At 2:20pm on a cloudy Tuesday afternoon, you’ll find Provence Marinaside settling their lunch rush. Guests may be scarce, but you can see and feel the buzz of the staff; they’re slowly preparing for their “Tappy Hour” service, and switching from the lunch rush to dinner rush. Nestled right by the kitchen and behind The Wine Bar’s doors, is where you’ll find chef and co-owner Jean Francis Quaglia.
He’s in the midst of changing Provence Marinaside’s menu, whilst greeting and dismissing his kitchen staff and dealing with deliveries. As I wait for him to finish up, I can’t help but admire the interior of the restaurant. It’s sophisticated, bright and spacious. Recently renovated in 2015, the restaurant boasts a huge glass window offering a gorgeous view of Vancouver’s False creek, along with an eye catching wine wall. The TVs behind the bar are quietly playing a MLB World Series game, they have every type of liquor imaginable behind the bar, and their wine on tap selection is impressive.
The staff are attentive and welcoming, ensuring comfort during my wait, and it isn’t long till Jean Francis greets me.
They say don’t judge a book by its cover and that’s exactly the case with Jean Francis. Don’t let his youthful appearance fool you, he has an impressive resume. Originally from Marseille, he’s worked in various restaurants throughout the France region, prior to calling Vancouver home. But why Vancouver?
Well, there’s nothing quite like a European love story. It was simple: Jean Francis met his wife Alessandra in France at a restaurant where he was working. He fell in love, and he got married. From there, his Canadian career started as a sous- chef under Bruno Born at Le Coq D’or, where the restaurant won the coveted VanMag award of Best French Restaurant. In 1994, Born closed Le Coq D’or to head the Food and Services at the newly opened Sheraton Wall Centre Hotel; he took Jean Francis with him as the Chef de Cuisine at one of the two restaurants: Azure Seafood Restaurant.
After the hotel’s decision to condense to one restaurant, Jean Francis was named the Chef of Indigo Bistro Moderne; which was his last stop before gracing Vancouver’s culinary scene with Provence Mediterranean Grill, Provence Marinaside and The Wine Bar.
In a quick google search of Jean Francis Quaglia, you’ll find tons of information of his past history in France, how he has cemented his career in Vancouver and last but certainly not least, the influence his mother has had on his culinary passage. His mother, Suzanne Quaglia, was an commended chef in France, who owned acclaimed Le Patalain, and provided a space for Jean Francis to foster his curiosity in food. Since a child, he’s always been interested in food; in fact, he baked his first pastry at the age of 8.
From my hour long conversation with the talented French Chef, I’ve taken away three things: he’s extremely busy, his mottoes in life are exemplified through his actions, and he embodies what it means to be a chef and business owner.
You and your wife have recently made the decision to sell Provence Mediterranean Grill, or P1 as you call it. It’s 20th anniversary would’ve been next year, how did you come to the decision to let go of such a historical piece of your business?
A large part is because of my mother in law wanting to retire. But also because my wife is working on some new projects. Can you tell us more about them? She’s in love with Cuba. She is opening a small bar type restaurant in partnership with someone there. It’s a new and exciting venture for her.
In terms of running a successful business, how do you keep home life out of the kitchen? How do you balance home and life?
I take two days off. I go to yoga two to three times a week, and since my kids are older, I don’t have to watch them anymore. In terms of home and work, when you’re at work you work, but it’s important to take time for yourself and your family.
I don’t want to say it, but balance is key. It’s easy to say, and it seems simple but not everyone can do it. It’s all about balance.
After three successful restaurants and bars, what was the one thing that you wish you knew prior to embarking on your culinary journey?
In terms of my culinary journey, no. I’ve done and trained in everything I could. As a business owner, I wish I’ve done more schooling in marketing, and things like that. But I’ve adapted and learned along the way.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned through the trials and errors of your career?
It’s complicated…because life experience and the growth of the business are related. I’ve had to grow as a human being, and I’ve learnt the importance of a good work ethic.
I want to be a good person – I’ve figured out who I am, and what I want to be. The choices I make are based on the mottos and values that I live by. It goes for everything. My staff, my friends, my clients, it’s important for me to make it good for everybody.
“It’s about flexibility… it’s about managing the business where everyone can win.”
Take P1 (Provence Mediterranean, now known as La Brass) as an example. A former employee is taking over. In our agreement, he has to keep the staff, which keeps the staff happy. I also want to introduce him to all the guests. It allows himself and the guests to be comfortable with the change. The guests may not care, but it makes me feel good about it; everyone’s happy. It’s about teamwork and flexibility.
What’s the most rewarding part of owning and running a business?
Again, when I’m granted flexibility, when everything is good. I have somewhat of a set schedule, but I aspire to have flexibility for myself. It’s not all the time but flexibility for me is when I can take time off, take vacations, and I can have a day off and the restaurant can run without me. Of course, that’s after being able to eat delicious food, drink great wine, and being able to share success with my staff.
What is the most important metric you follow in running a successful restaurant? Why?
Consistency is a very important factor in the success of a restaurant, we do our best to continually strive towards consistency in our food and service. We have been very fortunate to be able to keep our staff for a long time in both the back and front of the house.
Liquor cost and margin, having wine on tap allows us to get better pricing because of the volume we purchase. By having Push and keeping it approved, its very convenient to get a labor cost and sales within minutes. Also being able to compare from one year to the next. All of this can be done remotely .
There are a handful of wine bars in Vancouver, how do you differentiate The Wine Bar (TWB) from the others?
We offer 140 different types of wine by the glass and we have over 41 wines on tap. You can have a glass from $7 to $54. We also have an unbeatable view of false creek, we’re right by the water. You can have dinner or a drink with a view.
Provence Marinaside has established itself as a staple in the Vancouver dining scene. It’s a local favourite, and a tourist must visit. Can you walk me through a typical day?
He laughs, it depends on the day. Let’s say a Saturday in the summertime. We open at 9:00am, and we’ll start seating people that have already lined up. That’s when we serve our brunch menu, and from 9:00am to 3:00pm, we’ll have about 300 to 500 guests. At 3:00pm, we’ll start our switchover to get everyone back on track. Afternoon staff will come in, brunch staff will leave – shifts have to be switched.
We’ll also open The Wine Bar for Tappy Hour from 3:00pm to 5:00pm, and we’ll have about 150 guests throughout the night, and 100 to 150 guests in the dining room. During that time, we’ll be getting ready for 5:00pm to do the dinner service where another 200 guests will dine for their evening meal. We stay open till about 11:00pm to 12:00am, so we’ll have about 1,000 guests in a day.
You also offer a wide selection of Provincial and European wines and take advantage of Vancouver’s sustainable seafood very well. What is your favourite ingredient to work with?
I love everything. If I had to pick… one of my favourites is Dungeness crab.
What’s your favourite pairing for it?
I would pair it with a chardonnay. That’s my personal opinion. If I’m unsure of a pairing, I would ask my sommelier. That’s the best part here, we’re a team, and they’re here to help. But again, I love everything, I also love halibut. I love to serve everything, and eat everything!
I’ve also read that your signature dish is the bouillabaisse, which is native to France and specifically Marseille. I’m sure that it’s no coincidence. Can you tell me why it’s one of your favourites, and why guests should try it?
Its one of my favourite dishes because it’s a recipe that has been passed down in my family. It’s in my legacy. I learned how to make it in my mother’s restaurant, and I learned how to do it traditionally. I want to share that with my guests. The one that I’ve created here is tailored to the West Coast. The seafood I use is mostly sustainable and local. I poach the seafood in a soup, with cheese and serve it with a crostini and rouille – it’s like a traditional garlic mayo.
I’ve noticed that you’re in the fourth week of your “Chef’s Top Ten” Series! It looks like a collaborative initiative between yourself, and your fellow chefs. What do you value about your employees, and how do you foster a collaborative work environment?
I love it, it’s growing and it’s a process and all my chefs come from different worlds, places, and perspectives. It’s always good to have more input. The series allows the staff to feel more valued and appreciated. Working with them gives them the creative opportunity to feel recognized, and valued with collaborations.
What I value most about any type of staff – whether the serving staff or kitchen staff, is a good work ethic. What is most important to me personally is being able to work in a good environment.
“No judgement. No gossip. I hate it.”
Everyone needs to work together; we’re a team whether you’re in the back, doing the dishes, whatever. I don’t like separation between the front and back. Its altogether, and we work together in order to provide a good experience for our guests. It’s about helping each other. I have a quote in the kitchen that says something like” you can’t control what’s happening to you, but you can control how you create.”
How do you curate menus that appeal to customers, but keep your creativity as a chef?
I bring in new menus monthly, and seasonally. I change a few main courses to stay in the season, but I keep the favourites though. I create also new menus for events like Lobster Fest, Spot Prawn Fest, and Tomato Fest. By bringing something different from the menu, I can create menus with local initiatives.
What differences have you noticed in the restaurant scene, in comparison to when you first started your career? What has remained the same?
In terms of food, we’ve evolved pretty fast. I don’t go to all the restaurants, but we have a lot of great chefs and restaurants. I mean, we’ve always had great restaurants, but now there is more. In comparison from the last 20 years to now, there is also more competition out there. But because we have so many great restaurants, we’re all sharing a piece of the same pie.
You’ve participated in Vancouver’s culinary scene for over 20 years, where do you imagine it in 10 years?
Trends are trends; they come and go for sure. For me, some processes of cooking food, or dishes that I used to do in France thirty to thirty five years ago, have come here and become a trend. It’s not new, but it’s still a trend. For example: sustainability and local produce. When I worked in France, that’s what it was all about. It’s good though, that people are aware, and they’re always trying to do new things. Eventually a trend dies, but there’s always going to be something. It can also be something that comes back, and goes again – it’s hard to predict.