By Jo Dickins
Sooke Harbour House had so much for the senses to feast on, even during a 24 hour visit, that I couldn’t fit my experience into one photo essay, so here’s a second installment.
Although owners (Sinclair and Frederique Philip) and its staff have built a reputation for excellence and leadership in all of the many aspects of their establishment, their food and wine is certainly a cornerstone of this well-deserved status.
Long before Slow Food was established in Canada, Sinclair and Frederique were establishing a culture of locally based, regional cuisine in their restaurant. The passion and dedication required to continually push this ahead is not just admirable, but economically and morally imperative, and deserves recognition and support… as in government and consumer support! Incentives and dollars! Okay, I’ll come down from my soapbox now. Besides, their food is just plain delicious.
We had stimulating conversations with Sinclair about everything from the environmental state of the planet (Xanax please?) through self-defence techniques, to the evolving, or more accurately, depleting fish stocks in the area. We learned that Sinclair has recently rekindled a passion he first discovered as a student, in his 20’s, living in France: foraging for mushrooms. He’s found an escape from stress by performing a sort of walking meditation in the local wooded areas. Not only are these journeys good for his mental and physical health, and for providing the chefs with inspiration, they’re an outlet for his curiosity and his clearly insatiable thirst for knowledge. He’s learned a great deal from his research and adventures in the forests. As an added bonus, he claims the foraging communities he’s been engaged with, both past and present, consist of a very interesting, intellectual bunch.
In this photo essay, the second of two parts, I’ve tried to capture some kitchen action and to share our beautiful, memorable meals with you. Plan to visit Sooke Harbour House – it is a very, very special place. (I’m especially talking to you if you’re attending the Canadian Chefs Congress this September!)
In the foreground, apprentice Chef Julian Obererlacher preps, while in the background Executive Chef Sam Benedetto chats with a WWOOF’er from Italy, Ludovica, who’s just brought in some arugula from the garden. Julian is has some serious pedigree, as his mother is Slow Food Canada president Mara Jernigan. Right, a bountiful bowl of blooms.
In the pastry shop, some petits fours are ready for dinner service; Marisa Lawley-Wakelin checks her notes, perhaps instructions from Master Pastry Chef Matthias Conradi. Seaweed is on the menu as well.
On a tour of the wine cellar, Sommelier Britta Geise gave us a crash course on B.C. grapes.
After the tour, a lovely couple visiting from California brought in a Pinot Noir from Oregon for us to try, picked up on their northbound travels. We sampled it in the lounge. On the right, Britta cleans some dust off a 1999 Coulée de la Serrant from biodynamic grower Nicolas Joly; she gave us an excellent Coles Notes version of what all that means…
It may have become a little de trop to list the details of all the items in a dish, but it really can mean a lot when the cooks and the diners care. And this fish dish was fantastic: “Seared Smoked Pink Salmon accompanied by a chilled salad of baby Ragley Farm, Golden, Chiogga and Icicle beets, toasted hazelnuts, merlot lettuc, Global basil emulsion and Cascade berry and basalmic gastrique.” I think they forgot to list the (yummy) cheese. Right, Chef Robin Jackson in the kitchen. That bright stuff in the background is natural light – jackpot!
Kitchen staffers Connor Gabbott and Tomek Mitrega share a laugh; my main dish of grilled pork tenderloin. Of all the elements that came with it, two really blew my mind: sautéed conical cabbage (from their farm) and a sunflower seed parsley gremoulada.
Sinclair joins us for dessert and karate talk. Earlier, I was presented with this magnificent bowl of chanterelles, collected by Sinclair himself. I am a rookie fungi-phile but could still appreciate how special these were. According to Sinclair they were perfectly in season, crisp and apricot-y.
Last week when I said the Philips were still active in their Slow Food convivium, it was kind of like saying Roger Federer is a pretty good tennis player. Sinclair is currently also Canadian Councillor to the International Slow Food Board.
Morning time – Marina Janzen dishes out some creamy eggs. Right – the breakfast as delivered to our room. Actual quote from my husband: “you know what Bret Michaels says…an’ it don’ git betta than thee-is”. Yes.
Jo Dickins is a Toronto-based professional photographer. Find out more about Jo Dickins at jodickins.com.