Cindy Lazarenko, Highlands Kitchen

In the late nineteenth century, French novelist Marcel Proust participated in an exercise, which could be thought of as the Facebook of its era — he answered a questionnaire about himself in a friend’s Confession Album.

Proust’s answers have been published, in one form or another, for more than a century. Many have used the questionnaire for their own devices, the most notable being Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire featuring celebrities. The Tomato now gives it a culinary twist.

Culina Highlands, the great neighbourhood place tucked away in the Highlands, part of the Culina family of restaurants, became Highlands Kitchen mid-summer. Owners Cindy Lazarenko and her husband Geoff Lilge realized around the time of the departure of Annand Ollivierre, their capable and much-loved kitchen manager, that attempting to operate Culina Highlands and be a functional family was not working.

“The menu was more than we could handle. It was too much restaurant for this little kitchen.”

So Culina Highlands became Highlands Kitchen. It’s a shift in thinking rather than a wholesale change in style.

“We work with the same local suppliers,” says Cindy. “We have several dishes still on the menu, such as the Kalyna plate, which is Marchyshyn’s kubasa, our version of lazy cabbage with marjoram, tomato and kim chee, Baba’s own pyrohy, topped with a bacon gremolata and beet salad. We still serve my favorite dish, nachynka (the recipe for this cornmeal casserole is from a 60-year-old cookbook) with braised rabbit and a tomato vodka cream. And, of course, borscht.

“We have lowered the prices a bit and are serving healthier-sized portions,” says Cindy.

“The new name allows us to grow and explore our own identity separately from the other Culina restaurants,” says Cindy. “The new hours and menu make a more efficient use of time and our kitchen staff, Kelsey Johnson and Andrea Ouellett.”

Highlands Kitchen is open five days a week from Thursday to Monday, noon to 8 pm (later on weekends). Reservations available at Open Table (



Years cooking?

Since I was 11.

Where would you like to live?

I have a soft spot for Vancouver, I’ve lived there a few times. It’s inspiring — the food scene and being able to walk everywhere.

Your favourite food and drink?

Really good pasta, homemade ravioli with a glass of red wine. Actually, roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy and Yorkshire pudding would be my last supper.

What would you be doing if you weren’t cooking?

Something with kids; maybe a kindergarten teacher.

What do you most appreciate in your friends?

I really appreciate how our friends are always offering to help out when things get crazy with the resto.

Your favourite qualities in a dish?

Simple, clean flavours, not overly complicated.

A cook?

Focus on that one thing and get into it.

A wine?

Well-balanced, flavourful, suits what I’m eating. I don’t like cheap wine.

Who would be at your dream dinner table (dead or alive)?

My dream dinner was the Italian dinner that we had at the restaurant before going to Salone del Gusto as a Terra Madre delegate. And my Baba — the food has come full circle. We didn’t really appreciate it when we were growing up.

Who would cook?

Baba, my dad’s mum.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Oh, whatever. When I can’t think of the word (especially when training; there’s so much talk) I say instead: just put some of that zjah zjah in there.

Current culinary obsession/exploration?

Sauerkraut. I have tried to make it two times unsuccessfully; our space is too hot. I’d like to be able to serve our own sauerkraut with caraway, cranberries and apples.

Meaningful/crazy cooking experience?

We catered a dinner in a tiny apartment kitchen. The hosts wanted it dark so they couldn’t see the light from the dining room. We had about a foot of working space with four of us crammed in the kitchen trying to cook and plate. I felt like a food whore. We had to hand wash all the dishes and glassware in the dark, it was 12 or so courses, gold leaf — I still have nightmares.

Best (cooking) thing that ever happened to you?

Going to dinner at Il Re with (Barolo producer) Batasiolo on the Salone trip. How gracious everyone was, showing us how they did things in the amazing kitchen — the glassed in pastry area, the girls cleaning with buckets of hot soapy water — everything. That meal and the dinner we had at our agriturismo on the last night are the highlights of my culinary life so far.


My brother Brad.

Favourite casual cheap and cheerful/afterwork food?

El Rancho for pupusas, a cold beer, and that salad!


I’m learning to focus on the positive. Reese tells me that all the time; “focus on the good stuff.” I’m grateful for the resto, grateful for the food — so fresh and local — grateful for the customers.

What’s next?

A cookbook is in the works and, maybe, something on TV.