There are food events and then there are coastal culinary experiences.
Picture a cellist in a toque, sunglasses, and track pants playing the Game of Thrones soundtrack and other songs at a long-table dinner steps from the beach as the sun drops into the sea, for instance, or a being able to go for a gentle hike through a sun-dappled rainforest while stopping along the way for ceviche or seafood soup as singer-guitarists perform, surrounded by salal and old-growth cedars.
The 9th annual Feast Tofino food festival took place at various Pacific Rim spots of splendour from May 3 to 5. The “boat to table” fest has a new team at its helm, with husband-and-wife duo of Zane Caplansky and Willa Bradshaw adding fresh and funky elements to the mix.
Here’s a rundown of the 2019 event, with restaurants to note for next time you’re in Tuff City.
Bite of the Nite
Taking place at Tofino Resort & Marina, the soiree featured five local chefs serving a dish centred on sustainable ingredients (seafood, mostly). Guests were tasked with trying them all and voting for their favourite by dropping a pebble in that station's goldfish bowl.
Top Chef Canada finalist Paul Moran of Tofino Resort and Marina’s 1909 Kitchen earned bragging rights for the win: a Lois Lake steelhead salmon-lettuce wrap with ginger-and-black-bean sauce, coriander, pickled red onion, and edible flowers.
Other participating chefs included SoBo’s Lisa Ahier, who served a miso-glazed sablefish with soba noodles and sea greens; Long Beach Lodge’s Shaun Snelling, who brought bright, refreshing flavours with a cluster of side-stripe shrimp on squid-ink cracker with mango emulsion and cucumber-avocado; Matty Kane, of Shed and Shelter, with a flaky seafood empanada; and Dave Theilmann of Bravocados—a vegetarian/vegan restaurant that's a newer addition to Tofino’s food scene—who served up kelp-brined, pan-seared king oyster mushroom “scallops” with sea asparagus, lemon-thyme aioli, caper tapenade, and kelp chip in various types of sea shells. There were freshly shucked oysters, taps for Tofino Brewing Co and Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse, live music by the Mike and Allie Band (an acoustic-folk duo who played in the back in of Pacific Sands’ vintage teal pickup truck), and a gentle sea breeze coming in off Clayoquot Sound.
Taste of Tonquin Trail
A first for Feast Tofino, this was the weekend highlight. What could be better than a walk through the rainforest with a stop at a sandy beach? A walk through the rainforest with a stop at a sandy beach and a series of food stations featuring celebrated chefs from across the country and live acoustic music at every one, of course.
Toronto chef Nuit Regular, who runs Pai Northern Thai Kitchen with her husband, Jeff, was out in the sun stir-frying rice noodles over a camp-style stove. She was making her famous, authentic pad Thai with tamarind sauce (which she cooked up in Ahier’s SoBo kitchen the day before), Thai coriander, bean sprouts, roasted peanuts, egg, chives, and fresh lime. (The couple owns and operates several other Thai restaurants in Toronto, and Nuit is credited for showing people the many different sides of Thai cuisine and reinvigorating the Thai-food scene there.)
Toronto’s Joshna Maharaj is another award-winning chef as well as an activist. She has started a movement called Take Back the Tray, which aims to overhaul and vastly improve the food in hospitals, schools, and prisons. (She has given two TEDx talks on the subject.) Along the Tonquin, Maharaj served South African fish curry with rice as well as lemon-and-black-salt asparagus.
From St. John’s, Newfoundland were Shaun Hussy and Michelle LeBlanc of Chinched Restaurant & Deli. The restaurant takes its name from a Newfie term for being stuffed. The couple’s nose-to-tail cuisine features seasonal products from local farmers and producers. Partnering with Kane, Hussy studded a complex, chili-spiked soup with barbecued octopus and clams.
Antler is a Toronto restaurant that specializes in game; grilling on a sunshine-y patch of the gravelly path, chef Joey Shapiro offered flavourful skewers of glazed duck and mushrooms. Meanwhile, on a chillier, shadier section of the trail, self-taught Toronto chef Jonathon Poon, of Paris Paris, an all-day wine bar, dished up up albacore-tuna ceviche. (He may have been cold, but he could see through the trees to Tonquin Beach, making for a stunning makeshift kitchen.)
Long Table Dinner
It was a beautiful, crisp evening for the white-tent meal that took place on the grassy lawn of Ocean Village Resort, with its beehive cabins overlooking Mackenzie Beach.
Bobby Lax, head of the Tofino Ucluelet Culinary Guild, emceed the evening, which featured a six-course meal with drink pairings. Some highlights: Chef Ian Riddick of Ucluelet’s Heartwood Kitchen developed a West Coast surf ’n’ turf with sablefish, foie gras, and pork-belly braise, paired with Blue Grouse Estate Winery’s 2017 Quill Pinot Noir; chef Dean Horsfall’s side-stripe shrimp salad with cherry tomatoes came with Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse’s off-dry King and Spies, which is part of the Heirloom series and is made of King, Northern Spies, and other apples.
Feast Dock Party
As Feast Tofino proves, the town known primarily for its surf and splendid scenery is a culinary destination now, too. It’s the kind of place that people visit on vacation and never leave; a lot of those visitors just happen to be enthusiastic, talented chefs. With Feast, it seems that food scene in Tofino is only going to get tastier.