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Lunar New Year: Richmond chef celebrates community, family through food

Executive chef of Versante Hotel reminisces big family reunions as a kid.

“Chinese New Year is a great catalyst to bring people together, especially when it is more difficult these days for families to find time to spend time with each other.”

Richmond executive chef William Lew said Lunar New Year is about celebrating community and family and he is doing just that in the kitchen.

Lew, who works at Richmond’s Versante Hotel, has been in the food industry for 20 years and each year he said he discovers more about his Asian heritage through cooking, food and his kitchen team.

He and his kitchen team, who he calls his second family, developed an extravagant menu for customers at Versante’s Bruno Restaurant and Cask Whisky Lounge for the New Year.

The menu, while extravagant, represents more than something to fill stomachs for the festivities. Rather, it is a symbol of diversity in the Richmond community and his kitchen family’s teamwork.

“Community for us is about embracing each other’s ideas and each other’s heritage,” said Lew, adding that the menu platter at Bruno was developed through many discussions with executive chefs, top cooks, and all house staff.

“Everyone has different interpretations on how Chinese New Year is celebrated, and this is a time for young cooks to feel empowered, celebrate their culture, and share their ideas.”

Bruno Restaurant’s menu includes a list of traditional Lunar New Year dishes, including fish, noodles, chicken, pork and vegetables with a “Bruno twist,” explained Lew.

Similarly, Cask Whisky Lounge will offer dumplings that contain items such as abalone, which represents an abundance of wealth.

Growing up watching TV or playing games at family reunions were the last thing on Lew’s mind during Lunar New Year celebrations. Rather it was watching how food was being prepared and made.

Lew told the Richmond News that food was the “biggest motivator” for family gatherings as was watching his grandfather, a Chinese chef, cook.

“Looking back, I see food as a major part of bringing a community of people together and bonding over the preparation and cooking aspect of it,” said Lew.

“It makes me feel closer to my own family … knowing that I can do the same thing with my team and cook for others coming to the restaurant for Chinese New Year.”