West Coast inn has strong Calgary chef connection
Article Information & Social Sharing
Original Article by Jody Robbins for Calgary Herald
Even if you’ve never been to Tofino, you’ve surely heard of this tiny resort town, sandwiched between the steely grey waters of the Pacific and ancient coastal rainforests anchored along the western edge of Vancouver Island. At the epicentre of the town’s tourism trade stands the Wickaninnish Inn, an independently owned luxury resort. “Rustic elegance at nature’s edge” is how Andrew Springett, chef instructor at SAIT describes the inn.
“The area is still pretty wild — including the inn. They try to keep it that way as much as possible and that’s part of the magic of it,” recalls Springett.
He held his first head chef position there, and several other Calgary chefs cut their culinary chops at this Relais & Châteaux property, too, including Nick Nutting. The former Calgarian took culinary courses at SAIT before apprenticing under Michael Nobel at his newly opened Catch. He moved on and eventually landed at the Wickaninnish Inn’s Pointe Restaurant for five years as Chef de Cuisine. He then moved up the road and opened the renowned Wolf in the Fog restaurant in Tofino.
With the imminent launch of The Wickaninnish Cookbook (May 29, 2018), we asked several Calgary chefs to share their favourite memories, menu items and how the inn propelled their culinary career.
Duncan Ly, chef-owner of Foreign Concept, went to Tofino to surf and paid the bills as a dishwasher at the inn. But watching the chefs cook and inhaling the scents that wafted from stove to plate — specifically the seafood-laden West Coast chowder — ignited a spark that led him to become a culinary apprentice at the inn.
“Being on the island teaches you to use what’s around you, use everything and all parts of it. The inn has been doing that long before it became trendy,” affirms Ly.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Springett. “It sounds like a cliche, but working at the Wick taught me freshness of product is everything. You couldn’t find fresher seafood, but it gets you spoiled, and you don’t want to work with anything else. That really hit home.”
Yet the inn’s location and focus on locally sourced products is not without its challenges. “Being so remote, there were definitely challenges in getting food supplies, and while there were some really interesting locals, many were transient. We had a lot of excellent opportunities for foraging though. It was like shopping, with foragers bringing product to our back door, and local Indigenous people bringing in items only they had access to,” remembers Springett.
In 2017, Wickaninnish Inn celebrated its 20th anniversary with a private dinner in Calgary for frequent local guests. The occasion afforded Justin Labossiere, former executive chef at Notable and now culinary director at Concorde Group, an opportunity to recreate his favourite Wickaninnish Inn dish: dungeness crab ravioli, which is also featured in the cookbook. “My first time making fresh pasta was at the inn. We had live crabs in the kitchen, and it was such an amazing experience at 21 years old, being new to the industry.”
This introduction to fresh seafood early in his career led Labossiere to continuously introduce and incorporate West Coast flavours to landlocked Calgary. “I learned how to cure salmon while working at the inn, and I’ve made a smoked salmon dish at every venture since,” he said. While it’s not on the menu at Concorde’s National, you’ll find Labossiere’s cold and hot smoked salmon at the gastro pub’s private events and beer dinners.
The dish that takes Springett back is foie gras and citrus cured salmon terrine with caviar from farmed Canadian sturgeon. “It’s an elegant dish and a different combination. There’s a light oak on the salmon, and the smoke and fattiness stand up to the duck foie gras,” he recalls.
Set directly upon Chesterman Beach, Wickaninnish Inn offers visitors a variety of experiences for a gourmet getaway. Ly recommends their summertime crab dinners on the beach, while Springett vouches for the surround-sound views from The Pointe restaurant. While the inn has deservedly earned its reputation as one of Canada’s top culinary destinations, its cross-pollination of chefs is the legacy Calgarians ought to savour the most.