The Underground Pops-Up in Victoria

A new alternative in bespoke dining has emerged on the local scene. Providing Victorians with a fresh slant on West Coast cooking is the ‘Do-It-Yourself’ Diyu Underground, a pop-up restaurant concept orchestrated by Cam Picyk, a well-traveled chef and instructor at The London Chef. No longer does a restaurant need an elaborate brick and mortar building or a line of investors. It simply needs a DIY attitude and love for food.

Diyu Underground is a series of pop-up dinners at various locations throughout the city, serving multi-course meals that reflect the culture and flavours of Vancouver Island.  An intimate dinner for eight was hosted at the pop-up’s debut event at The London Chef  the end of May. Guests took their places down a long, candlelit table to experience a six-course meal. The menu was both sophisticated and playful starting off with an appetizer of smoked salmon tea; followed by a raw lamb dish; and then a buckwheat congee with nettles, morels, peanut and lime.  Chef Picyk, dressed in baseball shirt and cap, rather than the traditional chef’s white, darted in and out through the swinging kitchen door, alternating between preparing the meal and entertaining his guests. Another course of duck breast with sun choke, spring onion and coffee followed, and the meal ended with two light and airy desserts; a frozen rose parfait, and a new twist on the Nanaimo bar— hand rolled and topped with smoked salt.

 Above pictures: left to right: Chef Cam Picyk, in the kitchen at the London Chef, preparing a dish of duck breast with sun choke, coffee and spring onion. Buckwheat congee with nettles, morels, peanut & lime finished with a quail’s egg. Chef Cam Picyk chats with his dinner guests at the DIYU’s debut pop up dinner. Photos by Lillie Louise Major

Like other young chefs in the business, Picyk thinks the conventional idea of “the restaurant” is changing. He says, “I think a lot of chefs are in a similar position as myself and have no option but to go underground or do a truck or go on Top Chef etc. just so they can have the freedom to do their thing.  There’s no line-up of investors in Canada looking for unproven gastro-punks.”  For Picyk,  Diyu Underground was born out of necessity, “I really wanted to create an ultra-personal experience and the best way to do that was by doing everything I could myself, whether that meant building a website, growing ingredients, making plates, foraging, or marketing.” Even though Picyk’s background is in fine dining and he has traveled the globe gaining his culinary experience, he would rather “remove the pomp and circumstance of fine dining and create a more relaxed environment and keep dinners relatively approachable”. Now back in Victoria after cooking in kitchens around the world, Vancouver Island is his chosen locale for this pop-up concept. “The thing I really like about Victoria is how resistant it’s been to the blanketing by chain restaurants that’s happening in Vancouver, the creative vibe here, and the general open-mindedness towards food.” explains Picyk. It’s that open-mindedness that Picyk hopes will draw locals to experience his unique style of cooking and service.

The next pop-up dinner is happening on June 22nd at The London Chef. You can get more details on that event, including the planned menu and information about Picyk’s farm to table dinners on his website, Facebook page, or by following him on Twitter.

 –  By Lillie Lousie Major



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