How I Cook is a Q&A series that peels back the curtains so you get a glimpse of the backgrounds and stories of some of the best chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists, and food specialists in Vancouver.
What happens when two school teachers put down their marking pens, call it quits, and decide to open up a tiny taco shop together? Well, a scrappy and community-tight taco shop named Bandidas Taqueria in Commercial Drive is formed.
We spoke with Bandidas Taqueria Co-owner and Chef Aiyana Kane to hear about her culinary journey, the challenges and the rewards of the job, and her true feelings towards the Vancouver food scene.
How did you get into cooking?
[Aiyana] I’ve been cooking since I was a very young child. Cooking and our time around the dinner table (a large round wooden table that was the centre of our household) was the center of our family growing up.
And with the circumstances of my childhood, I ended up taking on some of the cooking from a young age, helping to keep the home-cooked foods as part of our family life amidst the business of life.
How did your career get you to where you are today?
[Aiyana] Cooking was mostly something I did with family and friends. Dinner parties, exploring new dishes, food as a way to bring people together.
Where do you get your culinary inspiration from? (cultural heritage/family/mentor)
[Aiyana] And growing up in California, I was always influenced both by the alternative and health foods of the culture there as well as the Mexican influence of the population there.
What would we find you doing when you’re not in the kitchen?
[Aiyana] Growing fresh veggies in my garden. Making things with my hands. Spending time with my son and family. Riding my bike. Meditating. Being outside in nature. And doing all the chores of life.
What is your favourite part of your job?
[Aiyana] The food we make at Bandidas is mostly plant-based, all vegetarian, and fresh and healthy. I love sharing this food with all of our customers. But I especially love seeing the enjoyment of eating our food that I see in customers who are eating this food for the first time – customers who don’t typically enjoy vegetarian food.
And then to see those customers come back and bring their friends. This feels like one of our biggest successes.
What is your favourite dish to make and why?
[Aiyana] I think our tacos are closest to my heart. Making the tortillas by hand is one of those meditative things. It feels like it connects me to something primal – making that simple (yet artful) food that is in the way the centre of our menu.
And then making fresh tacos from those fresh tortillas – with the beautiful fillings that just look so fresh and so good on the plate. And they are messy and pleasurable to eat in just the right way.
How do you balance your work time and personal time?
[Aiyana] I’m not sure that work life balance is even a question for me anymore. It’s not that I don’t take time away from the restaurant. I have a two year old.
And at work, I’m not actually working in the kitchen much these days. But it all seems to bleed into one. I’m learning and thinking about all of my life in all the things that I do.
I work on restaurant things as needed – even when that means struggling with a spreadsheet in the middle of the night.
What was the biggest challenge you faced to get to where you are today?
[Aiyana] I think that opening the restaurant was likely the biggest challenge. My business partner and I were school teachers. We didn’t have a lot of experience or a lot of money.
We poured every ounce of everything we had into opening and operating the restaurant. That hurdle of getting open and making it through our first year was likely the biggest challenge… and the biggest learning time. And surviving this year of pandemic has been a close second.
We are learning to pivot and respond to the current reality with a constancy of challenges like never before.
If you could give a piece of advice to your past self, what would you say?
[Aiyana] I think I would have worked on learning leadership skills earlier.
What is your under-the-radar food spot in Vancouver?
[Aiyana] Ofra’s Kitchen – Denman
Rinconsito – Commercial Drive
Tamam – Hastings
Axum – Hastings
Chau Veggie Express
Gluten Free Epicurean
What do you love and hate about Vancouver’s food scene?
[Aiyana] I don’t like it that it’s so hard/expensive to open a restaurant these days. The regulations and city requirements are prohibitive. This badly limits the number of small, family run, independent restaurants that are able to open.
We are losing a generation of those restaurants, and I fear they will not be replaced. I don’t think the city is aware of the cost – socially, economically, or culturally – of this shift.
This is only a bite into the successes of Chef Aiyana Kane.
But the next time you visit the Bandidas Taqueria you will know a little bit more about the effort served into the food in front of you.
Address: 2781 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC V5N 4C5
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This piece has been prepared with the help of Kameela Nash.