For all the superlatives with which he has been described, John Bishop is nothing if not egoless.
From the heart of his white-walled, art-adorned, Kitsilano enclave, he has held culinary court for more than a quarter century. Beginning with a relative pittance of investment and a lifetime of growing passion, in 1985 he opened the doors to Bishop’s.
Shortly thereafter, a legend was born.
Polite to a fault, gracious by nature and consumed by a vision both simple and complex, he is a man without paradox: guided by the changing season, unwavering principles and one very talented kitchen headed by executive chef Andrea Carlson.
For Bishop, a father figure in the field, green is not so much a colour as an ethos that illuminates the broader spectrum of his life.
“My passion goes back to my father and the backyard garden we kept in Shopshire, England,” he explains. “That garden was of so much value to us. We had chickens. We had eggs. We had fresh vegetables and fruit when it was warm and preserves through the winter. I can’t say that I appreciated it fully at the time, but it was a part of me.”
Moving forth, his first job was as a dishwasher for a hotel. Their fish was caught directly from the adjacent river. The culinary hook was set.
Moving to North America after pursuing his chef’s papers, he quickly developed an admiration for Alice Waters and Jonathon Waxman. Both were putting the focus on local and seasonal; although any thoughts of opening his own restaurant were years away, his vision was set.
He did not call it green. He called it good food, common sense and outstanding taste.
It was elegant. It was simple. It was seasonal. More than anything, it made mealtime both a special celebration and a daily conversation.
Countless awards and accolades later, Bishop remains undaunted by success, as entranced by his milieu as the day he opened.
“People really do get it. More and more, people get the creativity and the message of what chef Andrea does. It is so sophisticated, but so subtle,” Bishop says, having long ago moved his attentions to the front of house.
“I can’t anticipate what she will do with what our local suppliers have brought in, but it is always wonderful to see the reactions on people’s faces.”
For Carlson, as locavore as they come, the inspiration is both ample and obvious. Her home garden burgeons come spring, and the suppliers who show up at the restaurant’s back door never fail to capture her imagination with their offerings.
Case in point, the contributions of Running Squirrel, a First Nations harvester, who has just delivered a medley of wild garlic, spring onion, miner’s lettuce and clover: all will find their way into the night’s menu. As per du jour, the dishes will hit home.
“I think people are tuned in to where their food comes from,” says Carlson. “It’s great to provide them with an eating journey and further that experience.”
At Bishop’s, as perhaps within your own home, green is not so much a philosophy as a reflection: of where, when and how we choose to live.
At no time is this understanding as evident as come spring. As summer beckons and winter lingers, local fields and waters offer a bounty both nourishing and sprightly, at once aspiring and elegant.
What results are dishes that provide nourishment on many levels: none so green as what will come in due time, all feeding a deeper sense of what food really means.