BEHIND THE COUNTER WITH EXECUTIVE CHEF STEFAN HARTMANN OF TACOFINO
When most people think of tacos, they picture a bright sunny day with a taco truck parked by the beach. There’s nothing like juicy meat and cool salsa bundled up in a tortilla to make your summer day. Unfortunately, Vancouver isn’t gifted with year-long beach weather and beautiful sunny days. So how do we get our taco fix around town? Surf’s up at Tacofino. Stefan Hartmann, a true talent in the culinary scene, spices things up in the Tacofino family as their Regional Executive Chef since May 2017. Stefan worked alongside acclaimed chefs in some of Europe’s top restaurants including Michelin-starred Le Canard in Hamburg and VAU in Berlin, before earning awards of distinction such as Master Chef, Newcomer of the Year and the prestigious Michelin star for his own restaurant in 2010. He has graced the Raincouver taco scene with his extensive resume and prestigious achievements. Like we do at TEAMCHOMP, we wanted to pick the brain of the mastermind and chat with Stefan about what’s cooking behind the scenes at Tacofino. Here’s what he had to say.
TEAMCHOMP: Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?
Stefan: I have a strong German accent and have been working in kitchens since I was 16 years old. I love working with interesting people who have a story to tell, it keeps me young. I have a reputation of telling bad jokes. I totally disagree. I earned a Michelin star in Berlin, but even so, this is the most exciting time of my life.
T: How does the food scene in Berlin compare to Vancouver and why did you choose to come to Vancouver?
S: Similar to Berlin, Vancouver is a multi-cultural city where you can do what you want and if you do it well, you will find happiness and success. Plus, the mountains, water and rain just sound perfect to me.
T: What are some spots in Vancouver that you like to dine at?
S: Cinara, Pidgin, St.Lawrence.
T: What is the Mexican food scene like in Berlin? How does it compare to Vancouver?
S: I would not say that there is a Mexican food “scene” in Berlin; they are still trying to cook classic cuisine there. I find it more exciting when cooks jump out of their safe circle to improve on other cuisine (but to get there you need to be really good at the basics). I’m looking forward to going back and seeing the new, great spots in the city.
T: What was it like being a restaurant consultant in Los Angeles, Mexico and Berlin?
S: Traveling the world in your early twenties is good for your understanding of life. You meet people from all over the planet in restaurant kitchens. Some individuals that I met in kitchens couldn’t read or write but had a special a kind of wisdom. Stay humble, be open and never burn 10 liters of port wine reduction.
T: How is working at Tacofino different from other establishments you have been a part of?
S: The energy is incredible. There is a lot of enthusiasm, creativity, and self-improvement through self-reflection and cooperation. The owners are humble but absolutely passionate about food and creating the perfect dining environment. We’re working towards a vision, not a goal! I think that describes it pretty well.
T: Tell us a little bit about the work dynamic between you, Jason Sussman and Kaeli Robinsong?
S: I have been a part Tacofino for only about a year now. I am happy that they are involved in decisions. They both have great knowledge and they love food. They definitely pass on their ideas: they throw a ball and I have to hit it, probably explains it well. Not to mention, there is Gino DiDomenico, who is a great inspiration to all of us.
T: Where do you find inspiration to come up with new menu items?
S: Traveling, the market, our head chefs.
T: Is there a hidden menu behind the scenes for Tacofino staff?
S: Not really. We have classics you never get tired of.
T: We saw you make a bratwurst taco and breakfast taco, what else are you working on in the lab that we have yet to see?
S: Quite a bit, exciting times… working with charcoal right now! Soon guys… cannot wait.
T: I personally love a good schnitzel, could we see a schnitzel taco in the future?
S: We have a chicken milanesa taco on the catering menu, which is almost like a schnitzel. We should probably feature it for you.
T: How would you describe Tacofino to someone who is visiting for the first time?
S: You don’t need a knife & fork in our restaurants but there is something delicious and juicy running down your shirt. Enjoy!
Be on the lookout for the new upcoming Tacofino location on the corner of Ontario Street and East 5th Avenue in Mount Pleasant, arriving early this fall. You won’t want to miss what they got cooking!
Written: Christoper-Ryan Yu
Photography: Rich Won/Jason Chow