Starting and running a small artisan food business on Vancouver Island isn’t easy. Most of these companies start up in a home kitchen, but soon larger, food-safe facilities are needed and that costs money. Today on Food Matters on All Points West I talked about a burgeoning food production hub in the Comox Valley.
Three businesses are sharing some small but important commercial kitchen and retailing space in a complex called Tin Town in Courtenay. It’s an area I would like to have a little more time to explore…all the buildings are metal-clad, with metal roofs, so it’s quite striking as you drive into it. All the buildings have living spaces on the top floor, and production facilities, services and retail shops on the bottom, including the home of Prontissima Pasta. This is where I met Sarah and Derek Walsh as they were making up a batch of beautiful, fresh squid ink pasta, just one of the many fresh pastas they make and sell there. There is a long story behind how Sarah, from Quadra Island, and Derek, from Dublin, Ireland, ended up in Courtenay with a small pasta company, but it did involve spending a year in Venice and Tuscany and a decision to return to a less-populous region where people love food, and to start their business.
They wanted people to be able to buy fresh pasta made with local eggs, as well as their line of pestos with a few surprises such as Walnut, Artichoke & Roasted Garlic, Roasted Butternut Squash and Roasted Red Pepper, the latter two types being only available strictly in season, summer for the bell pepper and winter for the squash. Today I brought you some of Prontissima’s spinach tripolini pasta with their sundried tomato pesto and a pasta shell stuffed with cheese and my own tomato sauce.
There are couple of other producers involved in the hub who are quite complementary to each other. Clever Crow is a handmade sea salt company of Lia and Brian McCormick, a duo who have started a number of business endeavours over the years in the Comox Valley, and once again it came down to trying to fill a void, no one else in the area was making sea salt, and they have worked at it steadily for six months to get the process and the texture of the salt just right. Today Khalil tasted their regular Clever Crow sea salt, the hot chilli version, as well as their new smoked salt. Sarah is starting to use some Clever Crow salt in her pasta products, and Sarah does the packaging of her salts there and also uses the kitchen to make up the herbed and spiced salts. The third company in this little triumvirate is Tria Fine Catering and Gourmet Eats. Chef Kathy Jerritt uses Prontissima Pasta AND Clever Crow Sea Salt in some of her gourmet take-home products, which are sold there in the shop, such as Kathy’s Bacon Jam.
Sarah says this combination of artists is great since they can take turns running the retail sales part of the shop and share on rent and utilities. I am sworn to secrecy for the time being but it’s safe to say that expansion of facilities may be in their future.
*I was part of a culinary tour of the Comox Valley provided by Feast Media and Concierge. More about this company and the tours it offers in two weeks!