Gold Medal Plates Victoria 2017 – Chef Ryan Zuvich of Hilltop Bistro


Checking in with Ryan Zuvich of Hilltop Bistro Before Victoria’s Culinary Championships

Each year I interview the chefs competing in Gold Medal Plates and here we go again! Can’t wait to see them all next week in Victoria!  Thanks Ryan Zuvich for being the first to answer.

Ryan Zuvich

Tell us a little bit about your restaurant and/or style of cooking.

Well, we have two restaurants in Nanaimo, La Stella Trattoria in the old city and Hilltop Bistro in the North end. Both restaurants follow what I’ve come to realize is my style of cooking. Ingredient driven, technique focused, classic cuisine often with a modern approach. We’re lucky being where we are with an abundance of amazing growers and producers in our back yard, so we focus on local, seasonal and in the case of Hilltop, we change our menu more or less weekly.

Ryan Zuvich

Where do you eat in your city?

Mahle House, The Milton. It’s tough for us though as all the top restaurants in Nanaimo are open 4 or 5 days a week, just like us.

What would be your ideal food day?

Making and enjoying food with my family is pretty ideal

What’s your go-to recipe when you’re eating at home? 

My 2 year old son really enjoys risotto and since it’s a blank canvas of sorts it’s super versatile and nourishing.

Ryan Zuvich

What equipment do you wish you had in your kitchen?

A combi oven. Or even a convection oven. Man, I’d just love for all of the equipment we do have to work properly. For like a year straight. Dare to dream!

Any hints on what dish you will be preparing for Gold Medal Plates?

Our focus for the dish is to be hyper local and seasonal, as that’s our guiding principal for both of our kitchens. We really want to shine a light on the mid island’s growing food culture. Basically all of the ingredients for the dish will be harvested the week of the competition, some of it on the day itself.

What wine/beer/libation are you pairing with this year?

Beaufort Foch/Cab. Beaufort Winery is in Courtney and really doing amazing things.

Who is coming with you?

For the competition, both our kitchen teams, Mrs. Heather Mink-Zuvich, Mr. Kalen Harris and celebrity chef Brian Skinner.

I also surveyed my facebook followers as to what questions they would like answered by chefs when I interview them.

Ryan Zuvich

Erin Vickars What were their most formative struggles to over come.

With anything, there are always set backs. There has been more than one occasion that I’ve wanted to pack it in. Choosing the kitchen is a hard road, long hours, little pay, and relatively few success stories. With each of these struggles (typically going to pay rent or the like and being broke after working 160 hour pay period) I kept on because there’s a unique craft turned art to cooking. For me it was, and still is, the idea that I can be successful if I keep practicing and pushing forward. That can be really hard to see when your tired and at your end.  To have patience to see the story through is tough, having the wherewithal to change the story to get you to your goal is a special talent.

Shelley Robinson How much they actually make per hour, how many hours they work per day and how much good food actually costs, what the “ bottom line” of a small restaurant P and L looks like.

So our bottom line etc. is dependent on managing our variable costs, as in any business. Where we are able to see proper margins though, is before we open the doors. By ensuring our fixed costs are manageable, like cost of start up, rent, etc. If those numbers aren’t realistic to your possible volume, you’re done before you start.  In terms of Food, costs go up everyday, and really, it should. Everyone deserves to make a living. That’s why we buy local, so we see a tangible effect in our community. There’s definitely a stigma that food should be cheap, but you have to think of all the time and effort it takes to produce food from seed to table. So if it is cheap, who isn’t getting paid a fair wage. As for my wage, 3 years as a deli concept and now 5 years in as Hilltop and we can finally say we’re profitable. Before that though, for a laugh/cry, I figured out what I made, per day, since we opened and it came to a hair over 11$.