Chef Eugene Dong, owner of Cottage Bistro, the popular blues joint and restaurant on Main Street, said listening to blues music changed his life.
Eugene was orphaned at a very young age, he started working by the time he was 14 and has not slowed down since. He said he feels lucky, blessed, and healthy.
Was it the teaching of Booker T Washington that gave rise to the blues? Was it the poetry of Langston Hughes blues? For chef Eugene Dong the blues isn’t about self-pity, blues music is about overcoming adversities. Dong is inspired by this genre in all its glory, from swamp harmonica to jazzy blues and everything in between.
Almost 20 years ago – after his fish and chip shop had failed – he was on the verge of leaving Canada.
He decided to give it another go and applied for a job with Cottage Bistro.
From hired chef to outright owner, and finally proprietor of the best blues venue in Vancouver, Chef Dong said the journey has been filled with music, great food, and making friends.
There’s one piece of advice he shares, “Don’t give up, the capital is always there, remember Rome was not built in a day.”
Cottage Bistro is also known for its menu offerings. This is where the musician in Chef Dong trumpets. The food is always fresh and seasonal, jazzed up with soft fruits and sharp herbs, humming with the soft melodies of sesame and olive oils, and the sweet dark surprise of black garlic.
“When my friends from China visit they always say Cottage Bistro should be ostentatious,” chuckled Dong.
“Cottage Bistro stays away from ostentatious,” said Dong, “we like to keep it low key, honest. We like to talk about value, health, and simplicity. We Canadians are about finding a place that makes us feel good, and comfortable.”
He remembers adjusting to the local products which really only falls into two seasons – back in China there was four distinct seasons, and every month new vegetables were available. He said he was used to cooking his comfort food according to the seasons, so it was a bit of a struggle to recreate.
“But now,” Chef Dong said, “the industry has changed for the better. Now we have all types of fresh seafood jumping in tanks and nets, and we have hothouses growing summer greens and vegetables all year long.”
“Local food makes it tastes like home food,” said Chef Dong, “I had never heard blues before but when I did I fell in love, it’s the same with local British Columbia’s food which, once I tried them I embraced it with my heart.”
Chef Dong’s journey has taken the long and winding road but everything in his life has led him to this place filled with beautiful music, great food, contentment, and peace.
The menu at Cottage Bistro is designed to keep you happy heart-healthy, and Chef Eugene Dong was kind enough to share one of his “homesick” dishes that can be created in 15 minutes or less.
Salmon Chinese Way
4 salmon fillets (6 ounces each)
½ tablespoon oil
½ cup light soy
½ cup cranberry juice
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon chopped green onions, divided into four portions
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Pour the soy sauce, cranberry juice and ginger into a small saucepan and reduce to a concentrate (thick and runny).
2. Heat a heavy bottomed pan and add the oil. Sear the salmon and flip to sear the other side (medium to medium rare). Do not overcook because the fat in the salmon is where the flavour lives.
3. Plate the salmon and drizzle a quarter of the concentrate over it. Scatter a few drops of sesame oil across the salmon, and sprinkle with one portion of the green onions.
All the flavour of this dish is in the fish, and the soy sauce reduction.
This can be served with a side of spinach in garlic sauce and bowls of steamed rice.