Rising From The Ashes
By Chris Dias. Photos by Chris Dias
There’s a fire brewing inside of Betulla Burning, and the obvious coincidence of its name notwithstanding, I’m being completely literal. The classic pizza oven dominating the open kitchen—the one resembling a white World War 1 German pickelhelm (Google it)—has yet to be named, but that doesn’t refute the fact that it’s alive. A nearly constant fire has been raging within for the better part of a month, slowing seasoning the oven until it can safely manage temperatures in excess of 800 degrees. Putting that into perspective, that’s the temperature of the surface of Venus. This is necessary to cook a pizza in ninety seconds flat. You might assume that an oven reaching such temperatures would be difficult to cool. Don’t worry, as the oven, which until a proper nickname is given, I shall from now on refer to it as “Klaus”, will never cool…ever. The wood will be replaced, the ashes cleaned, but the heart of Betulla Burning will always be hot.
Moving from the actual fire to the allegorical one, although the restaurant did exist before the arrival of its head chef, it’s been under guidance of Brian Quarmby where Betulla found its soul. I dare to say the fire that destroyed the previous iteration of this restaurant was fortuitous, allowing the discovery of Quarmby’s talent and the implementation of his artistic vision.
By the way, the restaurant has both a Vitamix and a Sous Vide machine but not a deep fryer. I love that and wanted to get that out of the way before I got into the biographical portion of this article.
I had assumed Anthony Bourdain had cleaved the Greek god Ambrosia’s forehead with a double-headed Minoan axe, and Brian Quarmby emerged fully formed with a Wusthof chef knife in one hand and a stainless-steel French whisk in the other…but no. He’s from Campbell River. He took his first cooking job at Laurel Point in Victoria as an assistant chef. A year later, he found himself at a restaurant with the greatest name ever, Choux Choux Charcuterie (told you), where he further refined his skill. However, it was at the famous Sonora Resort where Brian met his future sous chef, Warren Sunstrum. The following season, Brian shifted to Quail’s Gate in Kelowna, working alongside the same winemaker currently fermenting fruit at Prince George’s own winery, Northern Lights. Later, Brian was poached by Patrick Gayler of Mission Hill. And from there…it was Prince George.
I know what you're thinking. His wife’s family lives here. He’s stuck.
And every foodie in town all simultaneously just did a fist pump.
Biran was picked up by the Nechako Oyster Bar as a sous chef, a position that on day one was promoted to head chef, a process I assumed involved some form of Thunderdome. After its closure, Nancy Os scooped him up. It wasn’t long Brian found himself the Picasso in the magnum opus that is becoming Betulla Burning. One of Brian’s first directives was to make a phone call to Warren.
The new Betulla Burning represents the classic phoenix, superior to what would have come before. Under Brian’s and Warren’s uncompromising vision, it is turning into the manifestation of a city’s desire to prove to the rest of the province that fantastic food the likes seen in Vancouver or Victoria can be found this far north. Trendy restaurants can survive locally provided the chefs stick adhere to their instincts and follow their passion by not adding discordant cuisine, oversized portions, or kilometer-long buffets.
Betulla is not a traditional pizzeria, not if you want seven types of meat as topping or cheese stuffed into the crust. Betulla grows fresh mushrooms and cures its own meat under the floorboards. It has shelves of homemade pickled vegetables. Produce and proteins are all sourced from nearby farms. Even the plates are local. With a patio garden being built, the plan is for Betulla to be completely sustainable by mid to late next year.
Betulla Burning is becoming the foodie destination. Combine that other successful restaurants, many of which are on the same street, and the case for progressive trendy restaurants succeeding in Prince George may finally be settled.