If you’ve been following our coverage of EXP Restaurant + Bar’s opening, including founder Brian Vidovic’s recent troubles with the LCBC, then you know that Vancouver citizens are on the verge of finally getting the video game venue we’ve been clamoring for.
Brian is an inspiring individual, but while he’s one of the primary minds behind EXP, he’s also the head of a team of remarkable people dedicated to making the business successful.
One of those people is head chef Miranda Williams, a culinary expert who Brian tasked with designing a gamer-appropriate menu that can be prepared multiple ways to accommodate the gamer who wants to keep his/her hands clean while playing. I got in touch recently with Miranda to talk about her background, the food at EXP, and the issues that helped shape the current menu.
Meet the Chef
Michael Rousseau: How did you land your position at EXP? What brought you here?
Miranda Williams: I met Brian and Julianna for the first time in a coffee shop in early March 2011. James Higuchi and I interviewed together, what seems like decades ago. Lucky for us, they liked our ideas, passion, and personalities. We talked about food and video games, and at the end of the day, we all felt connected. We make a great team, and I've been devoted to EXP ever since.
Michael: What’s your background as a chef?
Miranda: I started cooking at a young age out of necessity and it grew into a love. I have never seen it as a chore, but as a challenge that could result in comfort and happiness.
I completed the two-year Culinary Arts Program offered at NAIT (the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) with High Honors and a Culinary Diploma in 2007. In 2009, I successfully completed the Red Seal Chef Program and became a certified Red Seal chef. I moved to Vancouver in 2010 and immediately became a member of the BC Chef's association.
Over the years I have moved from one opportunity to another, gaining experience and mentally taking notes of all the good and the bad. I have toured through hotels, conference centers, restaurants big and small, and catering companies. On the side, I have always been privately catering, and more recently, teaching adults and children at "The Hungry Oven," a cooking school on North Van.
Michael: Tell me about the menu at EXP. What goes into creating a game-themed menu?
Miranda: When discussing the menu with Brian, he has given me a lot of freedom and trust. One thing that was very clear from the start though was that it was important to develop "game friendly" food. This meant that every menu item might have to be prepared, served and eaten in a different way.
A great example is our Princess Peach Pizzaria - Mario's Special, found in the Appetizers section of the menu. We roll out fresh dough and season with olive oil, salt and pepper, and oregano. Then we add a nice layer of house tomato sauce, fresh basil, sautéed mushrooms, cheese, and pepperoni. I bake the pizza; when it's done, I roll it up, top it with more cheese, and broil it.
Served fresh out of the oven and sliced into bite size pieces, our pizza is easy to eat, and it keeps hands clean while upholding my standards for fresh, fabulous food.
EXP will draw people in for it's creativity and new social experience, but they will come back again and again if the food and service is fantastic too. A lot of other factors have gone into the menu too, like my own desires and style of cooking, the location, customer demographic, and kitchen space.
Michael: What other kinds of food can we expect to see on the menu at EXP?
Miranda: Other favorite menu items of mine include the Boar Belly Bites, a fantastic take on boneless dry ribs. The Mac and Cheese Burger is literally home made macaroni and cheese smothering a pork burger. I am really excited about our Caramelized Onion and Yellow Pepper Tart as a main vegetarian option. And for dessert, we will have our signature Donkey Kong Fritters, filled with dark chocolate.
Michael: Fancy! What is EXP doing to promote locally sourced ingredients in its food preparation?
Miranda: I am definitely working on EXP's menu to be as local as possible. EXP is Ocean Wise and will be a part of an involved and interactive recycling program. It will take time to develop strategies and implement programs, but we are dedicated to the cause of lowering our carbon footprint and preserving our environment. A great example is the work I am doing with our delivery drivers to shrink the number of deliveries we have in a day or week to as few as possible. It requires planning, and it's a lot of work, but I know it's worth it. I will always be looking to do more and make the changes to have our business run efficiently.
Michael: When most people think of gamer food, they think of fatty fryer food. Since you're after a more mature gamer clientele, what kind of options will EXP offer for health-conscious, active gamers?
Miranda: I eat a lot of tasty, broiled, baked, deep-fried, and sautéed things, but I always eat them with vegetables and salads. My motto is “everything in moderation.” When I go out to a bar and order chicken wings and nachos, I always wish there were more vegetables on the plate. I am insistent that we balance out the heavier dishes with lighter sides, included in the price. And it's not just going to be sticks of celery and carrots from a bag.
Other healthier options include the Prawn Skewer, wrapped in kefti noodle and baked. We also have the Caramelized Onion Tart with arugula and crème fraiche, and the Street Fighter Chicken Burger, which is a roasted, skinless, Cajun spiced chicken breast. And for dessert we have fruit skewers and cheese platters. The truth is, the menu will always be changing because of my desire for locally grown food and animals.
Michael: What kinds of difficulties have you faced thus far in setting up and preparing the menu and kitchen at EXP?
Miranda: A major set back in the design of the menu is the size of the kitchen and equipment within it. I designed the kitchen and dish space with the help of Russel Foods, and have roughly 700 sq ft to work with. The small space limited the equipment that could fit in it and sacrifices had to be made. It means a smaller menu, but what's great about it is that everything has to be fresh because I don't have the space to store anything!
Thank You, Come Again!
Michael: Anything else you'd like to say to the folks waiting patiently for EXP to open?
Miranda: Thank you for your support, and I can only hope that the food is so good that you will come back for it - not the games!
If you’re interested in trying out Miranda’s creations, donate via EXP’s indiegogo page and spread the word to anyone you know who loves games, food, and drink.