The indefatigable Lee Humphries was born and raised in Cornwall, the southwestern peninsula of England, surrounded on three sides by the sea and amid fertile fishing grounds. However, Humphries admits to spending more time on land than water. His dad operated an agro-farm that grew greens for the market place. “The first 13 years of my life I planted cabbages, I harvested cabbages, I packaged and delivered cabbages,” Humphries deadpans. One day, his father came up to him and gave him a short but good talking-to. It started with something like “Get out” and ended with something akin to “while you can.”
Humphries headed to the upscale Budock Vean Golf and Country House on the banks of the Helford River, where he finally arrived in a kitchen. As a dishwasher, Humphries made £35 a week. He spent the next few years working, observing, and hungrily learning everything he could. At 16, he voyaged to London where he landed a job as a commis chef at Westbury Hotel on New Bond Street in Upmarket Mayfair. Wild London and a grueling work schedule drew Humphries into a lifestyle rivaling Anthony Bourdain’s salad days. He reached critical mass—and perhaps hearing his father’s sage words in his skull—crept onto a plane and headed for a quieter life as an expatriate.
He arrived in Vancouver and spent his days gliding though the fjords of Desolation Sound on the 72-foot yacht of some friends, fishing for Ling cod and plucking oysters out of the deep waters. Life at sea was good, but Humphries craved a return to the kitchen. Over the next decade, he worked as sous chef under David Hawksworth at West, as chef de cuisine at Elixir, and as executive chef at Figmint. Most recently, he was the executive chef of the restaurant group that includes The Irish Heather, Shebeen, and Salt and Judas Goat.
“You know, C was one of the first restaurants I ate at when I arrive in Canada,” Lee grins. “It was good.” Perhaps he’s arrived where he imagined he would when he left the family farm two decades ago, leaving the cabbages to grow without him.