Acclaimed Chef Marcus Von Albrecht is the president & CEO of Von Albrecht & Associates and MAVA Foods in Vancouver, Canada. He serves as Vice President of AREGALA (Asociasancion Restaurandores Gastronomicos De Las Americas), representing the culinary arts of 42 countries in North and South America.
Chef Von Albrecht is a six-time recipient of the Canadian Culinary Federation’s President’s award, and is past-president and Lifetime Achievement Award winner of the Chef’s Association of British Columbia.
Sails & Spices sat down with Chef Marcus Von Albrecht on a sunny rooftop patio overlooking English Bay in downtown Vancouver, Canada. Over a couple of signature XFour drinks , we discuss Chef Von Albrecht’s inspirations, the evolution of the Vancouver food industry, tips for the home cook, and the future of MAVA Foods… in outer space. Enjoy!
Sails & Spices: Chef Marcus Von Albrecht, thank you for joining us today! Let’s jump right in.
You’ve said that “Food is the essence of life. Eating fresh, local, and healthy is what it’s all about”. Would you tell us a little more about your philosophy of food?
Chef Von Albrecht: When I started in the food industry, farmers were struggling to get local products into restaurants. As I moved through the ranks, eventually becoming president of the Chef’s Association, there was a big trend towards consumers wanting to eat something local.
I approached the Ministry of Agriculture and we laid out the groundwork for the BC Association of Farmer’s Markets. I brought the chefs, and the Ministry brought the farmers. We started out with one farmer’s market at the time. We did a lot of PR and got chefs involved in the 100-mile diet, eating local, and buying local.
You eat with your eyes, your nose, your fingers, and with the sense of satisfaction food gives you.
Before we knew it, 14 years later, we have farmer’s markets all over Vancouver and people are coming. It’s been crucial… We live here in British Columbia which has access to the vegetable gardens of the Fraser Valley, fruits of the Okanagan, 95+ wineries throughout the region, and it would seem a shame if we did not bring that to the table.
S&S: Speaking of local, what are we drinking today? I understand it’s a BC recipe that has just won some significant accolades abroad.
Chef Von Albrecht: This is Percy’s Old Fashioned Lemonade. It’s my great grandfather Percy’s recipe, a vodka cooler of fresh squeezed lemons, lemon zest, organic honey, and XFour vodka… all hand crafted. No artificial flavors, no aspartame, or anything like that.
There were 482 distilleries that entered products to the SIP (Spirit International Prestige) Awards in Los Angeles in 2016, and Percy’s won a Platinum award, the highest category, as the best in North America. Another member of the X-Four family, the X-Four Chocolate Cocktail, won Gold in 2016.
S&S: That’s incredible, and no wonder. Percy’s Lemonade is crisp and wonderfully delicious, congratulations! Not solely local, you’ve also traveled extensively… having lived in South America, lead food and wine buying trips through Europe, and taken Canadian cuisine around the world. How has travel inspired you as a chef?
Chef Von Albrecht: To give a little prelude as to why I’ve done all of that, when I was four years of age I knew I wanted to be a chef. My mother taught us all how to cook. I would make crazy things and feed the family. I pretended they were guests in my restaurant… at 4 years old! I was crazy.
My father told me I would never make it as a chef and I should go into Law, so I went to university and got my bachelor’s degree. I did a stint with a Cabinet minster as his executive assistant and that’s when I decided I needed to go back to my passion.
You can get a lot done by making good food and having dinner…
Being in the food industry doesn’t mean you just cook. I got actively involved in taking these ideas to other countries. There is a massive group of chefs, companies, and culinary universities that travel all over the world. It’s extensive. You could be traveling every week. This career has taken me around the globe for the past 26 years. To see other cultures and to learn about their techniques and their ways of doing things, you bring that back. You exchange ideas.
You can get a lot done by making good food and having dinner…. Take this building for example. When I moved here 17 years ago all the neighbors were fighting and they didn’t really know one another. I said, “We need to have a dinner! We need to break bread together. Let’s have a barbeque”. Our first year about 30 people showed up. The next year there were 90, and every consecutive year since over we have had over 150 people. They come and party and everyone knows one another. It’s a community. It happened through food!
S&S: You’re an incredible host, and we’ve been fortunate enough to be your guests on several occasions. You regularly have people over for the most inspired meals. How would you recommend people get back to cooking and eating as a community in today’s busy lifestyle? I’ve always been amazed how you host and prepare elaborate meals for your guests yet you’re an entrepreneur who is seemingly on the go 24 hours a day.
Chef Von Albrecht: I think that cooking is therapeutic. In today’s life in Vancouver, you need to have a lot of money in order to live. That requires working hard, and working efficiently. You also need to balance that out with some sort of therapy for your mental health. Cooking is pleasing to me.
S&S: What do you find is the biggest challenge about being an entrepreneur and a business owner responsible for multiple brands?
Chef Von Albrecht: The biggest lesson I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that I’m not here to make money. I’m here to enjoy life. If you are enjoying life, then you aren’t working. Even though I put in 60-90 hours a week, it doesn’t feel like work because I enjoy it. Consequently, the money comes.
S&S: Vancouver is a dynamic place. How have you seen tastes change here over your 26 years as a chef?
Chef Von Albrecht: Vancouver’s tastes have incorporated all of the different spices and flavor profiles from around the world. Being a hub for international shipping, we can have anything you could find anywhere in the world, 365 days per year.
The consumer has changed. They’ve gone away from the heavy, overcooked, large portions towards a more sophisticated taste. They want to have five or six or ten flavors in a dish. They want tapas, small portions.
Go into Hawksworth or any restaurant of notoriety and you’ll find the portions are smaller but they are much more pleasing than in years past. The presentation is a piece of art.
S&S: What is some of the most sage cooking advice you’ve received over the years?
Chef Von Albrecht: Take the ingredients and cook them properly. Cooking technique is important. If you take some of your freshest beans and you turn them to mush, the flavor will be gone. When you smell food cooking, that’s the flavor leaving it. That’s what you want to keep and enjoy.
Presentation… you have to appeal to all of the senses when you are making food. If you go to McDonalds it’s only to satisfy an urge, but when you truly eat, it should be an experience. There are many things I have learned from my mentors, but a lot of it I think I was born with too. Maybe I was a chef in a past life.
S&S: I think you may have been, knowing at age four with such conviction that you wanted to be a chef.
Chef Von Albrecht: I knew I wanted to be in business, and that I wanted to be a chef. Now, being a chef in today’s market, unless you are a superstar, is not a real well paying job.
Chefs have become superstars.
S&S: Has the heightened interest in “celebrity chefs” been positive for the food industry, or has it detracted from it?
Chef Von Albrecht: I think it’s been good, but the celebrity status has been taxing on the chef. Typically as a chef you operate your property… but now you also have to do all of this extra stuff on your own. The property has to be very forgiving to let you go and pursue those things. The properties have done so because it’s brought them notoriety. You have a lot of great chefs that also represent well-known establishments, resorts, and hotels. That’s because of the food, but also because of their TV shows, appearances, and billboards.
Chefs have become superstars. People are watching these TV shows, and they crave it. They seek out new ideas and then they mimic them. I think that it’s a natural progression. Thank goodness that the general populace have taken the flag and carried it on…
S&S: Now, to the practical… We’ve moved quite a bit the last few years, and as a result have been regularly re-working our kitchen to make it a more functional space. What are your top 3 must-haves in the kitchen?
Chef Von Albrecht: Good knives, an area to prepare, and good organization.
You see the kitchen I have, it is a downtown condo kitchen in a 30-year old building. But, I can prepare an eight-course sit down dinner for twelve people in that kitchen. Most people couldn’t do that. The key to the success of any kitchen is organization. …and knives, spend the money. They’ll last you your entire life.
S&S: How about cookware? Cast iron vs. Stainless Steel vs. Non-Stick?
Chef Von Albrecht: No non-stick. It releases too many chemicals into the food. Stainless steel is my favorite. It spreads the heat well, won’t burn, and cleans in 3-4 minutes. Cast iron is good, but maintains the flavors and aromas of what you were cooking. It can also burn. It has its place… maybe over an open camp fire… though it feels like something of yesteryear.
S&S: Yesteryear is nostalgic for many people. But, in today’s age, what would you tell a young 19-year old whippersnapper named Marcus who is trying to enter the food industry in 2016?
Chef Von Albrecht: I would tell them to ensure they follow their passion in life. Make sure that if they are going into food to realize that the road is long. To evaluate why they are going into it. If they are going into it for fame and money there is only one in ten thousand who achieve that. But if they are going into it for passion, then the comforts of life will come. They will find great satisfaction, and the long hours won’t be something that holds them down.
Follow your passion. Cook like there is no tomorrow, and enjoy yourself.
Don’t forget, the temperature of a kitchen is at least 100 degrees when you’re in front of the flames. You’re going for 8 hours. Usually a busy restaurant will do 200-400 covers in 6 hours. You have to keep focused. Is that something you want to do? Or do you have an illusioned idea that you are going to be a TV star and an instant chef? You aren’t a chef until you put in the years, no matter how good you are, because a chef is not just a person that can cook. They understand all the ingredients that are required to run an establishment. So, to sum that up: Follow your passion. Cook like there is no tomorrow, and enjoy yourself.
S&S: We’ll end here… you mentioned your dad inspired you to write five, ten, and fifteen year plans. What does Chef Von Albrecht and Mava Foods have in store for 2026?
Chef Von Albrecht: It’s interesting. I’ve always put together a ten year plan. Recently, I’ve cut it back to 5 years. I write down everything I want to have materialistically, everything that I want to accomplish emotionally, and everything I want to know spiritually. Of course, spiritually can mean a lot of different things.
So you asked what’s in line for Mava Foods. Me personally, I want to go to outer space. I want to have something to do with the food that is served on the space hotel. Mava Foods, it grows every year. It’s growing because it has good common sense. That means we make quality food, we listen to our clients, and we fulfill their needs. We’re small enough to make changes.
Ten years from now? Hopefully I’ll be in a winery in Argentina creating a guest ranch B&B where you can come down and visit me.
S&S: Perfect! That’s our plan too, and we look forward to seeing you there. Thank you very much, Chef Von Albrecht!
To contact Chef Marcus Von Albrecht or to find X-Four products at a location near you, visit: https://vonalbrecht.com/contact/