Bearfoot Bistro founder André St. Jacques was given some advice before stepping onstage this week to accept his induction into the BC Restaurant Hall of Fame.
BC Restaurant Association president Ian Tostenson told him to keep the speech short and refrain "from thanking your great aunt Matilda and going on and on forever."
So instead of a lengthy speech, the famously verbose St. Jacques scribbled the names of everyone he wanted to thank on a roll of paper towel, and with a theatrical flourish unravelled it on the unsuspecting crowd gathered at Vancouver's Italian Cultural Centre. The scroll stretched all the way past the first row.
"Everyone thought I was going to spend three hours thanking everyone, including my great aunt," St. Jacques recounted.
It's that flair for spectacle the restaurateur has carried with him since his first job as a teenager in a Quebec restaurant near his family's cottage, where he would spend his shifts flinging pizza dough high in the air. Ever the showman, he's been delighting diners ever since.
"He's a short man, but he's larger than life," said Globe and Mail restaurant critic Alexandra Gill. "He's everybody's best friend and, you know what, he's sincere about it. The people who have come into his restaurant really have become his friends over the years."
One of a dozen people recognized at the induction ceremony Monday night, Sept. 28, St. Jacques, who received the Active Restaurateur Award, was humbled to be in such esteemed company.
"We were all very honoured," he said. "All the people being inducted have done so many millions of things in this industry that I was kind of like, 'Why am I getting inducted?' I'm not so sure."
But Gill, who once joined St. Jacques and Executive Chef Melissa Craig on a tasting tour of Europe's finest restaurants — "I almost had a stroke," she said of the endless stream of decadent food and drink — knows exactly why.
"I've been in the Bearfoot many, many times and it's definitely not the same without André there," she said. "The thing that he does is create this theatrical feeling. He's like an old school owner or maître D. He's a consummate entertainer."
Since opening the Bearfoot in 1995, St. Jacques has since transported his flair for the dramatic outside the restaurant's confines at events held everywhere from parks and fields and further beyond.
"We really try to think outside the box, " said St. Jacques. "People like to say that, but we actually do it, like when we had a tasting menu served on the Peak 2 Peak."
Of course, having Craig onboard hasn't hurt either. The Gold Medal Plates winner truly sets the tone for the entire Bearfoot experience, creating boldly crafted dishes that wow the palate, while remaining supremely balanced.
"Melissa really changed things," Gill said.
And in between the foie gras, the all-night parties, the flowing champagne, St. Jacques has never forgotten the importance of giving back, raising over $1 million to date for the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, One Drop, and a host of other causes.
It all comes back to his inherent desire to please, to entertain, to build memories.
"There are restaurants for all types; the Bearfoot is about a moment in your life, an experience, and we're going to continue to push that experience," said St. Jacques.