10th Annual David Hawksworth & Friends Culinary Adventure In ReviewAugust 24, 2016 | 1200 Views
Day 1: A decade had passed since chef David Hawksworth first packed up his mobile haute cuisine bag of tricks – along with a few crates of labour-intensive mise-en-place – and hopped a flight north, to Langara Island, so that the forty anglers contentedly lodged there at The Clubhouse could cap a day’s excellent fishing with an evening’s equally excellent dining. Hawksworth has kept this up and done it again every summer since. The 10th anniversary begged acknowledgement. And as Brian Grange saw things, this would best take the form of a private jet.
West Coast Culinary One we dubbed it. And why not? In row two, there was guest chef Derek Dammann, from Montreal’s celebrated gastro pub Maison Publique, as well as cookbook author and TV chef Valentine Warner (What to Eat Now, on BBC Two). Further back, there was Canada’s 100 Best two-time 1st place finisher Normand Laprise (from Montreal’s Toqué!), along with his wife Sophie. There were three Hawksworths (père, mère, et fils), select friends, Legges and Granges, Jack Charles – who was all but certain that he’d been there for ten years straight – and yes, Derek Nyrose, who from 9 am on could be found in the in-flight kitchen, obligingly turning out mimosas.
Fortunately, jet propulsion shortened our flying time (read, drinking time) to little over an hour. So before the morning was out all 20 of us arrived at The Clubhouse energy intact and primed for fishing.
But with a caveat. When we arrived the previous trip’s fish board was still posted on the screen in the lounge and its accounting did not inspire. The fishing had been tough – and Terry Cowan warned that we should expect more of the same.
No matter. After a quick fix of baked ham and eggs, by one pm we were on the water to see for ourselves. Well, some of us anyway: me, the irrepressible Sophie Laprise, and big Derek Dammann headed out while chef Normand Laprise stayed behind to work on that night’s meal.
The wind and chop were up. It had been over a week since anyone had fished Langara’s open ocean-exposed west side. All the same we made a valiant run North for Langara Rocks – then stopped just shy due to the daunting swells, and doubled back to have a go at MacPherson Point. Then we had a stab at Andrews, and next, Cohoe Point.
The bite was not on.
Still, come day’s end Derek had pulled in a perfect eating Chinook (18 pounds) and we also had three Coho in the boat. Back at The Clubhouse, over drinks in the lounge, we watched the fish board slowly fill in. Remarkably, Derek’s spring was the third biggest of a mere nine pulled in that afternoon.
But the day boasted other consolations. Namely, chef Laprise had been more productive with his time than we had – and soon enough, we were settled in at the dinner table, savouring his efforts. The meal began with a Toqué! classic: raw Princess scallops form the Magdalen islands, served on the shell in their refreshing rhubarb water marinade, topped with tarragon-spiked strawberry foam. Then we got a Laprise take on the classic combination of lobster and corn – the lobster lightly poached, set a frothed sweet corn purée studded with peas and pickled chanterelles. Next we got roast saddle and braised shoulder of delicate, young Rimouski lamb, with baby carrot and a stunning lamb jus. Still, much of the evening’s appreciative talk swirled around Laprise’s cream puff, its crisp pastry full to bursting with white chocolate mousse and sweet fresh raspberries.
Day 2: Dammann and I got out and at it early, starting the day at Gunia, making the drift over Boulder, and back, again and again. It was 2 hours and 15 minutes before I had a strike, which of course by then took me so completely by surprise that I botched it. An hour – and one more strike – later Derek and I called it a morning. Tide change was coming at 2 pm – and we would be ready. I would, anyway. For this time Derek stayed back, and I headed with a well-rested chef Normand, and Sophie.
The tide enlivened Gunia – but only modestly. Ten minutes after pulling up, I grudgingly fed a Salmon lunch to a stealthy sea lion. And as it lingered, unsated, trailing our Whaler we soon upped stakes and moved to Macpherson, and from there on to Cohoe Point. Alas, the Pinks had got there first. They were shallow, they were deep, they were taking bait as it dropped on the down rigger, they were taking bait from other Pinks even as we reeled them in to the boat. The pesky Pinks were everywhere. So after tearing through most of our bait, with only a few nine pound Cohos to show for our efforts, we called it a day.
Back at the lodge the fish board told the story of slow but promising improvement in the Chinook haul, which was doubled from the day before. No Tyees had been taken, but a dozen fish in the mid-twenties had been landed. Some of them had even been released. On the other hand, some anxious anglers had hung on to their 10s and 12s. Others – like me – pegged our hopes on an early start for the next morning’s 8 am tide change.
And in the meantime, on dinner. Wherein Val Warner was setting about proving that some TV chefs do in fact know how to cook – and cook very well indeed. Years back Val had worked in some great London kitchens – including one of my old favourites, on Frith Street in Soho, called Alistair Little. For someone who learned his craft in the UK with very British ingredients he proved remarkably adept at picking up the local culinary vernacular. We started with baked Kusshi oysters, from Vancouver Island, proceeded to Coho Salmon sashimi with its lightly salted roe, then onto veal breast, roasted pink and lightly smoked on the Yoder on the Clubhouse deck, with roasted tomatoes, braised endive, and Japanese turnips. Nice clean contemporary English cooking – with nicely matched, unmuddled flavours – and no pretentious flourishes. Good stuff, indeed.
Day 3: Normand, Sophie and I leave the dock at 7:45 – in plenty of time to fish the tide change at Gunia. The plan is to target Salmon until 10 am, and then, if nothing’s doing, go and fetch some chickens. As my luck had it, though, the fish were biting – but in each case the wrong sort (I left Gunia with two Lings and then, from the sea floor, pulled in a skate). The morning was dark, and grey, with a stubborn mist clinging to the shoreline. But no rain, at least, And when we pulled back in to shore for lunch there was excellent news – a wave of big fish whose arrival had been hinted at the night before were moving in, unmistakably. I spent the afternoon avoiding them with Mark Davidson, at MacPherson, Explorer Bay and Andrews. But when we got back in the fish board showed an improved scenario. Jack Charles had released a 24-pound Chinook (his fourth release, after a 21 and two 18s). Michelle Dunkerly had released a 33-pound tyee, and Robert Gallagher had landed a 42 pounder. Thirteen springs over 20 lbs had been pulled in all told – and Stephen Phelan released a 110-lb Halibut before keeping a 50-lber. The fishing was looking up.
So was the dining – on buffet station night. At one end of the snooker table, Derek was turning out terrific baked oysters with marmite, and wine-braised clam dressed up with crispy pork and potatoes. Across the table Dino Renaerts was firing risotto nero with squid and crab.
Day 4: The weather continued to hold, as we clocked a fourth, straight rain-free day. And the fishing continued to pick up. At day’s end there were four Tyees on the board. But all the talk was about David Bickford’s – which tipped the scaled at 58 pounds. A champion fish – much discussed as Dino and Mark Davidson’s slung cocktails. Priming the crowd for Hawksworth’s 10th anniversary dinner.
It began with simplicity and lightness, with a perfect summer tomato salad dressed with a pistachio-spiked salsa verde – nicely paired to a Gardet NV champagne. Then a showstopper: roasted black cod, adrift in a creamy, garlicky,. frothed lemon nage – luxuriously doused with micro-planed Tasmanian Périgord truffle. Next, duck breast, crisp-skinned and roasted pink, plated with tender, juicy and delicate Tokyo turnips, pan-roasted oyster mushrooms and XO sauce. And for a perfect end note – roasted sweet cherries over yoghurt ice cream, matched to a Tokaj from Chateau Dereszla. Another ten years, please.