Food Matters – Tasting Tofino

Serving SeaCiderServing SeaCider

The great thing about competitions between chefs as well as demonstrations by chefs is that ideas spread and trickle down to even us humble home chefs. That was just one of the lessons I learned Tofino last weekend at the Tenth Annual Tofino Food and Wine Festival over the weekend.

I’m ashamed to admit this is the first time I’ve been able to take advantage of an invitation to attend, and I’m really glad I finally made it. The sun was shining warm with not a cloud in the sky for the entire run time of the main event of the festival on Saturday afternoon called Grazing in the Garden. For three hours you can wander through the Tofino Botanical Gardens, grazing on snacks created by Tofino chefs and dozens of different BC wines, beers and ciders.

It was great to see so many Vancouver Island breweries and wineries well-represented there, including two wineries from Port Alberni (who knew?) Chase and Warren and Emerald Coast, serving a great Marechal Foch. Food-wise, I was very impressed with the offerings from Tacofino, the Wildside Grill and Long Beach Lodge. Tacofino presented a nacho chip topped with well-dressed smoked albacore tuna from Ian Bryce of Natural Gift Tuna, I featured him on my Island Artisans show. Liam Paul from Long Beach Lodge turned out these thin slices of duck breast prosciutto rolled up with rabbit rillettes and topped with fig preserves, and the ‘most want to try making at home’ award went to The Wildside Grill with its Vancouver Island Chicken Thighs, smoked then grilled, cut into small pieces and put on a piece of grilled cornbread topped with braised Nanoose Edibles greens. So I have recreated that for you here in a fashion, hope you enjoy it.

Nanoose Edibles is a certified organic farm near Nanoose Bay, not too far north of Nanaimo run by Lorne and Barbara Ebell. I sat down and had a nice chat with Barbara in the warm sun and I think I will go and visit the farm sometime in the near future so I can give you the full story, but I can tell you that this farm supplies many restaurants in the Nanaimo area as the name pops up on more than a few menus. Barbara has some very interesting ideas on how to successfully grow your veggies and on how to train young people in a fashion that will want them to carry on and become farmers on their own after a good apprenticeship at Nanoose Edibles, so listen for that story over the summer, I hope.

My major regret about visiting Tofino is that all of my visits are usually short, two to three days, so I don’t get a chance to eat at as many of the great restaurants I have tried there in the last few years. But that’s a great indication of how the area’s growth as a surfing and fishing and whale watching destination has brought in some really super food people as well. So in the past I have enjoyed great sit-down meals at Sobo, The Spotted Bear and Shelter…and food truck style snacks from Tacofino, which is in the old Sobo location just outside of town. This time my major sit-down meal was part of the Food and Wine Festival, a Quail’s Gate winemaker’s dinner at the Wickaninnish Inn under the very capable hands of Executive Chef Nick Nutting and Pastry Chef Matt Wilson. Quail’s Gate Winemaker Grant Stanley was on hand to describe the wines and the neat thing about this particular menu is that it really was determined at the last minute by the local ingredients. Some of the dishes are in the photo gallery below.

There are some  challenges with running restaurants when you are literally out there at the end of the road. There definitely can be a problem with supply of ingredients as your seafood delivery will quite often depend on the weather, and it can get rough out there. You are at the end of a long and winding road from many of your suppliers, so learning how to cope with what you’ve got is important…at the Wickaninnish they make a lot of their own preserves and all the bread and pastry baking is done in-house. The other problem is coaxing enough well-trained people to come out to work there, and to convince them to come to work when they would rather be surfing. But Charles McDiarmid of the Wick is working to solve that problem on a couple of fronts. One, because they pay so much attention to their wine list which is mostly made up of BC wines, many BC winemaking students have worked at the Wick to build their knowledge…one of the servers we met had just completed her Level 1 Sommelier Guild certification and that’s something that helps you build your career in the hotel and restaurant industry. Two, he is working with the provincial government to bring more immigrant workers to Tofino because he just can’t get enough locals to work there. So with growth comes growing pains, but from my point of view Tofino is a very tasty place to hang out these days…even if you don’t surf or fish. Have a look at this galley of photos from my weekend in Tofino:


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