palate required. To get to the highest levels—to get the Master Sommelier, the Master of Wine—you have to put in a lot of time and effort, and if you happen to be a supertaster, that’s obviously going to help. However, people always ask me “You must have a great palate?” The answer is “Do you care?” and “Are you paying attention?” If you are, that’s a palate to me.

HB: Do you honestly think people are that discerning?

KF: People often ask me whether pairings matter. I say they do, when the pairing is good. But they’re good less than 25% of the time. A good pairing amplifies both the food and the wine. If the pairing is curious, you’ll definitely notice it. People hate sweet wine, so I’ve gauged people’s understanding of pairings off of sweet wines. They don’t want to like them. Then I’m like “OK. Eat some of this strong, creamy cheese with this quince jam, and then taste this Riesling”. The wine is transformed—the sweetness is no longer noticeable. So when the sweetness matches, it changes your entire perception of the wine. It becomes [almost] a dry wine, and that’s when pairings matter. It’s with intense flavours—dessert, cheese and foie gras—that you notice pairings the most.  

HB: Do you think pairings are crucial to the dining experience?

KF: Vancouver doesn’t have a strong pairing culture. Pairing is wine culture and wine is food, in theory. Ideally, the wine should enhance the food, and vice versa. It’s this cycle, this happy marriage. I learned a lot about pairings at Farmer’s Apprentice because I had a limited wine list to work from, and the menu changed everyday. I had to have versatile wines to make it work. Was it a transcendental experience? Perhaps not. But occasionally, you’ll have Sherry with this seaweed broth, and you’re like “Holy shit”. What previously tasted nutty, tastes like fruit now. And now, like meyer lemon. It changes. It augments your reality—of the food, and the wine.

Measuring wine for a Chef Collaboration dinner at Farmer’s Apprentice, 2017.

HB: What’s your input in all of this, especially from a hospitality standpoint?

KF: One of my favourite things to ask is “What do you want to drink?” and then I’ll serve the guest the opposite of that. I like to shake the complacency out of people. My favourite elements of service is when I can introduce some elements from the surreal.

HB: How much do concerns of upselling dictate your work?

KF: I love down-selling. It makes me feel really good, and it establishes trust with the guests. At the end of the day it’s a business, and the next time they come in I may suggest something more expensive, if that’s what they’re looking for. There are 600 identified different grape varieties in Italy alone, but they’re still all different. I want to highlight that, and make sure people taste what they want to taste, or what they didn’t think they were going to taste.

HB: And you’ve found people to be receptive?

KF: Very. Because I’m pretty non-threatening, but also love people—I want them to feel welcome, comfortable and nurtured. Making this field less stuffy. I have these mad libs—quick ways of narrowing down what somebody wants—white wine, pink wine, red wine, bubbly wine and bubbly pink wine. I make it easy for people.

HB: You make it easy, sure, but I wouldn’t believe it for a second if you told me you never felt the need to overcompensate.

KF: At certain establishments I felt that desire a little bit. I was wearing a suit, but then again, I have the face of a 13 year old. In those cases, the weapon is my knowledge and competence. As I age, I feel the need to prove myself, and my worth, less and less. My way of overcompensating would be just talking about vintage—talk about 2011 in the Rhone Valley, and all of a sudden people are like “OK, you know what you’re talking about”. That being said, I always treat people like they know more than I do.

HB: That’s a respectful way to operate—a no-mansplaining policy.

KF: But I do feel the need to backpedal a lot. Jason Yamasaki taught me well, he’d say “Start big, and go small”. So “You’re in the Old World—North-West Italy—near Torino…” . You don’t start with, “This is Barolo”. You start with “This is Europe”. I have the same issue with music, assuming the music I listen to isn’t obscure to people. But most of the time, it is. It’s better to assume people know more than less. I’ve served people who know more in wine than I’ll never know, and they don’t even work in wine. I always approach people with an air of respect. There are people who get slack for drinking Pinot Grigio or Malbec—but my issue’s never been with what you eat or drink, it’s been with people who are close-minded. It’s just abhorrent.

At the top of the Bricco delle Viole vineyard with the Vajra family. Barolo, Piedmont, Italy. 2017.

HB: What is the most misunderstood thing about the wine world? It doesn’t have the greatest reputation.

KF: It doesn’t, and that’s well deserved. It’s not that I don’t like wine people, I just don’t care very much for the world of fine wine. To me, it’s an agricultural product. There are wines that are transcendent that have made me cry—an involuntary sensation—like being drawn out of my body. It’s like being brought to tears by instrumental music. What is it? And why is that making me want to cry?

HB: To most, it feels like a commodity [and it is] and it’s that connotation that should be far more tear-inducing.

KF: It’s upsetting to me on so many levels. The best wines are sitting on some shelf, past their drink-by date, because they can be traded, or auctioned off for money. It makes me sick. Matt Sherlock is probably my favourite person in the wine world, and he’s everything right with the wine world. He’s a paragon—a winemaker, an importer, and also writes wine lists. He once put a 3-litre jug of wine-ish grape juice on the table [inside an Ocean Spray bottle] made by one of his neighbours, and when asked what it was said: “It’s drinky juice, you drink it”. [Chuckles] That experience encapsulates him to me, and it’s what the wine world should be. Shut the hell up. Drink it!

HB: Where goes all the glamour? How do we discount that?

KF: The stories are great, and engaging, but anything beyond the taste and the smell is what’s wrong with the wine world. The pontification, idolization and pedestalization of wines… and tasting notes, dare I say—it’s all disgusting to me. I hate it when people are telling me what I’m supposed to be tasting. I smell lilacs, you smell meat. Neither of us is wrong. You smell what you smell. There are objective averages of course—metrics—and ways of relating these things to other wine professionals.

HB: I guess it’s good that you’re over these things, especially at such a young age.

KF: I’m focusing more on hospitality. That being said, if someone’s reading through a wine list and they seem lost, I always tell them wine’s my favourite thing to talk about. I’d love to take away the menu from you. Tell me how much you want to spend. 50 bucks? Great. My presence is there to make people feel comfortable about this oddly esoteric nonsense instilled into wine.

HB: You’re a storyteller.

KF: Pinot Noir is just one grape, but it’s a unique and expressive grape, so it tastes different everywhere. There’s hundreds of millions of different expressions, and if you care about what you’re drinking, it’s nice to have someone around to make sense of all that. Once you’ve chosen a restaurant, you’re exhausted. You shouldn’t have to make any more decisions. My role is to eliminate decision-making, to make you feel good and not feel ripped off.

Kieran’s private collection of grape variety prints.

HB: There does seem to be a sentiment of feeling ripped off with BC wines, would you agree?

KF: British Columbia’s wines suffer from the same things Vancouver suffers from—real estate. Some of the land bordering the States costs $250,000 an acre, as opposed to a mere $25,000 across the fence. So you’re paying for a lot of things that aren’t wine. There’s exceptional, world class BC wine, but not much, and they suffer from commodification. What’s ironic is that many of the best BC wines are the inexpensive ones. There’s often little price-quality correlation.

HB: How does BC fare, compared to the rest of the winemaking regions of the world?

KF: Last I heard, there’s 80 different planted varieties of grape. I would say a maximum of 10 are viable. There’s a clear lack of focus. It’s a shotgun approach—see what sticks. And you have to wait three years to get any returns. The experimentation is rarely worth it unless you have solid evidence. A lot of people go into it because they have a lot of money, and they don’t know what else to do with it, pushing out the people who actually care about winemaking.

Pepino’s.

HB: Rich hobbyists, my fav.

KF: It’s garbage and really saddening to see. What comes with high real estate and commodification are these people who have nothing else to do with their money. Some of those people are successful for a reason, because they understand you need to trust experts. You need to care, ask the right questions and do it right. Most people don’t because there isn’t a quality demand. If you don’t have that negative feedback, there’s no reason to make something of quality.

HB: It’s about the prestige for them.

KF: Paying for prestige in BC is worse that paying for prestige anywhere else. Because, elsewhere you’re often paying for Grand Cru—for something established—whereas here, it’s a commodity… a status symbol. It’s a Bentley. You’re not paying for juice. It’s juice! [Chuckles] It always comes back to that.

Boarding Von Mandl’s (Mission Hill Winery) private plane before visiting the Okanagan, 2017.

HB: Do you feel a need to rep your region when you travel abroad?

KF: When I visited Burgundy I brought a couple of BC wines with me as gifts. One of them was a Pinot Noir, made by Chris Carson who works for Meyer Family. The other one was a Blue Mountain Blanc de Blancs, the reserve, which is sensational sparkling wine.

HB: What is it that you’re after?

KF: All I want in life—is to be of use. It’s one my favourite pieces of music actually, by an artist named Bill Callahan [aka Smog]. He writes these very literal, direct songs and it’s his fantasy to be of use—to be of some undeniable use to someone, like a corkscrew, or a candle. Hopefully my use can be championing things that are good and bringing about a modicum of change in what is currently a frustratingly stagnant and not-quality driven industry. It’s driven by prestige and money. I want it to be driven by quality, and by deliciousness.

HB: What’s the criteria for that?

KF: Simple—would I have a second glass? And I rarely drink the same thing twice. There’s too much to drink out there.

HB: So you’re going to keep on drinking [or tasting]. In Vancouver no less.

KF: Ah, Vancouver. As I’ve mentioned a couple of times… [points to himself] Nihilist. [Chuckles] Hope is a fallacy. When confronted with the absurdity of life, there are only a few things one can do. One is suicide, another is hope, and both are equally false. The only way to confront mortality, and the absurdity of life, is to try to acknowledge and live with it. I don’t have hope in Vancouver. I’m complacent a little bit, which is why I’ve put up with what Vancouver’s thrown at me—a dead art scene, an overpriced housing market, and the grey. Overall, it’s like a job and there’s always going to be something wrong. But I do my best.

HB: Sometimes grey is good. Makes the sunny days more special, you know?

KF: A stand up comic whose name I can’t recall once said, “I feel like the only time that you should talk about the weather is to celebrate it joyously, or if it’s threatening your life”. Otherwise, don’t say a fucking word about it. If you can’t deal with the bleak puritan nonsense and the overpriced everything, just get the fuck out.

HB: But you’re here, for now. So where’s this ship headed?

KF: I’ve been in restaurants for 10 years now, which is more than a third of my life. Do I want to open a restaurant? If the answer is no, I need to make some difficult reassessments of my life path. Getting that job at Chambar was unexpected, to say the least. And where it’s taken me is incredible—to Burgundy, Italy, the Okanagan. It’s also introduced me to fascinating people… it’s been incredibly rewarding for me. But I need to see where this thing leads. I’m opening a restaurant—Pepino’s—with some of the most established restaurateurs in the city. If this is something I want to do, then I’m with the right people to see if it’s plausible.

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