Former reporter Deana Lancaster has taken over the marketing manager position at the River Market. Lancaster was features editor at the North Shore News, where she worked in the editorial department for 16 years.
I was thrilled to learn about her new role - Lancaster was a mentor to me when I worked at the News. She also writes a weekly food column and has cultivated a reputation as one of Metro Vancouver's foremost food writers. Lancaster brings a bounty of culinary knowledge and infectious enthusiasm to New Westminster's River Market.
Niki Hope: What made you decide to take on this new role?
Deana Lancaster: I was at the North Shore News for 16 years. It's a great paper, and I'm proud of the work I did there, but it's time for a change.
River Market appeals to me on every level: the emphasis on good food obviously, but also, the way it brings people together, and the way it supports local business.
NH: What has surprised you about the market since you started?
DL: That more people haven't discovered it. The place is such a gem - the location on the river is spectacular, and I love that the tenant businesses were all founded here in New Westminster, or in Metro Vancouver. I hope to help spread the word of it from the Fraser Valley all the way back to the North Shore.
NH: You've been writing about food and wine since 1999? Why did you choose that focus when you started your career?
DL: I began working in restaurants when I was 14, and paid my way through journalism school on my tips (and help from mom and dad). Like all junior reporters, I started out proofreading and covering news, but it didn't take long before I realized what I loved to write about. There are so many great stories in food and wine - the people who make and sell it are always passionate about the subject. They make great interviews.
NH: What is your favourite meal at the market?
DL: You would need more space for me to answer this properly, and I haven't even tried everything yet. I am devoted to proper Southern barbecue, so Re-Up BBQ's pulled pork sandwich is obviously a favourite. I haven't tried anything at Wild Rice that I don't like - the rice bowls are killer. The mar-gherita pizza at Tre Galli is a classic, so is the oyster po'boy at Fathom. I haven't tried all of the burgers or crêpes yet .get back to me in a couple of weeks.
You can see why this market is right up my alley!
NH: You travel a fair bit. Where are your favourite culinary travel spots, and why?
DL: I went to Paris for the first time in September - I fell hard. For the French, access to quality, well-made food is a right rather than a privilege.
You can't walk a block without encountering a boulangerie making incredible bread, a fromagerie selling outstanding cheeses . and everyone eats that way because it's affordable. Closer to home I think Portland is a great food city; they have an "eat local" ethos that is similar to Vancouver's. And I'm itching to go back to Thailand. I backpacked there in my 20s, and loved the food, but I'd like to go again now that I have a little more cash in my wallet.
NH: What do you think the market needs to change and/or add to help pull in even more visitors?
DL: We're planning some great events for the fall and winter, like a Sunday Supper dinner series, busker auditions next month, and a winter festival. I hope more people come to think of River Market as a place to gather, to meet friends, and to take part in their community.
NH: You're a mom of two boys (JJ, 9, and Adam, 6). What do they think of your new job?
DL: They love it, of course: there are so many treats here for them to eat, and they've already taken part in the weekend kids' craft sessions. My youngest is keen to take classes at Vancouver Circus School.
NH: What's your family's favourite at-home meal (something you don't have to convince or bribe the kids to eat)?
DL: They are pretty good eaters actually, there's not much they won't eat.
They love tortilla soup, so we do that regularly; they like fish with puttanesca sauce; and they'll always eat roast chicken. But their favourite dish is my friend Michelle's mac n' cheese. I'm not sure if it's the potato chips she crunches on top, or some other secret ingredient, but they can't get enough of it.
NH: I know you have an amazing collection of cookbooks (you introduced me to Donna Hay, thank you very much) - favourites? Top three?
DL: I love Donna Hay! For busy families, she nails it. Her recipes are tasty and easy and don't require a long list of ingredients. You can "do a Donna" in the same time it takes you to cook a frozen dinner, and it's so much better for you. Right now, I'm cooking my way through Rob Feenie's Casual Classics. I was a bit intimidated by his previous books, but this one is doable, and he includes tips and tricks to help you succeed. I'm learning a lot. And for pure inspiration I love David Tanis's Heart of the Artichoke. It's beautifully written, and the food is so good.
NH: You've met a few culinary bigwigs in your day. Did any of them make you nervous? Disappoint?
DL: The thing about culinary bigwigs is that the successful ones are all lovely to chat with. It was a thrill to meet Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Michel Roux; each of them was charming. I did once cut a phone interview short with an eastern Canadian TV chef - who I won't name - he was surprisingly condescending; nothing like his television persona.
NH: Where do you see the market going in the next five years?
DL: I see it becoming the hub of community life for New Westminster residents, where they can drop in, spend time, eat great food and engage; and I also see it as a draw for those outside the community, as a fun place to visit.