SURREY — Daniel Alexandre’s eyes light up when he talks about the big red barbecue parked behind his Newton-area restaurant.
He calls it “Big Red,” appropriately enough, and he designed and made it with his own two hands.
“I welded it,” the chef said of his prized cooking unit, built five years ago. “I just felt, I can do that. I just learned along the way, with pieces of scrap metal and welded that. So years later, well, I can do it. That’s what I tell young people, that they have to try something to learn something, like that. They can do it.”
Alexandre owns and operates Chefe Daniel, which specializes in the flavours of Angola (where he and his mother were born) and Portugal (his father’s birthplace). The eatery is managed by his wife, Debbie Matsuura Alexandre.
He does business at the corner of King George Boulevard at 80th Avenue, where the restaurant moved from Vancouver a couple years ago, into the building previously occupied by Villa Verdi.
“Big Red” is among the biggest mobile barbecues in Metro Vancouver, figures Alexandre, who also hand-built two smaller barbecues and a pair custom mobile kitchens he employs for special events, festivals and film-set catering.
“I could fit two whole cows in here, just cut them in half and put the pieces on the trays,” the chef explained. “There are five trays so you still have one for the potatoes. The grills in here rotate,” he said of the propane-fueled unit, which can also be fired up with burning wood.
When things get hot, they can get dangerous.
“A friend of mine, who passed away, used to have a restaurant in North Vancouver, and he was watching, wanting to see how the temperature goes,” Alexandre recalled. “So I put coals in and I forgot that they had some igniter, so I opened those two doors, squeezed a little bit gas and it wasn’t starting. So I put a little paper in it, just a little bit – well, I got an instant haircut. Whoosh! It was like in the movies. The fire didn’t burn my face or anything, just my hair. And my friend, he was white as a ghost. He thought it was the worst thing ever.”
Alexandre teaches local school students how to cook, and also makes and bottles his own sauces – piri piri, jalepeno and barbecue among them.
His creativity extends to restaurant decor, too.
“Someone came to me and said he had an idea of what I could do with the space here (by a fireplace),” Alexandre said with a smile. “He had a friend who was a designer, so he brought his computer with another guy, and he showed me the photos on his computer, and I just started laughing. He said, ‘Why are you laughing?’ And I told him I did that was what I built at my other restaurant, and somebody took a picture of it, and that was it. The designer went there and took a picture, and he showed me that photo of something I built.”
The word “chefe” is the Portuguese spelling of Alexandre’s profession, but that fact was lost on one local woman.
“One day here, I got a call from somebody telling me I had my name written wrong on the sign outside,” he recalled. “She thought it was spelled wrong, but it isn’t.”