Coast to Coast with Club House for Chefs: West-Coast Edition

Club House for Chefs’ Coast-to-Coast Tour heads west this month for a culinary exploration of beautiful British Columbia. New to the tour?

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Catch recaps of the first two stops, Edmonton, here and Winnipeg, here.

As hard as it can be to leave the friendly food community of Winnipeg, it was time for the Club House team to keep on trucking toward its next destination — Canada’s always-popular west-coast province of British Columbia. For the spice squad, it wasn’t going to be enough to only visit Vancouver when there are so many other top restaurants and gorgeous destinations beyond its city borders. If flavours have no limits, why should the search for them?

As a special add-on this round, who better to guide the crew around than top B.C. restaurateur chef Robert Belcham. Dedicated to cooking in the community that raised and taught him, after graduating from the Culinary Arts program at Camosun College, chef Belcham built on his skillset and kitchen experience at Rebar (Victoria). This was followed by a move to California to become chef de partie at the famous French Laundry; but he couldn’t stay away forever.

Chef Belcham soon returned to run C Restaurant, one of the most-famous seafood restaurants in Canada at the time. In addition to his eventual position as a chef consultant at Nu, it was time for chef Belcham to dive head first into becoming an operator of his own future award-winning business, Fuel Restaurant — later renamed Refuel Restaurant & Bar. Since then, he’s owned a number of successful restaurants, including Campagnolo Restaurant, Campagnolo Roma, Monarch Burger and his most recent, Popina Canteen.

Kicking off the team’s B.C. experience was a visit to family-run The Lobster Man on Granville Island to learn about shellfish from Business Development manager, Chelsea Sang.

“What’s your favourite type of shellfish?” she asked chef Belcham. “It has to be Dungeness crab,” he immediately answered.

Selling retail and wholesale high-quality seafood in Vancouver since 1977, not only does The Lobster Man provide chef Belcham’s Dungeness crab, it’s also a go-to for clams, lobsters, mussels, prawns, salmon and oysters.

“Some unique shellfish we get here as well are geoduck, B.C. sea urchin and B.C.  spot prawn,” Sang added.

To ensure the freshest products, the team at The Lobster Man works with, and sources directly from, numerous local fishermen and fisherwomen to bring in new seafood daily,while also offering delivery twice a day, seven days a week.

Next, it was time to witness something glorious at Glorious Organics. Cooperatively operated by five former members of The Glorious Garnish and Seasonal Salad Company in Aldergrove, Glorious Organics offers local restaurants and farmer’s markets fruits, vegetables, seeds, herbs and certified-organic salad greens. Giving the crew a first-hand look at its operations were Mark and Susan.

“Glorious Organics has the best salad mix I’ve ever seen anywhere, anyplace, any country,” said chef Belcham. “So, of all these beds that are going right now, what’s going to be in my salad mix this week?” he then asked, pointing to the growing outdoor greens.

“It’s changing every week, as you know, and we send out a sheet to the restaurants/chefs,” replied Mark. “Right now, there’s sweet rocket, which go into a lot of our petal mixes because they’re wild and edible. My colleague Michelle actually digs them up sometimes and moves them to make sure we have them in areas we can use all the time.”

Also observed to be growing in large clusters at the time of the tour was swiss chard, arugula, tatsoi, mizuna and bull’s blood beets.

“Glorious Organics is also now a founding member of the B.C.  Eco-Seed Cooperative, added Susan. “We’re working with other farms in the province to develop and grow seed in a variety of locations around the province so we can build the resilience we need to accommodate climate change.”

Speaking of farms, what better next stop for the team than Coghlan Cottage Farm, a family-run Langley homestead owned by Jeff and Stacey Langford. Its motto is “Raising good food you can feel good about.”

Coghlan Cottage Farm specializes in products such as Icelandic lamb, grass-fed beef, pastured eggs and chef Belcham’s favourite rare breed pork.

“We have Old-Spot varieties here that are excellent for bacon. One of the benefits of using heritage breeds is diversity, which can bring different things to the chefs in terms of fat content and flavour profiles,” explained Jeff. “Plus, the nice thing about working with smaller farmers is we’re more agile, nimbler and can give you the weights you want and the breeds you’d like. We can get a lot more specific with the food product you’re looking for.”

At Coghlan Cottage Farm, the pigs are raised in a 100-per-cent natural habitat as, according to the Langfords, the lack of stress on the pigs means less negative impact on the quality and flavour of the meat.

After a fun chase with the hogs, it was time for chef Belcham and the Club House crew to make one last stop together at Hopcott Meats.

Running their third-generation family farm and butcher shop with a passionate, dedicated team, Bob and Debbie Hopcott provide chefs and their community with fresh produce and hormone-free, steroid-free beef, poultry, pork and lamb.

“My grandfather bought the farm and passed it on to my dad who then trained my brothers. Beef is definitely a passion and a love for my family. Quality and consistency in our product are our focus and that goes for the butcher shop as well,” explained Jenn Hopcott-Foxley, current Operations manager, guiding the team through the cow pastures.

Upon arrival at the on-site butcher shop, chef Belcham and the group got a first-hand demonstration in properly carving beef.

“You want to try to find someone with the most experience and who understands the anatomy of the animal, how things are broken down and how to get the best cut,” explained Mike Lindsay, general manager and head butcher of Hopcott Meats.

That’s why it’s best for chefs and foodservice operators to source their meats from local farmers and butchers, rather than mass-producing processing plants.

And as much as everyone would have loved to spend the rest of the day among the animals, it was time for Club House and chef Belcham to say goodbye as the spice team continued its restaurant run, ready to create brand new collaborative recipes with some local chefs.

First up was the crusted parsnip roots, created behind the scenes of The Pear Tree Restaurant by chef and Hawksworth Young Chef Scholarship judge, Scott Jaeger. Simmered with the sweet, smoky Canadian flavour of Lawry’s Maple Bacon Wings Seasoning, these parsnips are served on a bed of Club House Sea Salt-seasoned purée and can be topped with a garnish of your choosing. The flavour-pairing possibilities are endless.

For chefs wanting a hot new summer appetizer, that’s where the team’s visit to Alta Bistro came in. There, the spice squad met chef Nick Cassettari, steaming and smoking his way to the formation of his sourdough-tempura honey mussels. As if the honey mussels alone aren’t alluring enough, this dish is served on a bed of delicious Old Bay aioli — because you can’t have seafood anything without a little Old Bay.

But of course, what a new summer appetizer needs is a great new summer entrée to follow. Enter chef Alex Chen, executive chef of Vancouver’s Boulevard Kitchen + Oyster Bar. Made with high-marbling pichana, fresh thyme and Club House La Grille Brazilian Style BBQ Seasoning, chef Chen’s slow cooked Brazilian-style pichana with chimichurri sauce is your guests’ passport to vacation flavour, all without ever leaving their table.

Rounding out the list of B.C.-made custom Club House dishes is the chilled sidestripe shrimp with fennel, tallow croutons and Brazilian-spiced vinaigrette. Served on pre-chilled, fennel-topped plates and topped with tallow croutons, this Club House creation by chef (and honorary B.C. tour guide) Robert Belcham is sure to keep guests refreshed and swimming in savoury flavour all season long.

Follow along with Club House for Chefs and its Coast-to-Coast Tour on Instagram @CH4Chefs / #CHCoast2Coast. The adventure in food destinations and new dishes continues as the team heads to the Maritimes for an exploration of flavour in Halifax.

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