Joey Lee. Photograph courtesy of Victoria Black Takes Photos.

The kitschy vibe and earthy, 1970s colours at the Rumpus Room in Vancouver complement a menu where corn dogs, buckets of chicken and fun desserts—think gummy bears reclining in mini doughnuts and showered in sprinkles—appeal to everyone’s inner toddler. 

The dishes at this restaurant sound like something you’d order stall-side at a county fair, but everything on the menu  is masterfully executed and prepared by Chef Joey Lee, who lets her personality shine with each creation. 

“I’m allowed to let my creativity fly freely,” she says. “I feel so incredibly lucky.”

After finishing culinary school, Lee cooked for several years as the sous chef at Save On Meats, a long-established Vancouver diner with an attached butcher shop, before working in film and business catering. When local restaurateurs Rachel Zottenberg and David Duprey planned to open the Rumpus Room, they approached Lee—who they had worked with on a previous project—to become its head chef. She spent months testing recipes to see, “how could we make a burger more insanely good than it already is?”

“I was given complete freedom,” Lee says. “No-holds-barred, they said, ‘Just do what you do and make it magical.’”

What is your culinary philosophy?

Everything comes back to the love you put into your dishes. It doesn’t matter if you’re making foie gras or a burger, people can taste when a chef is truly passionate. 

What’s your favourite dish on the Rumpus Room menu? 

The beet burger, as there’s a lot of texture and colour. We deep-fry roasted beets in a gluten-free batter, then top it with cabbage and carrot slaw, vegan aioli with cilantro and lime, and fried vermi-celli noodles for crunch. Or, the free-range, organic, skin-on chicken bites. We cut them into big fat nug-gets, coat them in our gluten-free breadcrumbs, cook them until they are crunchy and serve them in a 12-ounce polka-dot bucket with a selection of house-made dips.

What do you enjoy about making retro dishes? 

Most of us gravitate toward comfort food, and I love cooking the naughty stuff, like corn dogs, that people feel a bit shamed for loving. I’m like, “Nah, just eat it. It’s got cheese and butter, and it’s the best.” There’s a sense of nostalgia with these dishes; they bring back memories of cooking at Thanksgiv-ing with my mom. I love that chefs certainly didn’t care about some extra butter back then.

What sorts of reactions do people have to your creations?

They get really excited. People are always sharing photos of our dishes on social, which is my favourite thing. My goal is for everyone to share the food with their friends because I’m sharing my love in every dish.

Fact: Joey Lee is also the executive chef at Key Party, a secret bar located next door to the Rumpus Room. It’s accessed through a wooden door in a fake accountant’s office.


Rumpus Room: At a Glance

Prices

Main courses range from $12 to $17.

Decor

Think your grandma’s basement, circa 1975, with killer cocktails.

Signature Dish

The Red Hot and Blue Burger. A buttermilk and Sriracha-marinated chicken breast that is breaded, deep-fried and served with havarti cheese and a sour cream chipotle and blue cheese sauce on brioche.

Cocktail

The Rumpus Rootbeer. Bourbon and root beer are served in a soda fountain glass with vodka-infused gummy bears and an optional scoop of ice cream. 


[This story appears in the March 2020 edition of WestJet Magazine.]

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