With a long resume of professional chef positions ranging from large restaurants in Chicago, Portland and more recently Ridgefield’s Ilanai, you may be surprised to find Chef Juan Miguel Sosa here in Vancouver on Main Street. But to open his own small restaurant where he can share his love for local food with an over-the-top artistic presentation, is part of his life dream. He thrives on creativity and has found his niche in the ever growing farm to table food scene in Vancouver.
Chef Miguel Sosa’s Journey to Vancouver
I found Sosa busy in the small kitchen in the back of the restaurant once housing Willem’s on Main. He had recently purchased the business from Chef Paul Klitsie and was filled with enthusiasm. Latin jazz was playing as restaurant staff were preparing for the evening’s dining crowd.
Sosa shared his journey with me. He was born in Aguascalientes, Mexico, a beautiful town in central Mexico known for the Spanish colonial buildings in its historic center. “Aguascalientes has a perfect climate and the most beautiful sunsets,” reminisces Sosa, who is now a U.S. citizen.
When he met his wife, they talked about where they would live. “She was from Vancouver,” he shares. “Her family has roots here. But in 2012 when we decided to move to Washington, I thought we’d end up in Seattle. But here we are in Vancouver!” This year he and his wife and two children, ages 10 and 3, will be traveling to visit family in Aguascalientes. It will be the first time for the children.
Real, Beautiful Food
Elements is the name of the new restaurant. Sosa believes in simple, natural food. Elements are the simplest form of something. And, since he makes everything from scratch, Sosa can tell you what his dishes are made of down to the most basic element. “Real food has a heart behind it,” Sosa shares. “Real food is simple.”
And then Sosa brought out the “simple” salad he had been preparing. I wasn’t expecting the presentation of his carrot and beet salad. The plate looked like a colorful vegetable fiesta. With small sprouted roasted carrots, yellow and red beets, citrus slices and micro-greens set carefully in a gorgeous pink mousse, the dish was art. The colorful mousse that served as a base was made from goat cheese flavored with honey and beet juice. I was soon to learn that Sosa values the presentation of his dishes and sees the beauty as a way to show respect to the food, the farmers and the land.
As we talked, Sosa shared that he plans to have something for everyone on his menu. He brought out a marvelous vegetarian dish, a roasted carrot (marinated for 10 hours to give it a suburb depth of flavor), followed by a vegan cauliflower steak enhanced by charred tomatillos and garnished with miner’s lettuce from a local forager. Not to worry. He also presented something for the “meat and potatoes crowd,” a thick pork loin, carefully brined in apple cider, seasoned and served over pureed parsnips.
And if a diner has a special need or request, he’d love to accommodate that too. He enjoys working with people and creating. And there is always an element of fun in what he does. “You gotta be playful,” he says.
Elements of Mexican Cuisine
For those of us who crave good regional Mexican food, you’ll notice that too in Sosa’s cooking, sometimes in a subtle way. While his cuisine is decidedly modern American with a global influence, as he puts it, you’ll enjoy the fact that he has roots in central Mexico.
One of the vegetable dishes was presented with a swoosh of deep red, delicious mole on the side, perfect for dipping. He is considering adding carnitas to the menu. “We’ll have tortillas made from scratch,” he adds.
The Dreams Continue
While Sosa shares his expertise and excitement as he prepares his first full menu for Elements, he also has an eye on the future. He wants to keep his prices mid-range for high end dining. The pork entrée is to be priced at $24.
In his quest to provide something for everyone he talked about a Happy Hour menu of tapas and wine. While this will be down the road a bit, it sure sounded enticing.
Menus will change with the season and with food availability from local farms and purveyors. And, menu items will continue to have an element of surprise.
It’s obvious he’ll be spending a considerable amount of time at the restaurant. He’s a hands-on chef. But what does he do in his off time? He loves spending time with his children and barbeques for his family any chance he gets.
907 Main Street, Vancouver
360-258-0989, for reservations