David Mork, who elevated Vancouver’s fine-dining scene as Lapellah’s co-owner and head chef by creating farm-to-table ingredients for wood-fired paellas and other plates, died late last month. He was 47.
Raised as a hard-working ranch boy in the small town of Broadus, Mont., the importance of knowing where food comes from was ingrained into him early on. His culinary arts training led him to move to Portland in 1997, where he soon after gained a line-cook job at Portland’s Wildwood.
At Wildwood, which closed in 2014, Mork met restaurateur Brad Root, who recruited Mork to Roots restaurant in Vancouver. In 2008, Mork co-opened and became head chef of Lapellah in Vancouver; both restaurants were big players in upping Vancouver’s fine-dining scene, enough for Portlanders to venture across the river.
“It was important for him to be part of bringing Vancouver onto the culinary map,” said Tiffany Weston, Mork’s wife. “Everybody I’ve ever run into has eaten at Lapellah.”
While his job as a chef kept him busy and paid (he wished he could connect with the patrons much more often), he was most happy cooking and sharing meals at home with his family: his 4-year-old son, his 13-year-old daughter, his friends and relatives. He had a large pizza oven at home and was known for perfecting a pizza dough recipe, making slight improvements every time.
“He loved cooking over an open fire,” said Weston. “Pork. Beef. Paella. He was so good at paella. Two nights before we got married, we had all our friends and family from out of town. He cooked the most beautiful paella with chorizo, chicken, artichokes, shrimp and green peas. He used the special rice and a huge pan like you see in Barcelona — bigger-than-your-body size. That was a perfect paella.”
In 2006, Mork co-opened his second restaurant, Three Sixty Kitchen, bringing a simple, local and seasonal Italian menu that included pizzas to east Vancouver. He was more and more meticulous about buying local ingredients, and he had established a relationship with a purveyor in Ridgefield called April Joy Farm.
“He saw an opportunity — a need — to up the level what was happening in the Vancouver restaurant scene,” said Jocelyn Boudreaux, a co-parent with Mork’s first child. “He poured his heart into it.”
His family and friends also respected Mork for cultivating a friendly and constructive modern family culture with his wife, their son Weston Mork, Boudreaux and their daughter Finleigh Mork.
Mork was a surfer, a mountain biker, a kiteboarder, a soccer coach, a world traveler, a curator of salt-water fish tanks, and a gardener, his friends and family said.
His love of the community led him to get his kitchen team to do charity work, including an annual turkey drive. The team would make full turkey diners for a few dozen families and deliver them on Thanksgiving morning. He also served the YWCA and Salvation Army with meals at Christmas for several years.
In 2018, Mork decided to spend more time with his family and left Lapellah and Three Sixty Kitchen.
“He just wanted to have more time with us,” said Weston. “It was an emotional time. Restaurant work is hard. Restaurant hours are nuts.”
Mork and his friend Dustin Evans started a mezcal and spirits import business around the time the pandemic began and when Lapellah and Three Sixty Kitchen closed permanently.
Mork died on Sept. 30 after a two-year battle with esophageal cancer. His friends and family are coordinating a celebration of life for him.
“He created a restaurant that there was nothing like in Vancouver previously,” Evans said. “No one else in Vancouver cared that much about farming practices and how it ended up on the table, and no one was bringing the level of hospitality.”