BC seafood

BC Seafood Expo Chefs’ Reviews

by Samantha McLeod

The BC Seafood Expo was held in Comox Valley on June 12 and 13, and I was lucky enough to be sent as an onsite writer. The event was quite fun, and I did meet loads of interesting people from across the globe. Vancouver Island is world renowned for its seafood and produce, and as one might have expected, the buyers poured into Comox Valley, and the suppliers delivered.

There was an International Buyers Reception with ten chefs showcasing their creations, and of course, I was quite excited to eat my way through the reception.

Kudos to the chefs who delivered on taste, flavour, and presentation. To chefs who did not, please understand my reviews are not malicious in any way, take it as constructive criticism, and nothing more.

The tasting menu:

The Romano Brothers, Atlas Café Courtenay BC, won the best in show (for me) at this event. Best presentation, best one-bite, best in textures and flavours, and to top that, they managed to make Geoduck sexy as hell.
The dish was Sake Marinated Geoduck, Geoduck Broth, Black Garlic Puree, Tobiko, Nori Oil, Green Onion, Pickled Ginger.

Geoduck (pronounced Gooey Duck) is an extremely phallic looking clam. Geoduck is slightly sweet and quite clean and bland in taste, the texture is a unique rubbery mouth feel, with a distinct tough-squid-like crunch in the bite. Geoduck market value is 3 times the price of foie gras.
The Sake marinade softened it a tad to tone down the initial hard-bite, while the slightly salty Ocean tasting broth reminded one that the dish is a seafood. There was just enough black-garlic puree to impart flavour but not overpower, in fact with the thin slices of green onions added the dish had a sense of fresh garlic scape. The satisfying juicy pops of the fish roe, and the refreshing strips of ginger elevated this Amuse Bouche to one perfectly beautiful bite of taste and textures that cannot be forgotten.

Chef Nigel McMeans Blackfin Pub Comox, is one of those chefs that is very talented if he is not tied to a corporate menu, this chef should be allowed to showcase more of his private creations. The dish was a bit heavy for a small tasting event. In fact, this could have been two dishes instead of one and he still would have come in close to the top. His dish finished best in plating and best in flavour.
The dish was Zaatar Crusted Albacore Tuna, served with yam puree, salmon poke, avocado cream and citrus sriracha.
Zaatar was a nice touch for the fresh tuna, a lovely crunchy, nutty-tangy crust over the firm and buttery tuna worked wonderfully well with the sweetness of the potatoes and the heat of the pepper sauce.
The salmon poke was actually quite good, fresh and lightly seasoned and very cold. A good poke dish must have cold fish for it to be truly enjoyed. That said, it was an unnecessary addition to the dish.

Chef Chris Andrazza, FannyBay Oysters Vancouver, went for simply grilled oysters to warm the shell and that was much appreciated because FannyBay oysters are perfect in the raw. The chef made Grilled Oyster with chilli butter and chimichurri.
The shell was warm from the grill, and the oyster was swimming in a lovely scented butter sauce, and of course, the sharpness of a great chimichurri. A perfect mouthful of gorgeous oyster and a simple presentation that showcased each ingredient.

Chef John Carlos Felicella BC Culinary Team, presented Miso Glazed Atlantic Salmon, with prawn dumpling, pickled shimiji, shitake foam, micros, yuzu vinaigrette.
This dish was busy, very busy. Each component was delicious, but not cohesive as a whole. The miso glazed Atlantic salmon was brilliant; lightly glazed thick-cut salmon that was firm and cooked to perfection, which allowed the sweet flesh of the salmon to really showcase itself. The prawn dumpling was soft and chewy with the right amount of plump prawns-filling that was not overcooked nor spiced. The dumpling paired beautifully with the vinaigrette. The pickled mushroom was absolutely lovely and meaty. The shiitake foam was ok, but not necessary.

Nathan Fong, Fong on Food Vancouver, is the Chef Producer of the BC Seafood Expo and Festival. He was also one of the presenting chefs.
Nathan’s Steelhead Trout was simply braised and perfectly cooked, which allowed the trout to really show off its firm and buttery flesh. With an ingredient like Steelhead trout, which speaks for itself, the chef should have wowed with a fantastic presentation but, sadly he chose not to.

Chef Ronald St. Pierre, Locals Courtney BC, made a Gindara Sablefish, served on a buckwheat blini with smoked frais, and Pattison Farms garlic scape and arugula chimichurri and Kimchi.
The blini was a good touch, especially for the gluten-free crowd, the blini was quite tasty and fluffy when warm, but at a colder temperature the pancake was tough and chewy. Another pleasant surprise was the seasonal chimichurri of garlic scape and arugula, kudos to the chef for this combination. The smoked cream was an alright addition but the kimchi was definitely an unwelcome addition. I did not like how everything was piled on top of each other because I could not make visuals with the individual ingredients.

Chef Yolanda MacLaren, Custom Gourmet Catering Comox Valley, made a Sake Steamed Mac’s Clams with miso tarragon sauce. It was a basic cream sauce scented with tarragon. The Sake aroma and taste was lost in the dish. The basic presentation was not memorable in any way.

Chef Richard Benson, Ocean 7 Restaurant, and Aqua Bistro Comox Valley, made – Kusshi Oyster with Northern Devine Caviar, and potato horseradish foam. This dish read snobby enough to impress diners but it failed in taste and presentation. Maybe the chef was depending on the highfalutin ingredients to impress instead of natural talent or prowess. The oyster was completely buried under a bath of bland foam. The caviar was fresh, crunchy and pristine sea-salty, that was delicious. The seaweed on the side appeared as awkward as I felt looking at the presentation.

Chef Andre Durbach, Il Falcone Courtenay, BC. The dish was Sardinian Style Albacore Tuna Conserva on chickpea Carta di musica.
Conserva is Italian for preserved, so for example a Conserva di Pomodoro is preserved (or canned) tomatoes.
Sardinian style fish is basic, the fish is brushed with olive oil and quickly seared on the grill. The sauce is made with olive oil, garlic, onion, tomatoes, and olives, white wine, basil, and black pepper.
Carta di musica is a crisp cracker dough, which is supposed to be rolled so thin that you can read sheet music through it. A great carta puffs up and crisps beautifully when done right.

The chef had a great idea, unfortunately it did not work as well as it should have. The chickpea cracker had good flavour, but was flat and tough. The tomatoes were most definitely canned. There was a mayo that should not have been there. But, I have to give credit to the tuna’s delicate finish, that was perfectly done.

Chef Bob Hullin, Avenue Bistro Comox Valley. The dish was Black Cod in dashi broth with curried watermelon, with a blob of mashed sweet peas smeared onto the edge of the bowl.
The fish was overdone, which left the skin curling up from too much heat. The dashi broth was not. I am not sure how one curries a cube of watermelon, or even if they should attempt such an atrocity. They should not, ever. The sweet-pea-puree was grainy and the sweetness of the peas fought a fierce battle with the sour taste of lemons. Needless to say the presentation was not appetising.

BC shellfish and seafood are grown in the cold and clean waters of the Pacific Northwest. Every single dish on offer at the event was farmed shellfish and seafood. What is most memorable about the BC Seafood Expo is the passion for sustainability from everyone. The farmers, buyers, wholesalers, and chefs all spoke about their love of BC seafood and the need for a sustainable aquaculture to exist far into the future.

These seafood and shellfish are grown in British Columbia, and they were served at the event in Comox Valley:

Albacore Tuna
Atlantic Salmon
FannyBay oysters
Kusshi Oysters
Steelhead trout
Gindara sablefish

Here is hoping at the next event, in a year’s time, the chefs will have raised the bar a notch or three.  

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