Food Matters – Tofino/Ucluelet Culinary Guild

Many restaurant operators these days know that customers expect to see many more local ingredients on the menu. And if the restaurants are in a region relying on a tourism economy, the quality of the meals served has to be excellent. That’s why a special guild has been created to address the quality, local food issue and I told Jo-Ann Roberts about it today on CBC Radio’s Food Matters on All Points West. 

Out there on the Pacific Rim of Vancouver Island are the communities of Tofino and Ucluelet, which, over the years, have grown more and more dependent on the tourist trade, and many tourists are looking for high quality meals reflecting the bounty of the region. The only problem with being out there on the coast is that it is not exactly the most productive agricultural area, and even a lot of the seafood bounty caught in that area was being shipped away without ever being sampled in Tofino restaurants.

JayJay Guildenhuys

Costs were a lot higher because of so much of the food having to be trucked in, and for special orders from small farmers the restaurants were paying to have individual shipments couriered to them, and all that shipping wasn’t doing any good to some very fragile ingredients. The chefs were frustrated and they didn’t want to let down both the visiting tourists and their regular locals. That’s where the Tofino-Ucluelet Culinary Guild stepped in. On a recent visit there, I met Jay Guildenhuys of Shelter Restaurant in Tofino, who told me about the basic idea behind the Guild. “We thought if we got together and hired someone to do all the researching and sourcing and get it all to us at the same time we could save money and get better, local ingredients. All the chefs here are crazy about food and our local clientele is pretty demanding as well so that’s why we had to do something, and it’s working for everyone in the industry here.”

Bobby LaxBobby Lax

The person who does all the running around and researching is Bobby Lax. Jay told me they didn’t think they could get this kind of co-op going without a full-time employee,  so you will now find Bobby behind the wheel of his brightly painted red van. I met him just as he pulled up to Shelter, and he jumped out with a box of ever-bearing strawberries that were so good, and some freshly roasted hazelnuts that were just full of nutty goodness. Guess what? He loves his job: “So I have this great job of running around and meeting farmers and producers and finding out what they’re all about and if they’re running sustainable and clean operations and then getting all that connected to our member restaurants and grocery stores.”

When the guild was formed it was driven by restaurants and chefs. What they didn’t expect was the number of non-restaurant people that clamoured to join the guild and get in on what Bobby has put together:”We have about 50 or 60 individuals who have joined the Guild, and these are people who don’t mind buying 10 pounds of strawberries when they come in because they’ll freeze them, or jam them or just eat 1o pounds fresh at a time when they’re here because they know that soon they’ll be gone.”


Shelter chef Matty Kane brought out a couple of dishes as we were talking. We had a little piece of pan-fried halibut on top of a few fingerling potatoes, topped with some of the first chanterelle mushrooms of the season, and Sweet and Tartthen some wonderful ripe red plums, Coronation grapes, with a tiny thin slice of marinated green tomato and micro-greens from a farm just down the road in Ucluelet and fresh arugula, it was an amazing combo of sweet and tart and salty all at the same time.

This idea of local is really catching on in Tofino. Shelter has a nice little herb and greens garden right behind the restaurant, and Jay has purchased his own small farm in the Cowichan Valley with the aim of supplying more ingredients to his restaurant. While I was there I went to a special dinner at the Wickaninnish Inn where chef Nicolas Nutting and his pastry chef spent a whole week doing their own fishing and foraging. I’ll tell you about that in a few weeks as Chef Nutting gets ready to represent Vancouver Island in the regional edition of Gold Medal Plates in Vancouver in November.

And now some unfinished business: In our contest to win tickets to Sunday’s (Oct. 7th) fundraising dinner at Providence Farm, we asked people to tweet us their favourite recipes to the All Points West twitter account (that’s @allpointsbc). And that meant you had to get creative, because your recipe could only be 140 characters!

And we received some great entries. This one comes to us from Peter Griffiths ?[@pggriff]. It’s his recipe for cured salmon. [and I’m expanding a bit on his tweet – so it’s not abbreviated].

1/2 c sea salt 3/4 c sugar, 3 grated beets
Chunk of radish
Sandwich 2 fillets with this cure mix
And wrap saran.
Stays in fridge 3-7 days.

And this is another great one from John Zimmerman [@johnazimmerman] for Guacamole. He tweeted:
3 avocados, 2 limes, 1 jalepeno pepper, cilantro and salt to taste. Blend or dice. Serve with chips.

And now our winning entry: It just sounded too yummy. This one is from Shamus Baier [@shamusbaier] and it’s for Citrus Carrot Salad.

Grate 6 garden carrots in a dish, dice 1 sprig cilantro, pinch of lime zest and squeeze 1/2 lime juice.

Congratulations to Shamus, who with a friend will enjoy the James Barber Fundraiser Dinner at Providence Farm on Sunday, October 7th. There are still tickets available, they are $100 each, with a tax receipt provided for $50. Visit this link for more details. I just heard about another dish on the grazing menu today from Ryan Zuvich of Hilltop Bistro in Nanaimo with his Rabbit Terrine with Big D Honey and Agrodolce Tomato. (agrodolce means sweet and sour in Italian. Sounds yummy, hope to see you there!

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