Roger Ma, Chef de Cuisine for Vancouver, BC’s high-end and locally-inspired kitchen and oyster bar, Boulevard, sat down to talk with us about his experience competing in the prestigious Bocuse d’Or competition, his pantry must-haves for tasty food, and more.
Who or what got you most excited about cooking?
My family played a huge role in my career choice. Everything we did always centered
around food. I have fond memories of my grandma spending afternoons hand-making
dumplings and noodles and there were family get-togethers for every holiday. Cooking became natural to me. I also get excited with beautiful products. Whether it’s the first halibut of the season or first local cherry or heirloom tomato, food really connects us to nature and puts things into perspective.
What has your journey been like leading up to your current position as Chef de Cuisine for Boulevard?
I started cooking a little later than most chefs but I knew I had to be the best I could be in
order to succeed in this business. I always knew my passion would take me so far, and the
rest would be hard work. I started my career as a commis at the Four Seasons Resort in Whistler and spent 2 years there but I knew I wanted more. I wanted to go to New York City to experience what cooking in one of the greatest food cities in the world would be like. I was very fortunate to land a job at Restaurant Daniel and spent 6 incredible years there. I would compare it to getting a Masters degree for a young cook to come out as a Chef from that restaurant.
Boulevard started out as a friendship with Executive Chef Alex Chen, which eventually
led to a dream becoming a reality. In 2014, we had the opportunity to open Boulevard as
a seafood-focused restaurant. We are always evolving and it will be exciting to see where we are in another year or two.
What has been your greatest accomplishment?
I think my greatest accomplishment has been working with so many great
cooks and chefs throughout my career. I feel very fortunate to have worked with a lot of
talented people who have shaped and molded me into the chef that I am today.
What was your experience like participating in the Bocuse d’Or?
I would have to say that the Bocuse d’Or was the most challenging competition/event that
I have ever done in my life. The intense pressure and expectation to do your best and
execute everything at the highest level was very nerve racking but invigorating at
the same time. It really pushes you mentally and physically to perform at your peak for 6
hours; I would compare it to running a marathon. The training involved for the
competition was unlike anything I have done before but it made me a better cook and
What was the most challenging part of the competition?
I would say the most challenging part was the logistical part. Being from Vancouver and competing in Toronto really felt like I was in a traveling carnival! I shipped over 150 kg (330 lbs) worth of equipment and food ensuring everything was packed carefully and that the food was still pristine. I really learned how to organize at a different level.
And the most rewarding part?
The journey. From developing my dishes, practicing, and making new relationships with people in the industry to coming in 3rd place overall. It was a lot of hard work and sacrifice but to see and feel the evolution my apprentice and I went through in the 2 months leading up to the competition was life changing.
What is your favorite dish on Boulevard’s menu? Why?
That’s a hard one, it’s like choosing your favorite child! But I would have to say our
Seafood Tower (pictured above). It’s all about fresh West Coast seafood and oysters are the star. I really think that oysters are the perfect food – they already have with their own sauce!
What is a favorite comfort food that reminds you of home?
A simple dish of stewed tomatoes and scrambled eggs with green onion is a classic dish
my mom made growing up. She still makes it today! I have adopted that recipe and I
like to make it on my days off.
What are some of your pantry must-haves?
Good salt, a good selection of spices and herbs, good olive oil, good sherry vinegar,
good butter, good soy sauce, and Tabasco. These seasonings are essential for tasty
What is a new ingredient, cooking style or food trend that you are excited about right now?
I’m a pretty classically trained chef so I don’t follow trends too much but I do love the
idea of using foraged wild herbs, vegetables, and spices. Cooking sustainable is also
something that I am becoming more and more aware of. Mother nature seems to always
be giving so it’s only right that we give back to her.
To all the young chefs and cooks, it’s up to you on how far you want to push yourself in
your career. Be a sponge.
Boulevard is located on 845 Burrard Street in Vancouver, BC. http://boulevardvancouver.ca/