When it comes to my summer at the West Coast Fishing Club, I never know which day of the week it is. A 3 day trip, a 4 day trip, that’s the story of my life.
With every changeover comes a little excitement. I am always sad to see a group of guests leave, but itching to meet the next group! The arrival of the Delta Hotel group always keeps me on my toes, mostly due to the presence of former chef extraordinaire David Hawksworth. This time, it was with even more enthusiasm that I heard the sound of the helicopter. It was music to my ears: David Suzuki was on it!
Working in Haida Gwaii has been one of the most inspiring cooking experiences for me. I feel very connected to nature and privileged to have access to such a bounty of magnificent ingredients right out the back door: best fish in the world, seaweed and wild plants, spot prawns, Dungeness crab, fresh berries and wild mushrooms. And if my country would allow me to do so, there would be wild game on the menu. But that’s another story…
Getting back to my new group of guests, as I prepared myself mentally to do my introduction I can’t help but think: “Really? David Suzuki is at the Outpost for 4 days???”
I quickly brief the group about the food program, lunches on the water and other details related to food and wine. As I am ending my speech, Mr Suzuki asked if we could gather some fish roe sometime during the trip. He would like to prepare it the “Japanese way”.
After two full days of fishing, no roe was to be found. The forager in me could not let that happen. I requested that every fishing guide let me know if their salmon had eggs. On the third day, I put on my rain jacket and rubber boots and ventured to the dock. Looking through the bin of carcasses and fish heads, I miraculously managed to set aside two sacks of roe for Doctor Suzuki: that made him happy.
We carefully planned a time for him to come to the kitchen and prepare his delicious caviar. We were chatting away, about foraging, about wild and medicinal mushrooms, about herring roe on kelp, about training under Hawksworth. At one point he said to me:
“ Am I in the way of you doing your prep for dinner service?” And I’m thinking: “Are you kidding??? This is a once in a lifetime experience!” The legend even tried to clean his own dishes, but I didn’t allow that.
I was doing some mise en place for the salt crusted Chinook I had planned on serving that evening. The whole fish baked in a salt crust has become THE signature dish at the Outpost. I can tell when my guests are really passionate about it: that night, I hit the nail on the head. Both David’s (Suzuki and Hawksworth) thought it was the best fish they’ve ever had! The tableside carving of the fish with the explanation on how it is prepared always brings a lot of emotions. The cracking of the rock hard salt crust, the unveiling of a perfectly moist freshly caught Spring salmon definitely gets a lot of attention. I think I can safely say that the Chinook in salt crust has created many great memories and impressed a lot of our Outpost guests.
It had me thinking about the presentation of the salmon roe. On the last night, Suzuki and I planned the service of the roe as a little amuse bouche. Again, I thought it would be interesting to serve it in front of the guests. I was sure they would want to know everything about it.
David had me prepare a simple steamed rice (to my surprise, not sushi rice. I used Jasmine) and we ladled a tiny nest of it into a bowl as a support for the caviar. We handed bowl and chopsticks to each guest gathered around the island. The flavour profile was immaculate. Two main components and a match made in heaven! The saltiness of the soy sauce with the sweetness from the Mirin was the perfect balance. The cold, crunchy popping eggs on the warm steamed rice was absolutely delightful. It was as if Japan, the next piece of land across the Pacific, was suddenly not so very far from us.
I am very thankful for a lot of great experiences in my life. Being a chef has brought me to places I would have probably never set foot otherwise and gave me the opportunity to meet some truly amazing people. My passion continues to fill me with joy and the most incredible moments.
Feature image: David Suzuki – Haida Gwaii – West Coast Fishing Club – MyVanCity – photo credit Jordan Knight