Exile Bistro is plant forward, ethical and wild, indigenous and beyond.
An expatriated Quebecoise, Vanessa Bourget has over 14 years of experience in the hospitality world.
She is a holistic nutritionist, a chartered herbalist, a mixologist, and an entrepreneur.
Vanessa has brought her passion for real food and healing with herbs into her cocktail menus for many years as Head Bartender and Creative Beverage Director at Nuba, Heirloom Vegetarian, and The Waldorf Hotel.
She is excited to have her knowledge cross-over into the kitchen as she guides the menu at her new restaurant, Exile Bistro, where organic, local, and wild indigenous ingredients shine.
The other day, I had the opportunity to interview Vanessa and ask her all about nutrition, Exile Bistro and what we can do to improve the world through food.
Read on for the full interview and make sure to check out her Exile Bistro next time you’re downtown Vancouver!!
Q1. Vanessa.. can you tell us a bit about yourself and what got you so into food and nutrition?
I can remember way back when I was a tween how food would affect my mood and I would become super depressed partly due to my unhealthy relationship with food. It’s not that I grew up with really bad food around me, my parents were pretty good at having the ‘better’ alternative around such as whole wheat bread and raw ingredients to cook instead of processed food, mostly. It was a combination of a struggle with self image, society, and my social environment. I started trying out all sorts of diets and eating plans, including ‘non-eating’ plans, fasts, and cleanses, eek! which were definitely not all beneficial for a teenager. At 15 years old, I moved to Vancouver and the city just made it so much easier to be active and seek wellness. I studied health, wellness, raw foods, which led me to a diploma in holistic nutrition and a herbalist certification. For me, there is just no denying that when I make poor food choices, I get mentally and physically depressed, so the more I know about nature and whole foods, the better I feel. : )
Q2. Awesome!! I’ve been hearing more and more about wild foods lately and am super interested. What about wild food gets you so excited and how can we add more into our diet?
Wild food is the ultimate culmination in human nutrition. You just can’t get the type of nutrients found in wild food in human grown foods. The diversity and concentration of compounds in wild food is just unlike anything you find at the grocery store. There are just a few wild plants that have been studied by modern science and actually broken down, but these indicate a clear trend hard to ignore. There is nothing like the effect of eating a plant straight from its natural habitat when done with respect and openness. There is also the culinary aspect of a whole new range of textures and flavours which is very exciting for creative chefs and people at home. I find that getting to know, identify, pick, prepare, and eat a food empowers and creates really important connections between natural resources, nourishment, survival, and conservation.
Q3. Your Exile Bistro serves local, all organic, hard to find foods and cocktails. Can you share some examples and why more people should eat this way?
I think I would rephrase ‘hard to find’ to ‘hardly known’. At Exile, we like to showcase biodiversity and ingredients that often get missed out or were forgotten. These foods are all available, its only a matter of education and we love this aspect of sharing amazing healthy ingredients with people. Some examples would be raw blue-green algae from an oregon lake, chaga mushroom from our BC forests, maple blossoms, ancient grains in their whole form such as kamut or rye kernels, spring weeds like sorel, miner’s lettuce, lady fern etc. There is just so much that is edible and wonderful and really near by! More people should know about this so we can bring the food system closer to home and less reliant on big industrial practice.
Q4. There are too many health-related problems in society to cover, but what are the top 2-3 that worry you and what can people do to avoid them?
Hmmm. I would say the most important way to keep health problems away (not just 2-3, but many) is to keep all elimination pathways clean and open. This means mainly the colon, the liver, the kidneys, and the skin. Everything we drink or eat gets processed by the organs of elimination. It’s so easy to shove a donut in our mouth and not think more of it, but it’s not that easy for your body to metabolize it. We are basically bathing our organs with coffee, alcohol, sugar, poor quality fats, and food additives on a daily basis. Choosing to be kind to internal organs will make an enormous impact on our health. You need fiber, lots of fiber, and water, lots of clean, pure water to keep things moist, lubricated and flowing.. If you are not wanting to eat lots of fruits and vegetables daily, then you’ll need to supplement with psyllium, flax, chia or something similar EVERYDAY. Its a daily commitment that will become a daily reward. Eat lots of plant foods in their whole state and your body will thank you.
Q5. Love that and based on personal experience have to fully agree. A big part of eating healthy for me is the positive affect on my brain and mental health. Can you share some insights into how and why healthy food impacts our brain function and mental health?
Nutrition and mental health impact is HUGE. The simplest way I can explain this is that the brain needs specific nutrients to operate and when denied these it cannot function properly. You end up with neural or brain fatigue, which then can turn into cycles of physical and mental depression.
Q6. Some readers of this blog might be just starting out living or cooking on their own and will be looking for some quick and simple meal ideas that are healthy, simple and affordable. Can you share 1 or 2 of your favourites?
Save all your vegetable ends and make stock [Brent Edit: here’s how: Making Stock]. Use skins, stalks, tops, etc Its a great way to use your produce at its maximum. You can make soup or cook grains or beans with the finished stock. Try a red rice or rye kernel from the bulk section of your local grocer, and switch it up. Soaking grains and legumes definitely help with digestion and provide you access to more nutrients in that food, which is better bang for your buck. Steamed or roasted whatever local seasonal vegetable you find and add to your grain and or legume. I like eating simple and when you have good quality organic ingredients there is no need to dress it up too much. If you are looking for a great and inexpensive way to get lots of organic vegetables you might consider a local farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, where you get weekly produce delivery very affordably.
[Brent Edit: I know it’s not the healthiest spice, but try this vegetable spice on steamed veggies. It’s what I’ve used to get used to eating steamed yam, broccoli, cauliflower, etc..]
Q7. I’m all about focusing on turning our challenges into opportunities, and even did a TEDx talk on just that. Can you share the biggest challenge/opportunity you see right now in the world of nutrition and/or wellness?
Access and sustainability of wild food harvest. It can be difficult to find the right place to forage as there are laws that protect many areas and prevent people from picking, which is understandable. So with wild food and foraging getting more and more popular, there are chances of over-picking and habitat destruction. So with the education of harvesting in wild or urban areas must come discussions with local and federal governments, community and people, about a mutually beneficial plan to harvest and protect. But prospects of legal regulations on naturally existing wild food ecosystems is kinda scary and daunting. So I hope it stays grass-roots and respectful for as long as it can.
Q8. You’ll be speaking at our next Vancouver Wellness Meetup next week, sharing ideas and tips on nutrition, wild foods and more. Why should people join and what specifically will you be sharing?
I will be sharing some simple ways to incorporate wild edibles into daily diets. I will be bringing some freshly foraged items to share with people and provide resources on how to find, identify, collect and prepare these. I will focus on specific body systems and food affinities to help people chose the right foods for their body and mental state.
Q9. Can’t wait!! So far, it’s our most popular Meetup yet!! Vanessa, where can people find out more about you, wild foods, Exile, etc. online?
I used to have a great wellness blog before exile but I no longer have time, the restaurant is a full time gig and more! I am hoping to do more health presentations, if this one goes well ha! and there is a chance of a ‘wild heart’ cooking show coming to fruition in the near future…. But that’s top secret! : )
[Brent Edit: Check out Exile Bistro’s site here]
Q10. Thanks so much for sharing your time and wisdom Vanessa. Any parting words, especially for those young people that might be trying hard to thrive, and just starting to build momentum?
Gather information, experiment with an open mind, observe how things make you feel, and make your own conclusions. And stay wild at heart. ; )
Brent: If you like this content, make sure to “Like” this post below and join the convo on Facebook and stay in touch!!
Keep Well and Keep Rockin!!