Q & A with The Black Hat’s Sam Chalmers

left: the sign for the Black Hat on the corner of Langley and Broughton, right: Sam Chalmers in the new kitchen at the Black Hat, credit: R. Baugniet


“Ceci n’est pas us chapeau noir” (This is not a black hat) reads the painting on the wall at Sam Chalmer’s new downtown restaurant – a nod to the chef’s favourite artist, Magritte. Does surrealism influence his cooking? Not really, Sam tells me. He’s a big influence, but more for the aesthetic of the restaurant than for the food. The chef and owner of Bistro 28 and the newly opened Black Hat recently sat down with EAT to discuss art, beef and more. Here are some of the highlights:

EAT: What made you want to open the Black Hat?


SC:  Bistro 28 has been very successful and we felt ready to launch a bigger venture and reach a larger market. There are only a few places that I like to eat out at in Downtown Victoria – I wanted to create the kind of place that I would want to go to.


EAT: And the name comes from the fact that you often wear a Black Hat?


SC: Yes – sometimes regulars at Bistro 28 wouldn’t recognize me if I didn’t have my hat on. We had a different name at first – this was a 4 am revelation.


EAT: How’s it going so far?


SC: Great! We’ve been open just over a month, and we’ve already got some regulars.


EAT: Tell me about the menu.


SC: It’s a similar menu to Bistro 28, but with the new location, we give it a ‘downtown’ feel. There are international influences, a raw menu and our wild card: the Wagyu.


EAT: Can you explain what Wagyu is to our readers – when were you first introduced to it?


SC: It’s something I’d read about, but had never tried until I ordered it for Bistro 28. It’s probably the second best beef in the world. This beef is rated 9+ – it’s from Australia, and just has the most amazing marbling. (Sam runs to the freezer to get a cut to show me. It’s true – you’ve never seen marbling like this before.) People who haven’t tried it may have a hard time seeing $130 on the menu for a striploin, so we’ve also got the Wagyu Tasting Menu, which lets you try it three different ways: in a tartare, in meatballs, and the sirloin. At $250 for four people, it’s much more accessible. We’re the only ones serving it in Victoria. We’re here to educate, as much as to feed!


EAT: Do you come up against any criticism for bringing in beef from Australia?


SC: Yeah – we get a bit of that, but I’ve always said I will get as much from the island as I can, as long as it’s the best quality. I’m not going to sacrifice quality just to stay local. I’ve also got Pemberton beef on the menu (in the raw menu as tataki). But there’s nothing that compares to Wagyu being produced in Canada.


EAT: And who’ve you got in the kitchen?


SC: While we’re getting going, I’m here about 98% of the time, but eventually I’ll try to split it evenly between Bistro 28 and the Black Hat. Brian Bekkema came from Bistro 28, but for the rest of the staff we just lucked out. We’ve been hugely lucky.


EAT: This is a great space.


SC: Yes. We looked at a few places, but this was perfect because it was a blank slate – no demons!


EAT: There’s a nice juxtaposition of old and new.


SC: We’ve got the original brick walls and posts. These tables are made from reclaimed Douglas Fir from the ceiling joists that were taken down during the seismic upgrade. Our landlord, Richard Holmes, also let us use three chandeliers that were designed by Rattenbury for the Empress, but just sat in the basement there for years. But we’ve also got a geothermal heating system, with three heat pumps right over the kitchen.


EAT: Anything else you’d like our readers to know about ?


SC:  I think that we’re here to offer Victorians a quality product at a fair price. We’re not jacking prices for the tourists. We’ve also got a great wine list, with 16 reds and 11 whites by the glass… Come and give us a try!


EAT: Thanks for chatting with us, Sam!


The Black Hat


Wednesday-Sunday 5:00pm -Midnight


1005 Langley Street

Victoria, BC V8W 1V7



(250) 381-2428


Written By:

Rebecca Baugniet is a freelance food writer and editor living on Canada’s West Coast with her husband and their four children. The author of three published cookbooks, Rebecca has also written for EAT Magazine and for Montréal ...

Comments are closed.