Vancouver Island emerges as culinary powerhouse

December 05 2018

However vast a country Canada is, there is no doubt that some very particular places stand out in many ways. And when it comes to food, it seems Vancouver Island is right up there. 

The naming of the shortlist for enRoute Magazine's Best New Restaurants is never without contention - just ask Ottowans left disappointed at none of their establishments making the list. 

But even so, there may be some glee among chefs on Vancouver Island that two of its new restaurants - the Courtney Room in Victoria and the 1909 Kitchen in Tofino - made the list, whereas in the city of Vancouver, St Lawrence was the only one named. 

Feather in the cap

Considering that Vancouver is seen as a bit of a foodie city, this is quite a feather in the cap of the island's culinary scene, and the Vancouver Sun has been quick to emphasise that this is no fluke. 

It noted that in 2016, Agruis from Victoria was fourth in the final list while in 2015,  Pilgrimme on Galiano Island was third and Tofino’s Wolf in the Fog was the top new restaurant in the whole of Canada in 2015.

"That’s a lot of recognition for an area with only about two per cent of the nation’s population," the paper enthused.

What helped Vancouver Island stand out? 

The Vancouver Sun suggested that the key to Vancouver Island's success is its easy access to some of the best ingredients, both from the sea and in its countryside, where farms and wild fruit offer a range of great produce right on the doorsteps of the various restaurants. 

Sam Harris, executive chef at The Courtney Room, said: "We have some of the best produce in the world, and we have some of the best seafood.” 

Meanwhile, Paul Moran, executive chef of 1909 Kitchen, observed: "All the different micro regions on the island and the different ingredients they produce, whether it’s east coast or west coast, are definitely what appeals to me."

As the paper noted, this was not always the case. Until the 1960s, Vancouver Island's food offerings were restricted to British colonial traditions, but since then, it has diversified. 

Did any other Canadian islands make the list? 

It all begs the question; have any other Canadian islands managed to similarly punch above their weight? 

Leaving the river island city of Montreal out of it, there are no other contenders in the top 30 list. Nothing from Graham Island, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton Island or any of the other pieces of land large and small that lie off the coast. That at least would suggest there is something quite special about Vancouver Island. 

Perhaps the situation is that of a perfect culinary storm. Being just a ferry ride from a major city, Vancouver Island may be better able to act as an alternative place to live than its urban neighbor, with lower living costs making it a viable location for chefs and their customers alike. As such, it attracts both food makers and diners used to a lively urban scene with lots of choice and quality in a way no other island can match. 

Indeed, if Vancouver Island's restaurants carry on like this, maybe more Vancouvans will be keen to make their way across the Strait of Georgia for a great culinary experience.