Urban Diner: What is your background?
Kate Colley Lo: I went to high-school with culinary big shot Paul Kamon in grade 9. I earned my BA, did the prerequisite backpacking through Europe and earned a tourism management diploma. I began my PR career working with the venerable Christine Coletta at the BC Wine Institute – where I was introduced to the intoxicating combination of food, wine, media and marketing.
I then spent six years at Tourism Vancouver and became Manager of Travel & Trade Media Relations where I did my part to add Vancouver to potential travelers “must visit” list. Some job highlights included keeping an eye out for Anna Wintour while eating chocolate pudding at the Frank Gehry designed cafeteria in New York’s Conde Naste building, working with the cast/crew of The Bachelor (shot in Vancouver episode)and learning why reality TV isn’t at all real, doing yoga with a group of media in a volcano with an audience of deer in the Azores, loitering near “The Great One” as I worked the media centre at BC Canada Place in Torino where I was also required to stand out in the rain and act as bouncer while Al Roker interviewed Sam Sullivan.
There were countless great experiences and wonderful people, and essentially I wanted to lay down more roots, enhance my skill set and get more involved in Vancouver’s vibrant restaurant scene – I aimed high and am thrilled to be working with some of Vancouver’s very best.
UD: What is your role at Top Table?
KCL: As Communications Director, it’s my role to convey what is happening in the kitchens, dining rooms, bars and sushi bars at Araxi, Blue Water, CinCin and West to media, key customers and industry. I act as a facilitator to tell the stories of our talented chefs, sommeliers, restaurant directors and bar managers, and what they are doing that is interesting, relevant, new, exciting, special, meaningful, etc. This role encompasses media and public relations, communications, advertising, marketing, branding, creative and more. There is a good deal of dining involved. I have a gym membership. (laughs)
UD: How is the restaurant industry different than the tourism industry?
KCL: I would consider the restaurant industry part of the tourism industry especially as culinary tourism takes leaps and bounds. Food and wine is part of every single business and pleasure trip and many people choose their destination based on the cuisine. But specifically, there are many similarities – young, passionate, driven and excited people working in city full of wonderful possibilities. Vancouver becomes more confident, recognized, sophisticated and global every day and that spells good things for people who are passionate about the city and their role in it. From my experience to date, I see the restaurant business as much more male-driven, even more passionate, ever-changing, and often a lot more immediate. While there are hours of preparation and effort put in by the many hard-working people – the experience of the meal unfolds right before you.
UD: Your biggest adjustment?
KCL: Tourism Vancouver is quite corporate, I wore a suit, went to a lot of meetings and spent a lot of time on airplanes; I had a desk and a designated person to help me when I jammed the printer or made a fatal computer error. There is a good deal of overlap in working with media and some of the marketing aspects but right now I don’t work from an office but usually from one of the restaurants. That’s good in that I am getting to know all the restaurant staff, chefs and managers, wine reps, etc. but takes my need to be organized and efficient to a new level.
UD: What is an important detail for a PR person to remember and is often forgotten?
KCL: As far as working with local and international food media – small portions!
UD: What will be the greatest challenge for Vancouver restaurants during the Olympics?
KCL: I was in Torino for the 2006 Olympics and the food was great, and surprisingly, so were the prices. I think the best thing restaurants and businesses can do is continue to put their best food (I meant foot but that’s a good typo) forward. The Olympics is two special weeks that have already set the stage for Vancouver’s evolution – the better the impressions everyone who experiences Vancouver and Whistler before, during and after that time is, the better our reputation will be. From athletes, to corporate sponsors, to spectators, to other Olympic organizing committees, to journalists and international networks like NBC and the BBC – we want everyone who visits to leave saying, “Vancouver is an amazing city, the food was spectacular, the service extraordinary, etc.” as there’s no better way to market the city in a way that future and returning travelers really embrace. So good restaurants should do what they are already doing and realize that price-gouging is a big no-no. There are also many needs for international businesses and organizations to have meeting spaces or venues for special events. There are a lot of restaurants that would be suitable for this.
UD: What does the future hold for Top Table?
KCL: The best thing about Top Table and proprietor Jack Evrensel is that the company is very progressive. The goal is to improve everything, every single day and that the magic is in the details. That means that everyone’s ideas are welcome and that we all contribute daily. Big and small improvements every day, talented people who are supported and doing what they love most and guests who are listened to and cared about.
UD: Any new Top Table restaurants on the way?
KCL: Waiterbloggers turned Urban Diners seem to know everything first – maybe I should be asking you? (laughs)
UD: What is one of your favourite dishes to eat when you go out?
KCL: I absolutely love sushi and sashimi. It’s hard to beat sitting at Yoshi’s (Blue Water) bar and enjoy the incredibly fresh hamachi, sockeye salmon and toro sashimi, chopped scallop nigiri and, the aptly named, stamina roll (fresh crab, barbecued eel, smoked salmon & sweet glaze).
UD: Favourite drink?
KCL: Annabel Hawksworth has turned me on to Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rose Champagne. Brad Stanton’s Rainy Day Margarita at Blue Water is also unbelievably good.
UD: If you had to eat at one of your restaurants, which one would you choose and why?
KCL: Yum. Today I would have the 3-tiered seafood tower from Blue Water, the Foie Gras from West and Theirry Busset’s killer lemon tart from CinCin.
UD: What restaurant would you recommend other than your own?
KCL: We are a city of fantastic restaurants so that’s a tough one but I’m in the mood for Malaysian – Tropika on Robson and Banana Leaf on Denman are both great – best for a small group to sample lots of dishes. Unmissable – sambal prawns, KL crab (deep friend Dungeness with dried shrimp) and roti.