If you remember, I attended the BC Shellfish and Seafood Expo Preview in Vancouver three months ago and wrote a full post on it here. To be honest, the preview event really opened my eyes on just how important the BC seafood industry is to the rest of the world. I didn’t know this before but the coastal waters of British Columbia produces over 100 sustainable seafood products that are then exported around the world!!
This past weekend, I received the full BC Shellfish and Seafood Festival experience as I attended a weekend long trip to Comox Valley to cover the festival as media. The festival ran from June 9 – 18, 2017.
Comox Valley Farmers’ Market
At my trip, I got to see a local farmers market, take a tour of a salmon farm, visit a beach called “Goose Spit” (teehee), and try local seafood prepared by chefs flown in from around the world! Yeah I know…life is hard. 😛
I am a lover of all farmers markets because I believe you just can’t beat produce farmed by a neighbour, bread baked in someone’s kitchen, or dog food created by a fellow dog owner. All of those examples were present at this Comox Valley Farmers’ Market and I wish I had the money to buy them all. In the end I settled for a homemade pretzel made by The Pretzel Guys and it was absolutely delicious. It’s a father and son duo and they bake every morning at 3am to have all of their pretzels fresh for the market. Bravo.
Fresh produce on display.
40 Knots Vineyard & Estate Winery
During some down time we went for a wine tasting at the 40 Knots Vineyard & Estate Winery. The estate is a stunning 24 acres and is the largest grape winery in Comox Valley. It was also voted Best Winery in 2016 by Reader’s Choice and Winner of Chamber of Commerce Food and Farm Award.
Out of all the different wines I tried, my favourites were: the Ziggy Siegerrebe (named after their dog!), the delicate Rose, and the (uncloaked) Chardonnay. If you are go to Comox, I would highly recommend checking out 40 Knots for their wine tasting!
Marine Harvest (Salmon Farm) – BC Salmon Farmers Association
I always eat farmed salmon but I have never had a full understanding of where the ‘farmed salmon’ came from. So I was excited to see a Salmon Farm tour on my itinerary. For this tour, we ventured to Hardwicke Island (an island between Vancouver Island and the mainland measuring 35 km) to visit the Marine Harvest Atlantic salmon farm. Marine Harvest is the largest producer of Atlantic salmon and they currently have 742,000 fish in these 10 square pens.
I learned that the feeding process has advanced tremendously over the years from people feeding the hundreds of thousands of fish by hand, to having it mechanically spit out through a tube electronically now. They go through four of these gigantic bags a day to feed all the fish, and the food pellets consist of 30% fish meal and oils, and the rest are made up of other nutrients. The really great thing about farmed salmon is that in order to raise salmon in these farms, salmon only needs 1 kg of food for every 1 kg of weight gained, whereas cows need 7kg of feed for every 1 kg of weight gained. Clearly we know what we should eat if we want to conserve the world’s resources.
Nets cover the top of the pens to prevent birds from flying in and stealing the fish. Conversely, nets are also placed on the bottom to prevent other marine animals from doing the same.
The most interesting thing I learned on this tour is that in this facility, five employees actually live on-site and rotate shifts to maintain the farm. In their ‘house’, there’s a living room, bedroom, full sized kitchen, and a control room that has this super cool program attached to a TV where they can view all of the underwater and above ground cameras to make sure everything is going alright with the fish. Honestly, all of their systems are very high tech. Canadian agriculture (or aquaculture) has really come a long way.
Comox Fisherman’s Wharf Tour
On the other side of the spectrum, we got to also tour the Comox Fisherman’s Wharf to see how fisherman catch salmon the traditional way. The tour guide brought us around to see all of the vessels that catch salmon, halibut, shrimp, tuna, and more.
My takeaways from the tour was 1) it’s very expensive to be a fisherman (a one time fishing licence can be upwards of 200k!!) and that’s why the industry is investing more and more money to help young aspiring fishermen get grants for these licences, and 2) when you’re at sea, everything has to be calculated to a tee, including knowing the water temperature below you because it can determine whether you are going to catch all the fish or your competitor will 10 meters away.
Fresh Fest at Coastal Black Winery
As one of the signature events for the BC Seafood Festival, Fresh Fest celebrates all that is wonderful about seafood, with the country’s top level chefs (including a couple of Top Chef Canada winners!) providing you with their wonderful seafood creations, paired with BC VQA Wine. This year, Fresh Fest was sold out very quickly at about $99/tix so make sure you get your tickets early next year!
The famous Chef Trevor Bird of Fable was present crafting up a delicious and wonderfully entertaining Westcoast paella featuring Kyuquot Sound Sablefish, Fanny Bay Mussels, and Pentlatch Seafood Clams.
I love my paella so I instantly took to this dish. Though I generally like squid ink or saffron paellas, the flavours here were amazing and I would happily order this dish whole at a restaurant.
Chef Siddharth Choudhary from Siddhartha’s Indian Kitchen was also present at Fresh Fest and he did a fantastic grilled salmon dish consisting of Cardamom and Saffron-marinated BBQ Atlantic Salmon with a Coconut & Roasted Tomato sauce. I normally don’t BBQ salmon but after trying his dish I think I should start.
Salmon Tartare with preserved lemon, creme fraiche, pickled sea asparagus, crispy salmon skin, and pumpernickel toast.
This one was interesting. It’s a marinated Fanny Bay Mussels and Pentlatch Seafoods Clams in Tom Yum Tomato Water dish. It is created by Jinhee Lee and Duncan Ly of Foreign Concept (Calgary). Even though the dish tasted great, I personally found it a bit hard to eat due to the tomato slices on top. Nevertheless, as you can see, their plating skills are on point.
One of my favourite dishes of the night was the Oyster Rockefeller with herb panko, goat beurre blanc, and dehydrated cocktail sauce by Nathan Tymchuck of Save on Foods.
On the other hand, one of the prettiest of the night was this Northern Diving Sturgeon Pastrami with maple buds, rye crisps, caviar, and creme fraiche by Rod Butters of RauDZ Regional Kitchen.
Ned Bell from the Vancouver Aquarium was there and made the best tasting open faced sandwich I’ve ever had. It looks super simple and unpretentious but I can assure you, this would’ve blown your mind if you had the chance to try it. It’s essentially Chilled Lois Lake Steelhead Rillette with Lime & Dill Aioli on Sourdough bread. I think it’s important to note that there’s no crust on these bread slices. SCORE.
God I wish I could have this again. Actually, I wish I could eat this every day for the rest of my life.
All in all, this trip has really opened my eyes on the seafood I eat every day. Not only that, it gave me perspective and clarity on just how the agricultural business works tirelessly to support, raise, and innovate in order to allow us to eat all of this amazing shellfish and seafood with the least amount of adverse effects on the environment. Special thanks to Suzanne and Nancy for inviting me on this wonderful tour and I sure hope to come back next year to experience all that Comox Valley has to offer!