This year Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival has moved forward a couple of months to take advantage of the glorious summer weather, with celebrations taking place on July 19th and 20th.
On Saturday the 19th of July at Noon on the Toronto Star Culinary Stage, Whistler Chef James Walt of Araxi restaurant will be showcasing sustainable West Coast seafood: wild salmon, spot prawns, geoduck, oysters and sea urchin in a special Treasures of the Pacific session.
Good Food Revolution: Stratford is a very special place for all of us here at Good Food Revolution. Although you attended the Chefs’ School, what makes Stratford such a special place for you?
James Walt: The culture of the town is something I find very appealing; they have great restaurants, products, the art community, and of course, the Festival. It is a lot to have in one place.
GFR: And what will you be doing at Savour Stratford this year?
JW: I will be featuring fresh seafood from British Columbia and preparing a cured salmon and a seafood ceviche.
GFR: Will you be utilising any of the bounty of local Perth County ingredients during your presentation? Do you have a favourite local and seasonal ingredient?
JW: Yes I will be using new potatoes, tomatoes, baby cucumbers and fresh herbs. My favorite ingredients around Stratford would probably be pork and there are some very fine cheeses, especially the cheeses from Ruth Klassen.
GFR: How is the dining scene in Whistler, and how does it compare to the many other places you have worked/visited?
JW: The dining seen in Whistler is quite unique; in that our clientele is very international. I find I can serve a lot of different products and I’ll find an audience for each. Other places I have worked such as Italy and China, the food was mainly for a specific group; not as much international clientele.
GFR: And when you speak about local in Whistler, what kind of ingredients are we speaking of?
JW: Besides the pristine seafood, we are surrounded by incredible produce from the Pemberton Valley, Fraser Valley and the Okanagan. Specific to Pemberton are root vegetables, fresh berries and Pemberton Valley beef.
GFR: You are a proud supporter of the Ocean Wise program. Please explain the program to our readers who are not familiar with it, and explain why you feel so strongly about sustainable seafood?
JW: The Ocean Wise program was started at the Vancouver Aquarium and it started with marine biologists and chefs. The program analyzes and makes decisions on what seafoods we should be using to support sustainable practices. If something is considered a “red” item, the chefs will not have it on their menu. It is a great thing to have in place because it makes our decisions that much easier.
GFR: Did you always want to be a Chef? Never an Astronaut or a Pirate? Or a Fisherman?
JW: I started cooking at a very young age and the thought of food always appealed to me, especially making people happy. I did envision a fish and wildlife background or would have enjoyed film studies, as my 10 year old son is showing an interest in now.
GFR: Who were the most important influences in your career as a chef?
JW: First and foremost, my mother and my aunt. Professionally, Jack Evrensel.
GFR: When can you remember hearing of the concept of sustainable seafood for the very first time?
JW: Back in 1992 when I was working at Sooke Harbour House restaurant on Vancouver Island.
GFR: There are some quite interesting developments in the world of modern aquaculture, although many people still see that as a dirty word? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
JW: Aquaculture is really the future; when done properly, like oyster, clam and mussel farms, they can have a benefit to the environment. We are starting to see land based operations that are seeing Ocean Wise certifications. And I know that there is a lot of research happening as far as what is possible within the ocean. As far as I can see, there really is no choice but to head in this direction at some point, so hopefully we can come up with systems that will work and not harm the environment.
GFR: B.C. Spot Prawns are one of my favourite Ocean Wise ingredients… Please indulge me and tell us your favourite way to prepare them?
JW: My favorite way is actually raw and either as a sashimi style, with a little ponzu sauce or as negiri with a little wasabi, and I like to fry the heads very crispy and eat those as well.
GFR: For people that haven’t had the opportunity to try your food before, can you describe a dish that you think reflects what your restaurant is all about? What characteristics and ingredients distinguish the cuisine of James Walt?
JW: We cook regional cuisine that is indigenous to the area. I like to treat food simply and with ingredients that enhance natural flavors. Currently wild scallops with fresh peas, baby carrots with heirloom tomatoes and sauce virerge is a favorite currently just because the products are all so fresh.
GFR: Which dish or ingredients would we NEVER find on a menu of yours? Your pet peeve(s)?
JW: Any processed foods; we make everything in-house. Pet peeves would be people who use inferior products and are hoping for first rate results. If you don’t start with good product, you will never create a good dish.
GFR: Stratford has always been one of my favourite culinary and cultural destinations. As well as presenting your session at Savour Stratford what else do you hope to do with your time there?
JW: My wife and I plan to catch a show and visit with my parents who are coming down as well. My wife is a Stratford grad as well, so we plan to visit instructors and fellow Stratford alum.
GFR: Thank you for your time James, we look forward to seeing you in Stratford!
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And for full disclosure, he serves on the advisory board for Ocean Wise for the Eastern seaboard.