If Fauna Martin is scared, as she claims, she doesn’t show it.
In fact, Martin looks downright comfortable and content sunk into the corner of a leather bench at Ça va Bistro Moderne, the newest restaurant to open its doors in Fernwood. And she may have good reason.
Martin, the chef and owner of the small bistro which opened in December, is living out her dreams — running her own joint, her way.
“This wasn’t really a huge leap for me. For so long, it’s been part of my thought process,” said Martin when asked about the jump from working in the large kitchens of the Delta Ocean Pointe Resort to her own spot tucked into the block along Gladstone Avenue. “I always knew I was going to do this at some point. It was just a matter of waiting for the right spot.”
When it did happen, it happened quickly.
Martin found the spot last fall. It had been home to Kulu, a modern Asian restaurant. She took possession Nov. 1 and opened a month later after gutting the space, painting, replacing fixtures, tables and chairs and establishing a menu.
“It always ends up being more work than expected,” Martin said.
But there’s a sense much of that labour didn’t feel like work given this restaurant, which will blend Martin’s background of modern-Australian cuisine and classic French influences, is what’s given the 35-year-old chef new life.
“I really needed a change. I got to a point that I needed to do this or get out of the [business] and do something entirely different,” she said. “So I did this.”
Martin believes that to be successful as a chef, the goal of having your own restaurant where you set the rules and the menu must be top of mind.
“It has to be the long-term goal from the beginning,” Martin said. She would never be able to simply flow through the industry as a line cook and take direction for an entire career. “I have to be moving forward.”
But while the timing of Ça va may have made sense personally, opening a new restaurant amid continued economic turmoil and hot-and-cold consumer confidence does raise an eyebrow, especially in winter.
Martin is aware of the pitfalls ahead, and that Victoria is a city with plenty of restaurant options. “Of course there’s [trepidation], it’s scary as hell,” she said.
She grew up in Victoria and has seen plenty of restaurants come and go. “But you can’t let that get in the way, otherwise I’d be stuck doing something I don’t want to do.”
Martin is focusing on locally sourced ingredients and cooking with the seasons.
The feel of the dining room is intimate and welcoming, with clean lines and uncluttered tables. A wall-length chalk board spells out the menu that tips its hat to the French and Australian influences of its chef with staples like pâté and both appetizer and dessert soufflés as well as duck confit and fish pie.
Martin is hoping to establish two distinct sides to the restaurant — a casual, lively and upbeat lunchtime vibe and a more refined, lights-down-low, “fine dining show” for dinner.
“It’s not uptight, though; this is still a bistro and we’re here to have a good time,” she said.
So far it seems to be working, she said.
“We knew it would be a tough time opening in December, January and February,” she said. “But we are on target for what we expected and we’ve had good nights and weekends.”
It seats 32 inside, and will seat another 16 on the patio in the summer.
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