For some, unearthing one’s true raison d’etre can take a lifetime of soul searching. But for Chef Andrew Fung, the creative force behind Nineteen XIX in Edmonton, Canada, it was clear from an early age that a passion for cooking ran through his blood.
As a boy in Hong Kong, where “food was always like the biggest part of the family,” Andrew spent his childhood studying his mother as she prepared the family’s daily meals, using local ingredients to create simple, delicious plates. Although they lived modestly, she made sure to ingrain a sense of pride in their food, preparing each dish with thoughtfulness and care, and to this day, Andrew credits her as the single biggest influence on his career.
“My mom went to the market every morning to pick up the freshest ingredients: whole live chickens, fish, and vegetables… People talk about ‘farm to table,’ but that’s not new to us,” Andrew says. “That’s how food is supposed to be.”
Andrew’s interest in cooking continued to flourish after the family moved to Edmonton when he was a teenager. After graduating from culinary school in Vancouver, he moved to Europe to hone his culinary skill set and broaden his palate. During two years spent working under the most prestigious chefs on the continent — learning the elements of craftsmanship, participating in major culinary competitions, and immersing himself in the European lifestyle — Andrew formed the expansive views on food and culture that resonate in his culinary approach today.
When a family emergency called him back home to Edmonton fresh off of this life-altering education, Andrew saw an opportunity to share his worldly exposure with the people in his community — sometimes, by including the people of the community in the process itself. Being home reawakened memories of market trips with his mother, inspiring Andrew to form relationships with nearby farmers and merchants to source the best, local products for his new restaurant. “We believe that the food that comes from close to you always tastes better,” he says.
As the shipments of fresh seafood from Vancouver and vegetables from local purveyors poured in, Andrew worked to infuse his global sensibilities into the Edmonton food scene, which, at the time, was more traditional in scope. By introducing exotic flavors — his current inspirations stem from South American to Middle Eastern cuisine — into the local culinary scene, Andrew came to be recognized as a gastronomical trailblazer in the province of Alberta, one for whom technique comes second only to life experience and a sense of openness to the world.
“It’s not about the technique; technique can be learned from anywhere in the world,” Andrew says. “It’s about how you enjoy life. Whether you’re poor or rich, you still need to eat good food, and that’s my philosophy.”
To drive this philosophy home, Andrew to uses his dishes as a way to inform and inspire his clients, transporting them to faraway cultures with each bite.
“It’s about partnership, and how I can educate everyday customers to try new things,” he says. “They deserve to be learning something from the world outside of Edmonton.”
To further this education among his clients and encourage collaboration among the staff, Andrew designed an open kitchen to share the “behind the scenes” of cuisine. “I wanted to build a place where people can feel the love of cooking,” he says. “This is our approach: continually show them what other parts of the world are doing right now.”
His own love of learning what those “other parts of the world” are creating carries over into Andrew’s personal life, as well. In his rare free time, he prioritizes travel, seizing inspiration from these trips abroad to bring back home to his customers, and even more importantly, to his staff, whom he also encourages to seek their own experiences firsthand.
“[When you travel], you’re surrounded by good people, and how much they love food and wine — it shows,” he says. “I want to bring out this same love in the young cooks.”
By inspiring young chefs to go out into the world and discover the abundance of cultures out there, Andrew believes they will ultimately bring new viewpoints back to the Edmonton community, just as he has done.
As Andrew and his team at Restaurant XIX push themselves to further reaches of the world in search of new cultures and flavors, this intercontinental exchange of information remains the one constant. In this sense, the food itself serves as a form of communication, a moment shared between an artist and his audience.
We met Andrew and sampled his halibut while driving through western Canada in search of people with a continental approach to life. To learn more, visit us here.