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From VCC classes to world-class culinary success

Chef David Wong’s success is what young chefs embarking upon their training at Vancouver Community College aspire to.

His journey to become a world-class chef demonstrates that passion nurtured at a young age—combined with family roots and expanding your horizons—is often your compass in finding your true calling.

David Wong, one of 12,200 VCC chefs who built this city.

While he helped prepare traditional Chinese dishes growing up, David attributes travelling and his exposure to the food of Europe as the reason he chose to pursue training in culinary arts and hospitality. That training, including graduating from the Food and Beverage Management program in 1997, set David off on a track that included working with Fairmont Hotels & Resorts in B.C. and Alberta, taking on the role of the first Executive Chef of the Fairmont Pacific Rim in 2010. He also found time to run his own restaurant, Jar—a breakfast and lunch eatery in his hometown of Nanaimo.

Along the way he also amassed an impressive collection of medals and awards—both in Canada and internationally, allowing him to add world class to his status as a chef. Highlights include his gold medal win as part of Culinary Team Canada in Basel, Switzerland and a top-ten finish representing Canada in 2009 at the Bocuse d’Or—considered the most prestigious culinary competition in the world—held in Lyon, France.

Currently, David is the Product Development Chef with Earls Kitchen + Bar. He’s also part of Earls Chef Collective alongside VCC culinary arts program alumni Hamid Salimian, Ryan Stone and Brian Skinner. The collective taps into the cooking styles and ethnic backgrounds of the team who collaborate on new ideas, ingredients and cooking techniques to create dishes for the menus of Earls 65 restaurants in Canada and the U.S. David draws inspiration from his cultural roots and his grandmother in the creation of pan-Asian dishes such as his take on bibimbap, or Korean rice bowl, a favourite of Earls’ diners.

David’s connection to VCC is the “full meal deal”: not only is he an alumnus, he’s also been an instructor with the culinary arts program and has hired more than 70 program graduates to work alongside him over the course of his career. In 2010, he was the recipient of VCC’s Outstanding Alumni Award in recognition of his career accomplishments and contribution to the college.

And, he’s one of the featured chefs participating in VCC’s 50 Years. 50 Chefs. Gala on November 17, alongside his fellow instructors and former students.

Success in a beat

It would seem that drummer Daniel Ruiz had the beat from an early age. Growing up in Bogotá, Colombia, he would bang on pots and pans in his grandparents’ home along to salsa rhythms and indigenous cumbia music.

He moved from the kitchen to playing in bands before moving to Vancouver in 2005 at 18 to finish high school and onto Vancouver Community College.

During his time at VCC, Daniel impressed his instructors with his passion for learning, hard work and focus on his craft to make it right, which led to a number of awards. He completed his Music Diploma in 2009 and later his Bachelor in Applied Music in 2012, majoring in drums and percussion and minoring in vibraphone.

Daniel Ruiz, one of 1,300 VCC musicians who built this city.

After graduating, playing, creating and teaching music would soon fill Daniel’s days and nights. In addition to subbing for jazz quartets and R&B/funk bands such as Synthcake, Aunts and Uncles, Sorry Buttons, We Just Stole a CarWhite Blood Cells—often collaborating with his former VCC instructors and classmates—he joined Vancouver tropical indie-pop band BESTiE, formed in 2012.

Daniel’s easy going attitude, perpetual smile and upbeat persona fit in well with BESTiE whose influences include “summer, ice cream, the beach, girls, floating down a river in an inner tube, high fives and heart break.” His seemingly perpetual smile is no doubt a reflection of the fun he’s having—he’s been known to wear a furry purple dinosaur costume while performing—and the joy he gets from sharing his talents with others, whether on stage or teaching percussion.

Always improvising and innovating, he still “plays” pots and pans—along with a range of instruments—and water bottles, as part of his solo “adventure” project called DRuiz, showcasing his creativity and versatility as a musician.

Daniel attributes his time at VCC with giving him the tools to be able to communicate musically with different players with different backgrounds, and the ability to use his “feel” and improvisational skills without holding back.

In 2014 Daniel was a recipient of a VCC Outstanding Alumni Award in the ‘One to Watch’ category. In a video produced for his award Daniel comments, “With music there’s no limit to what’s there to achieve. There’s always going to be a next step.” While he’s working in an industry that is tough to find success and recognition in, no doubt Daniel’s fans can look forward to watching him for many years to come and being entertained by his next musical steps.