My father’s family were Italian and from Piedmont in the North of Italy thus my surname Damilano. Thierry is a very traditional and ancient French name.
Filmmaker, Adventurer, former Restaurateur
Age: My mother, Nicole gave birth to me in 1954.
Provenance: Le Mans, which is a city in France on the Sarthe River. Since 1923, the city has hosted the internationally famous 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance sports car race.
How long have you lived in Vancouver? In December of 1977, I crossed Canada with two other French men starting off from Montreal. We had decided to venture west. I had never heard of Vancouver until I opened the map. We drove every day; having many Canadian cultural mishaps/adventures on the way, keen to arrive in time to work in the restaurants during the holiday season. We arrived on a typically miserable rainy grey Vancouver day. We stayed in the Jericho Youth Hostel for our first few nights in Vancouver – you didn’t have to pay for parking then!
Occupations: I was extremely bad at school, but I excelled in the outdoors, my childhood was spent climbing the local rocks with other kids, playing in the forests, making damns in the rivers. My father, Raoul was one of the founding members of the Western Alpine Club in France. He and my mother were pioneers in climbing and spelunking (cave exploring). From a very young age I wanted to be a cook and, when I was 14 during the summer vacation, my father got me a position in a gastronomic restaurant. I left home at the age of 16 to go to the Saint Nazaire Ecole Hotelier, which is a technical French cuisine school. I am a brilliant failure. I could never pass an exam, but that did not stop me getting my first job as a commis sommelier at the prestigious Hotel George V in Paris. I had a compulsory stint in the Chasseurs Alpins, the elite mountain infantry of the French Army, which I enjoyed. Next was The Bell Inn in England, a haunt of the sixties jet set. A chance to work in Senegal with my friend Dominique came up and then opportunities in Quebec, Canada and eventually Vancouver. My first job was as a waiter in the iconic La Creperie in Gastown, owned by the character Jean Claude Raymond. I then worked at the Cafe de Alpes in West Vancouver for Tiberio Faedo, who is the owner of the longtime North Shore Italian restaurant, La Cucina. Michele Jacob, the owner of Le Crocodile, told me I could not stay a waiter all my life and he knew a little place I could rent on Robson Street. And so, in January 1985, my restaurant Chez Thierry was opened. Let’s say it was not a conventional restaurant. Chez Thierry was open late, the waiters, show business and sports people came there to unwind. The latest I ever closed was 9.30 in the morning. I was the first person to saber champagne in a restaurant in Vancouver. I have sabered thousands of bottles. My next-door neighbour, William S Walker a distinguished tailor, designed for me a replica of Napoleon Bonapart’s uniform. Every time I sabered champagne I would wear my Napoleon jacket and bicorn hat. On special days, such as Bastille Day, I would wear the full Napoleon outfit. This all came to an abrupt end in 1996 when I was evicted on a demolition clause. I packed up my bags and travelled the world, becoming a dive instructor and then taking up filmmaking and underwater filming. I made my first documentary about an Italian blind diver in Sulawesi, Indonesia, which won me an International World Underwater Film Festival award in Antibes, France. My world had shifted. Making films was my focus. I have travelled to most countries in Asia. When in Pondicherry, India (through friends I had met in China), I was invited to join a motorcycle tour of India. This led to a new adventure and a passion for me. I now take friends around certain parts of India riding the very robust Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle. I organize, I guide, I prepare the food and I film these epic motorcycle adventures. So, in the end, all my passions have come together.
Passions and Interests: I do things passionately. Let’s say I don’t do anything half-heartedly. In Vancouver, I have pioneered a few sports: windsurfing, Telemark skiing and snowboarding. In windsurfing, I competed at an international level, four world championships with the Canadian team and trained for the 1984 Olympics. At the same time, I coached the Canadian women’s windsurfing team and was a founding member of the BC Board-Sailing Club. At Jericho Beach, a few of us avid windsurfers, while waiting for the winds, came up with a game we called mountain bike polo. Currently, I play squash, pickleball, snowboard, kitesurf and sail a J/24 sailboat named Delirious.
Aesthetics are very important and I enjoy having everything visually organised around me, my home still has a few decorative items from my restaurant Chez Thierry.
What do people know you for? Most people will know me for my passion for life, my food, my love of the outdoors, for being French, for not fitting into a box. I am also known to bring people together to create events, a hub of communities. I am spontaneous and known to call in the morning with a plan for the evening or, if I am in your neighbourhood, I will knock on your door. In 2017 my kidneys failed and everything stopped, I was on dialysis for six months, leaving me lying on my bed unable to breathe or talk. I was in a dying body. I have to mention that my friend Sandrine offered me her kidney and, incredibly, we were a match. On the 30th of March 2018, I had a kidney transplant and I am now on my second life.
Thoughts on Vancouver? I have been that person who has skied the snowy slopes on the local mountains in the morning and surfed the waves in the afternoon. Jericho Beach is unbelievable, surrounded by parklands, beaches, forests and the sea can catch a good westerly wind, which is perfect for windsurfing and sailing. It’s also the location of the incredible Jericho Sailing Centre. When I first arrived I loved the spectacular wildness of the West Coast. I have so many memories of driving on to beaches, camping, making fires, catching fresh crabs, I feel that has gone now. Vancouver has more people and thus a resulting lack of freedom, more rules and regulations to deal with.
I first heard of Thierry from a friend and the story was very interesting – I was trying to imagine a restaurant with the owner sabering bottles of champagne dressed up in the clothes of Napoleon Bonaparte, I tried to find out more on the internet – but there was nothing you would have to go to the library and check back issues of newspapers on microfiche. (which I did not) Eventually, I was invited to have dinner at Thierry’s apartment in the West End of Vancouver and hear more about his life. Taking various elements of his life I decided to compose a portrait of Thierry in his Napoleon Bonaparte outfit, sabering a bottle of champagne and astride a Royal Enfield motorcycle. This is a very loose adaptation of the famous painting of Napoleon Crossing the Alps by the French artist Jacques-Lous David.
Here is an email I received about Chez Thierry –
Reading your WPP on Thierry brought back a flood of memories. Sometimes I forget these experiences and then something comes along and catapults you back to the moments of so long ago. Moving to Vancouver as a young girl not knowing anyone, but quickly finding many friendships and adventures (so many it makes my head spin) in my new ~ what I now call home. In the mid-’80s to early ’90s Robson Street was a very different place than it is now. We (an old love & I) used to go to Chez Thierry for “fancy” french dinners, and the spirited owner would lop off the top of the champagne with his sword! I’m sure that’s where my love of Escargot started….. We were the cool ones with the first cellphones that were the size of a shoebox. Just thinking of the times in that quaint, cosy restaurant, with corks flying, makes me smile. It’s really amazing how lives intersect many decades later in strange ways through others.
Conversation & Portrait by Tallulah
July 2019, Vancouver, Canada
Published November 2019
Thank you to Shail’s Motorcyles for arranging for the Royal Enfield Bike for the portrait