From bangers and mash to Yoda soda and bento boxes, chef Mark Davie thrives on the continuous transformations and family atmosphere of the University Club.
More than three decades ago, Davie walked into a downtown restaurant where he knew a guy who told him of a sous chef position at the then Faculty Club, and headed over to the University of Victoria.
“I came up here and I was working that afternoon,” says Davie, now the executive chef. “I’ve been here ever since.”
After less than a year in the position he took over the kitchen at what’s now the University Club and open to members and alumni, as well as faculty. Back then there were few offerings of food on campus; now multiple food outlets dot the UVic landscape.
“There’s a lot more vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free… that’s what’s changed,” he says. “When I first came here it was all bangers and mash because the professors were all English.”
It was a step up from his first job in Victoria teaching people to sail; essentially “sailing and cooking through the San Juan Islands” only because the job existed more than three months a year. The University Club isn’t reliant on the tourism industry.
“We’re busy all the time. Most of the staff have been here 10 or 20 years. It’s almost like a family. A lot of people you know what they’ll order before they sit down,” he says. “It’s not as exclusive as it used to be, but you still need to be a member. We have 11,000 members, but they don’t all show up at the same time.”
Mitchell’s Moat, filled from the adjoining trickling Bowker Creek, backs the club where deck chairs and a patio await guests during spring and summer. It’s named for Faculty Club creator and UVic chemistry professor Dr. Reg Mitchell. Well-known as mad scientist Dr. Zonk, “he used to bring the kids in to get them interested in science,” Davie says. It was renamed in his honour in 2012, four years after the professor emeritus retired.
The pond and wooded setting hosts 16 to 20 weddings – fewer now as Davie sees a rise in destination nuptials – each May to October season. Big events such as United Way kickoffs and the approaching Colour Your Palate fundraiser keep things interesting alongside the smaller parties all year long, such as the recent Star Wars event for children. For that Davie got to create a green slime-like Yoda soda.
Between that and the bento boxes on the menu, they’ve come a long way food-wise. “You get to play,” Davie says.
Alongside special events are the clubs: wine club, beer club, whiskey club, (and the anticipated cocktail club) keep the food ever-evolving.
“That’s another thing that’s interesting. You’re trying a wine, and marrying it with a food so it’s always different,” he says. “That’s the thing about B.C. We like fusion, that’s why the food is so good. We’re the luckiest in the world here … Victoria has the best cuisine in the world, so does Vancouver.”
Davie and the club play host to Colour Your Palate for the fourth time this spring. It also marks the fourth time Davie will vie for a win in the competition that raises funds for the ArtsReach programs that bring art into classrooms. The event launches today (Wednesday) with chefs drawing for their “colour” which they’ll use to create their dish.
“We enjoy it. I get my apprentices involved because it’s fun for them,” Davie says. He enjoys engaging those young minds and creating both colourful food and the table dressing to sell the product. With their colour drawn one month before the event, chefs select their ingredients, experiment and perfect their canapé before the competition. Judges select the Best Tasting Creation and Most Colourful Creation while guests vote on People’s Choice.
Colour Your Palate is May 11 at the University Club. Visit artsreach.ca for tickets ($65).