We recently took a kid-less trip up to Tofino to see and celebrate the launch of the Tofino Ucuelet Culinary Guild, the just-baptised association of west-Island cooks and restaurateurs.
First off, how awesome is it that Tough City and Ukie now have their own organised collective of “like-minded chefs, restaurant entrepreneurs and culinary visionaries whose mission is to work closely with each other and regional farmers, foragers and fishermen to provide, support and promote a unique culinary experience that relies on sustainable farm-to-table practices and the freshest local ingredients prepared with integrity and passion”? That’s pretty cool.
At first blush you probably wouldn’t think chefs would be great collaborators, especially here in hyper-competitive BC where many tend to be dictators in suspiciously guarded fiefdoms of their own making. Cooperation would seem anathema to the job description. But I’ve seen it work splendidly in Vancouver with the Chefs’ Table Society of BC (witness their Spot Prawn Festival, underway now, and the two Vancouver Cooks cookbooks). I also know that the bonds of kitchen camaraderie are some of the strongest in the human experience, somewhere on the band of brothers (and sisters) ladder between firemen and soldiers. So what if the towns are small and membership in the Guild is consequently limited? The fruits of their zeal and common purpose matter most, and I was therefore very keen to witness the TUCG’s first pluck, a fundraising dinner held at Tin Wis.
We took off as we normally do in the Westfalia, a little nervously this time as it had just had its clutch replaced the day before. Michelle and I usually spend a few weeks out of the year up in Tofino, and this was our first foray up in 2010. Because the drive is so interminably long (3 hours), I usually treat the not-very-aerodynamic old camper to be a first rate Porsche and gun it like Fittipaldi. If you’ve ever tried to pass a logging truck in a Volkswagen van, you know faith in a virgin clutch is of the utmost importance. We actually beat our personal time record, getting their in just over 2.5 hours.
We dropped our stuff off at the always fantastic Wickaninnish Inn, had a bit of a refresher recce of the property (it’s my favourite hotel in Canada), ate a whole whack of kickass chocolate and then headed on over to the TUCG dinner.
I didn’t know what to expect, really. Was it just going to be twenty people in a room snacking and drinking and interacting through Robert’s Rules of Order? Hardly. It was a sellout crowd, well over a hundred locals paying nice big bucks to support their chefs in their new and commendable initiative. All smiles all around.
Teams from the Black Rock Resort, Shelter Restaurant, SOBO, Spotted Bear Bistro, the Wick and Wildside Grill were cooking up a storm, while more of their number doled out freshly caught spot prawns (OMG) and shucked-to-order oysters from an island of awesome in the middle of the great hall. The beer and wine flowed, a silent auction got underway, and dinner was soon served.
It was an ego free affair. No one chef or restaurant was headlining the multi-courser, and the menu purposely didn’t reveal who had cooked what. The food was predictably marvelous and the company equally so (we had the Phillips’ Brewery rep at our table so the beer gushed).
The evening went off without a hitch. The money raised would accelerate membership recruitment efforts and help fund initiatives to acquire and transport farm-fresh produce and meats to the area from across BC.
The crowd wasn’t your average black tie unit dispensing Point Grey checks out of habit and peer pressure. These people understood what was going on, and were all for it. Their enthusiasm reverberated throughout the hall when the chefs lined up to take a bow. The clapping and the cheers were deafening. A band played, the smell of weed wafted in from outside, and everyone felt good because it was good.
We took it easy for the next couple of days, moving from the Wick on Chesterman to a huge beachfront villa at Pacific Sands on the northern (and picturesque) extreme of Cox Bay. From the hot tub out front we watched surfers paddle out and ride in, eagles dip and soar, and visiting dogs running hell for leather because they’d never seen so much flat, perfect beach in their lives. We happily discovered that the resort was stocked with SOBO’s new line of take-out goodies, so we went to town on their pret-a-manger pizzas, curries and ice cream sandwiches washed down with ice cold bottles of Phillips’ beer.
The sun shone, the wind blew rough, and we decompressed as we intended. I met up with my friend Bobby and took in a Canucks playoff game at Shelter. We knocked back shots and sipped hard on $3 beers.
I had enough foresight to bring my skateboard, and irresponsibly snuck in a few half-drunken runs at Tofino’s concrete park, cruising around like an old man rediscovering his heartbeat and have a genuinely swell time.
We stayed another night and enjoyed a long and wonderful dinner at an old friend’s house on the water. Great salumi and ceviche, plus a Key Lime pie that nearly made me cry. A holidaying restaurateur from Vancouver and his wife joined us, and we all shot the breeze and christened interesting bottles, forgetting momentarily that we had to go home the following morning to our jobs, our children, our thousands of things that we’d put on hold for this little taste of R&R.
It felt good to get away and jump start our summer. There’s something about unplugging in Tofino that slips us into a gravy state of mind. Thanks to everyone who aided in our getaway, and to the Tofino Ucluelet Culinary Guild for the inspiration and the fine food.
We’ll be back for the Food & Wine Fest in June and then again for our annual August safari with the little ones. As always, see you on the road.