Robert Mackay
PROVIDED BY ROBERT MACKAY

When I meet Robert Mackay in the lobby of the River Rock Casino Resort (8811 River Road), he shakes my hand firmly. He immediately strikes me as someone with integrity and sincerity. Since 2007, Mackay has been sous chef at the River Rock, dedicated to running the Casino’s elegant fine dining restaurant, Tramonto, on the third floor.

Tramonto exterior

PHOTO CREDIT: LINDSAY ANDERSON

If Mackay’s name sounds familiar, it might be because of a Good Samaritan act, gone awry, during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riot. Mackay tried to hold the unruly crowd back and was subsequently assaulted by several people. “I got caught up in the moment and I wanted to protect the city that I was living in,” explains Mackay modestly. He adds that, ultimately, the positive support that he received after the event was affirming.

Mackay is the kind of chef who is incredibly dedicated to his craft, his workplace, and to the larger community to which he belongs. Hailing originally from Ontario, Mackay completed a two-year culinary management diploma at Algonquin College in Ottawa in 1998. “I had always liked food and Mom was a very good cook and baker, and I thought it was a good trade that would allow me to travel across the country,” says Mackay.

Since then, he’s honed his craft at a variety of establishments, including the Sherwood Inn in Muskoka, Senses Restaurant in Toronto under chef Ned Bell (now at YEW seafood + bar), the former Torch Bistro in Toronto, and the former Après in Whistler.

You may even have dined at Mackay’s own restaurant, Smoke House Eatery, which he ran in Whistler from 2003 to 2005. “It was a cross between a Quebec deli, with smoked meat sandwiches and poutine, and Southern BBQ,” says Mackay. Sadly, the business faltered, not due to Mackay’s awesome pulled pork, but because of a lack of snow on the mountains during those years.

Despite the Smoke House closing, Mackay learned a lot from the experience, especially regarding how to operate a business. He took these skills with him, along with his vast culinary knowledge, when he accepted his current position at Tramonto.

Tramonto - interior

SOURCED FROM RIVER ROCK WEBSITE

Mackay’s philosophy for Tramonto is simple, yet inspirational: “I try to bring in top quality products, locally sourced for the most part. I also try to really meet the customers’ demands and wants.” This ethos means that Mackay is committed to using Ocean Wise sustainable seafood, and to working with local suppliers, like Mikuni Wild Harvest and Richmond’s Albion Fisheries. It also means the menu ranges from seared scallops with smoked pork belly confit with Brussels sprouts, hazelnut vinaigrette, and Parmesan foam, to a more classic Caesar salad for less adventurous palates.

THE SHARING FARM, PHOTO CREDIT: LINDSAY ANDERSON

Mackay gets visibly enthusiastic about a recent partnership with The Sharing Farm, a non-profit society in Richmond dedicated to charitable food distribution. “We’re going through the seed catalogue right now and we’re picking seeds and products that they’re going to grow for us, which is a great partnership. It’s developing the community, while it meets our needs at the same time.”

Tramonto - Sablefish

SOURCED FROM RIVER ROCK CASINO RESORT

One dish at Tramonto that showcases local ingredients is the Soy Glazed Sablefish (see recipe below): “The sablefish is an East meets West, fusion dish. The sablefish is a nice local product that we marinade in soy and citrus overnight. Then, it’s seared so it caramelizes and is a little bit sweet. It has a nice balance of Asian flavours, with the soy, the sesame oil, and the ginger, and it’s on sweet parsnip puree, which is local. The dish also has golden beets, which we pickle in rice wine vinegar.”

Tramonto - Chateaubriand

SOURCED FROM RIVER ROCK WEBSITE

Mackay also ensures that Tramonto keeps its fine dining accessible and relaxing for the guests. For example, diners can share a three-course Chateaubriand dinner ($69 per person, minimum 2 people), which includes a choice of starter (French onion soup or bacon and egg salad); a 16oz beef tenderloin with potato gratin, red wine roasted mushrooms, and Béarnaise sauce; and a choice of dessert (sticky toffee pudding or royal chocolate cake). “It’s great. It’s interactive cuisine. The pretentiousness is removed from dining formally now,” says Mackay.

When Mackay isn’t overseeing the kitchen at Tramonto, he can be found walking his dog at McDonald Beach Park in Richmond, just behind the Vancouver International Airport. After work, he sometimes goes for a bite and a drink at Richmond’s Flying Beaver Bar & Grill (4760 Inglis Drive) or Milltown Bar & Grill (9191 Bentley Street). Mackay is also a huge fan of Steveston, dining at Blue Canoe (3866 Bayview Street) and Tapenade Bistro (3711 Bayview Street), or going for fish ‘n’ chips at Pajo’s (12351 3rd Avenue) on the Steveston wharf.

Mackay is especially happy to be working in such a dynamic city, with such diverse food offerings: “There are lots of things that Richmond offers that the surrounding communities don’t.” He also loves his various job responsibilities, from managing staff, to chatting with regular guests, to meeting the hardworking Richmond farmers who supply him with their harvest. “Every day is different and multi-dimensional. It’s continuous learning,” says Mackay. One of his future projects is starting a herb garden at the River Rock, so stay tuned.

Citrus Soy Glazed Sablefish Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 600g sablefish filet (4 x 150g portions)

Marinade (yields 500mL):

  • 100mL soy sauce
  • 30mL lemon juice
  • 10g chopped garlic
  • 50g chopped ginger
  • 100g honey
  • 100mL rice wine vinegar
  • 10mL sesame oil
  • 50mL canola oil
  • 2g chili flakes (optional)

Directions:

Whisk together all ingredients. Divide marinade into two portions. Pour one half in a pyrex dish, and save the other half of the marinade to use as a sauce. Place sablefish in the pyrex dish and leave it to marinade overnight.

The next day, sear the sablefish in a non-stick pan over medium heat, being careful not to burn the fish. Then, place the fish on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and cook in a 375F preheated oven for 7 minutes.

While the fish is cooking, heat up the other half of the marinade and reduce it by half. When the fish is done cooking, spoon 2 tablespoons of the sauce over the fish and serve immediately.

Serve the fish with rice, Asian green vegetables, pickled beets, or any of your favourite vegetables. You can also serve it with other seafood, such as mussels, clams, scallops, and/or prawns.