Stellar reviews and a unique “chef’s counter” have attracted diners to Grace Bay’s popular Próvence restaurant since its November 2017 opening.
But as it reopened for a third season in Grace Bay’s Le Vele Plaza last fall, Próvence unveiled a new distinction: The family-owned favorite became a truly inter-generational family saga with the appointment of its new Chef de Cuisine – Yoann Vernice, son of owners Eric and Gillian Vernice.
Yoann’s first childhood kitchen memories involve creating pastry décor, and he grew up working in the family’s British Columbia restaurant. At 14, he told Gillian he wanted to train in France as a pastry chef. She counseled him about the sacrifices involved, then made him a deal. “I told him to think about it for one year. And after one year he said he wanted to go.”
Chef Yoann was 15 when he left his family’s restaurant to begin work as a culinary school apprentice – in the same Lyon culinary program that launched Chef Eric’s career.
Yoann spent two years learning the foundations of classic French pastry and a third year learning the business side. In Year Four he cooked in both the Alps and Southern France. By the time he rejoined the family, Chef Eric was cooking for a Provo restaurant, and Yoann went to work under his father’s tutelage.
Yoann spent the next two years cooking and helping the family open a bakery before returning to France at 21. He worked the savory side of French cuisine for three years and emerged with lofty ambitions. Convinced he could only progress by working alongside the best (“I have always known my dad to be an incredible chef”), Yoann turned to Chef Eric – who offered him Próvence’s top job.
Their partnership unlocked what Eric described as “something very special.” Yes, he coaches his son, Eric said, but he allows Yoann freedom. In return, Yoann’s trusted kitchen management frees Chef Eric to develop new ideas based on “traditional roots with a lot of rethinking.”
For example: Próvence’s customers enjoy French cuisine, but are also interested in lighter fare. To save on calories while “going big on flavor,” Eric now devotes himself to sourcing produce via smaller organic growers.
“We are not magicians,” he said. “If we do not select a good product, there is no way we can make a great dish. If you eat a carrot, it should taste like a carrot.”
The result is a renewed emphasis on the foundations of traditional Provence cooking. “For us, it is not a problem to serve customers who want lighter or gluten-free dishes, because our cuisine is based on those principles,” Eric said.
“When we curate the menu, we begin with what we really like to eat. I think when you have a story and you have memories attached, it creates something special for the guest. Especially with the proximity when they are sitting right here.”
That’s a reference to the Chef’s Counter, which puts the kitchen at the center of the dining experience.
“When I started cooking, the chefs were always hidden,” Eric said. “You were in the kitchen somewhere in the back, and now it’s totally the opposite. They see what you are doing and they want to talk to you. You understand a lot more of what people want when you have that closeness.“
In addition to Chef Eric’s adventurous new five-course tasting menu, Próvence now offers weekly specials and a private, on-site chef service. But whether you’re dining out or eating in, you’ll be partaking in a remarkable and proud family tradition, spanning continents and generations.
Images: LeMens Welch/Caya Hico Media