Sunday, January 29, 2012

Midwinter Dinners: Good Food, Good Drink, Good Friends

photo courtesy Therese Carle-Sanders

      Winter may be quiet, cold and dark but it can also be a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the slow cooked delights of the Gulf Islands with good company. We are indeed fortunate to have fresh kale and chard in our garden, winter squash in the pantry and local meat in the freezer. We also have the wild bounty from hunting, gathering and fishing.
      We recently enjoyed a delightful midwinter winemaker's dinner, hosted by the pairing of Keith and Barbara Watt of Pender Island's Morning Bay Winery with Dan and Micayla Hayes of the London Chef in Victoria. This dinner was very special for me, because lamb from our farm was on the menu. It isn't very often that someone who works to produce the food, can sit down and enjoy it perfectly prepared with a group of people, some who had never tasted lamb before.

      It was also special because the chef prepared and served each of the six courses with such flair. Chef Dan plated out each course on a long table in the dining room, and described to us the source of each item, the special ingredients in each dish, and how it was prepared. Keith Watt of Morning Bay Winery described the wine pairing we had with each course. The wines were all very good, a perfect complement to the food.
      It is not a surprise that such a unique dinner was sold out. The people who were there were true food lovers, with food producers and chefs alongside wine and food gourmets. Chef Dan was very generous with his knowledge, and his enthusiasm for food and cooking was evident. He started out in his career by hunting and fishing, and cooking his own catch. Keith Watt is known on Pender Island for his enthusiasm and knowledge of wine, so they were a good pairing themselves.
     As if that wasn't enough, last night I was to have another culinary treat. We were invited to a home cooked dinner which had something neither myself nor my husband Glenn had ever eaten. Our hosts prepared snipe, a small bird that they had hunted themselves (not in the Gulf Islands) and cooked to perfection. It was absolutely delicious. Although we have snipe on our islands, they require a special skill to hunt. The word “sniper” comes from hunting snipe. Special marksmanship skills are needed, because the birds are very quick and change direction suddenly as they fly. Although I don't know of anyone who hunts snipe locally, snipe season in the Gulf Islands is from October 8 to January 20th, . On the islands we have the common snipe. Another type of snipe, the Wilson's snipe, is thought to have been bred on Pender Island in the 1960's.
     For many years Pender Island was known for grouse, California quail, and snipe which were bountiful due to the lack of predators, such as raccoons. According to this year's Christmas Bird Count on Pender Island there were no California quail observed. We have noticed an absence of California quail and grouse for several years now in our valley. Some pheasants were raised and released last year, but none survived. At the same time, we have seen the introduction of raccoons and wild cats.
      Although hunting is allowed on most Gulf Islands with a Gulf Island Special Licence, Mayne Island does not allow shooting or hunting at all. Denman Island does not allow hunting or shooting of upland game, like grouse, pheasant or quail. Hunting is a bit of a lost art, a remnant of our hunter-gatherer roots.
      Salt Spring Island is the only place to allow hunting of ravens, year round. Not for food, but to prevent predation of lambs. Chef Dan Hayes earned his way through Chef's school by hunting these predators for the local shepherds in England. As one who has witnessed the damage a raven can do to a newborn lamb, I can really appreciate that.


 From Chef Dan's website:
Dan Hayes has been a chef for over 11 years. Dan began his professional culinary training working with renowned English seafood chef Rick Stein on the west coast of England. Dan quickly moved up the ranks and developed a reputation as a vibrant, creative and hardworking young chef. Dan acted as Commis chef for Stein in both of his seafood restaurants and cookery school for over three years.
After working with Stein, Dan went back to London where he worked as the Sous Chef at one of the oldest and most prestigious restaurants in London, Poissonnerie de lʼAvenue. Here, Dan honed his French-style culinary techniques, and developed an interest in classical cuisine – an interesting juxtaposition to the modern English fare he had been cooking with Stein, and the rustic Mediterranean cuisine he had grown up with while living part-time in Ibiza, Spain.
During this time Dan was also acting as Head Food Stylist working with noted food photographer Paul Webster where he styled for editorial campaigns, television advertisements and food packaging.
After Poissonnerie, Dan went on to work at Michelin starred restuarant La Vinoteca in the Fenicia Presige Hotel in Ibiza, Spain, open three restaurants – including two Fishworks seafood restaurants in London where Dan served as Executive Chef and taught at the Fishworks Cookery school, and The Lodge in the Canary Isles.
Dan has also run a successful catering and private cheffing business in London, and worked as the Food Marketing Manager at Whole Foods London, an 85,000 square foot luxury supermarket. While working at Whole Foods Dan designed, coordinated, and taught at a busy in-house cookery school.
Since moving to Victoria two years ago, Dan has been familiarizing himself with west coast cuisine, developing relationships with local chefs, and working with regional produce and flavours.  Dan is thrilled to be part of the dynamic and close knit food community in to see more

1 comment:

  1. This post really shows you guys support BC events. One BC event I wanted to ask for your support in is the BC Guest Ranchers Giveaway. The BCGRA is a not for profit, and they're giving away an all expenses vacation every 2 weeks! That means the odds of winning are pretty high. Find out more on Facebook.