Pender Island chef brings a tropical palette to fine dining

Aurora Restaurant at Poets Cove Resort and Spa spotlights local ingredients for colourful plates

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      Pender Island makes for one of those getaways that makes you feel much farther away from Vancouver than a two-hour ferry ride. The easy-breezy pace is the stuff city-dwellers dream of on their daily commute.

      For foodies, summertime is prime time here. The Pender Island Farmers Market is one draw. Sponsored by the Pender Island Farmers' Institute, it runs Saturdays through to Labour Day. Raven Rock Farm is a regular (these days, with freshly picked basil, leeks, fennel, beans, and more), as is Avondale Farm, which grows organic blueberries. You’ll also find Twin Island Cider, Pender Island Pasta, Gulf Islands Gourmet Preserves (which also makes sticky buns), and freshly milled grains by Salish Sea Mills.

      Aurora Restaurant at Poets Cove Resort and Spa is another attraction that has upped its game lately.

      Chef Chad Mitchell recently moved to Pender after spending four years in Bermuda. He brought with him to the B.C. coast some of what he learned while cooking in the tropics.

      “We wanted to capture the views and atmosphere of Pender Island into to the tastes and flavours of each dish,” Mitchell says. “Every night we have a stunning sunset with amazing harbour and marina views. That was the inspiration for our Sunset Beet Carpaccio with Okanagan goat cheese. Everything else is Pender-grown, using red purple and gold beets that are layered on the plate to resemble an evening sunset.

      “We rarely use anything that’s not grown, harvested or farmed within a few 100 kilometres,” he says. (The exceptions are Brome Lake duck from Quebec and Nova Scotia scallops). “We want to support our farmers and fisheries which are native to B.C. and promote local, organic eating.”

      That means produce from Pender’s Raven Rock Farms and several growers there, on Vancouver Island, and the Okanagan (including cherries from the latter for its vinaigrettes) and pork and beef from Chilliwack.

      Using Ocean Wise seafood, the menu features items like Pacific Coast halibut, with shiitake and oyster mushrooms from Tyndall Garden Farms, along with beluga lentils, Vancouver Island summer squash, and local cherry-tomato salsa. Okanagan grilled-peach-and-halibut ceviche is another: fire from jalapeno pepper, peachy sweetness, a sour kick from a citrus vinaigrette, a bit of salt to evoke the ocean, and a smooth avocado puree to bring it all together.

      Sea Star Estate Farm and Winery is another partner: Mitchell uses its Encore wine, a Meritage blend, in blackberry jus and its Sweet Coastal Riesling Prose in house-made vanilla ice cream. Aurora also hosts a Sea Star wine-pairing dinner annually.

      While Poets Cove (which has been voted by Georgia Straight readers as one of the best resorts in the Gulf Islands in the annual Best of Vancouver survey) is open year-round, Aurora Restaurant is a seasonal operation, running June to mid-September. (Its Syrens Bistro is open from March to October.) For more info, see Poets Cove Resort and Spa.