Truffles Cafe Opens in VanDusen Botanical Garden’s New Visitor Centre

Truffles Fine Foods offers gourmet catering services and has recently opened a beautiful cafe, serving breakfast and lunch made fresh daily in VanDusen Botanical Garden’s stunning new visitor centre

Credit: VanDusen Botanical Garden | Raymond Chan

Truffles cafe’s Holli Wilson bakes incredible scones and muffins from scratch every morning, served up with a smile

Many restaurants have tried, but only Truffles Fine Foods was victorious in landing the prime cafe spot in VanDusen Botanical Garden’s new $21.9 million visitor centre, one of only a few Living Buildings in the world

Truffles Fine Foods has provided gourmet catering services for weddings, corporate events, and film and television sets since 2005, but it was their local, seasonal, and sustainable philosophies that landed them the coveted cafe spot in VanDusen Botanical Garden’s new visitor centre (designed by architectural firm Perkins + Will), which is set to be Canada’s first living building, as well as meet LEED Platinum standards.

The Living Building certification is the highest level of architectural sustainability and the structure must meet specific performance requirements (seven areas that include site, water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty) for a full year before achieving certification.

Rammed Earth Walls Are Among the Many Environmentally Friendly Features of the New Centre

(Image: VanDusen Botanical Garden | Raymond Chan)

The 19,000-square-foot centre, which opened in October 2011 and cost over $20 million to complete, is truly a design and construction marvel with so many super-green features like geothermal and solar heating, recycling of all its grey and black water, repurposing of old materials, energy-efficient rammed earth walls, and a solar chimney that provides heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer.

In fact, none of the materials used for the project came from more than 100 miles away.

Undulating Shapes Inspired by Nature

(Image: VanDusen Botanical Garden | Raymond Chan)

How fitting that the shape of the building was inspired by a native orchid, with each wing of the central atrium representing a petal, and its curvaceous roof absorbing the sun’s energy through photovoltaic panels and receiving rainwater that is then filtered and reused. So what does this all mean? The building’s environmental features result in it having no carbon footprint and being completely self-sufficient in terms of providing all of its own energy and water. 

The multi-purpose centre has a number of different spaces, including three rental rooms which combine to form one great room; a library that will be the largest botanical library in Western Canada; a garden store; a discovery room with rotating contents; a dedicated classroom for some of VanDusen’s dozens of courses and workshops; a volunteer lounge for the more than 1,400 volunteers; and, of course, Truffles Cafe.

Truffles Cafe is the Newest Venture from Truffles Fine Foods

(Image: VanDusen Botanical Garden | Left, Truffles Fine Foods, Right, Fanny Dufour)

Even on a grey day the cafe is nice and bright, with floor-to-ceiling windows letting in lots of light and providing lovely views of Livingstone Lake and the Woodland Garden.

The space was designed with every guest in mind and has plenty of space for strollers, walkers or wheelchairs, indoor seating for 50 and (weather permitting) outdoor seating for 16, as well as the garden’s only spot with Wi-Fi.

(Image: VanDusen Botanical Garden | Fanny Dufour)

Truffles Fine Foods owner Nin Rai (pictured above at left), who is also a partner in L’Abattoir restaurant, welcomed new executive chef Reto Ballat (pictured above right), who was previously at the Post Hotel, a Relais and Châteaux property in Lake Louise, to the team this January.

Chef Ballat oversees all of Truffles Fine Foods’ catering and cafe menus, both at the VanDusen cafe and the North Shore Film Studios cafe. Rai and Ballat, as well as marketing manager Fanny Dufour, recently joined a group of Vancouver food media for lunch, where we were treated to a sampling of Truffles’ ever-changing, seasonal and scrumptious selection of soups, salads, hot and cold sandwiches, quiches, pastries, cookies and other goodies.

Truffles Cafe Serves Breakfast and Lunch, and Will Soon Be Serving Afternoon Tea

(Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

The cafe has a variety of seasonally inspired salads, $5, every day (pictured above is the tasty beet salad with goat cheese and pecans).

(Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

There is a daily selection of soups, $4, and sandwiches, $7 (including the pumpkin soup and turkey, brie and cranberry panini combo pictured above, $10). I tried the tomato soup and grilled vegetable panini and they knocked my socks off.

(Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

We followed lunch with some of chef Ballat’s desserts, from $1.50. The lemon tarts were a runaway hit.

(Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)

At Truffles’ VanDusen cafe, which opened in December 2011, front-of-house supervisor Holli Wilson (pictured at top) bakes fresh muffins and scones, $2.25 and up, from scratch every morning.

“I love to bake. I make everything from scratch and put a lot of love in it. Love is my favourite ingredient,” says Wilson, whose bright smile and warm personality are becoming as well known as her delectable treats.

Truffles also serves JJ Bean’s fair trade coffee and MOTEA’s certified organic and fair trade teas, which are both local companies.

I am excitedly awaiting the month of April, when Truffles will begin serving afternoon tea, with sweets and savouries adorning three-tiered trays accompanied by VanDusen’s own specialty black tea blend or MOTEA’s whole leaf teas.

Truffles cafe at VanDusen Botanical Garden, located at 5151 Oak Street, is open seven days a week from 7 am to 5 pm, and will extend their hours as the garden is open later in the spring and summer months.

Free 15-minute parking at Truffles’ nearest entrance, with a turnaround just off Oak Street, will be available by the end of March.