by Sue Frause
First Four Photos by Sue Frause
As a rookie kayaker who takes to the waters only occasionally, I was apprehensive about spending a long weekend paddling and camping in British Columbia’s Gulf Islands with folks I don’t know. But the name of this particular outdoor adventure lured me in: Gourmet Kayaking Weekend.
Now in its second season, this outdoor foodies’ adventure is the brainchild of Eric Pateman of Vancouver’s Edible British Columbia. The 30-year-old Canadian entrepreneur teamed up with James Bray, a chef and owner of Blue Planet Kayaking in Victoria on Vancouver Island for a unique gastronomic getaway. For the next three days, Bray would skillfully lead and artistically feed our group of ten kayakers and two guides.
Let the Paddling and Dining Begin!
Our launch site is Cedar-by-the-Sea, about a 15-minute drive south of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Following safety and paddling instructions by Bray and fellow guide Alex Blais-Montpetit, we don spray skirts, PFD’s (personal flotation devices), sun caps and slather on sunscreen.
Blais-Montpetit, our 26-year-old guide from Montréal, gives us a stern warning: “The most dangerous thing about kayaking is that you may fall in love with it.”
Today’s route will take us across Trincomali Channel to Pirates Cove Provincial Park on DeCourcy Island and then on to Blackberry Point on Valdes Island where we’ll set up camp for the next two nights.
We paddle as a group in eight kayaks, half in singles and the other half in double. My kayak seat seemed a little off center, but I didn’t complain. It takes me awhile to get into the rhythm of the double kayak, to be “one with the water.” After several hours, we arrive at Pirates Cove for a much needed “nature break” and a snack of homemade granola bars and apples.
Chef James tells us a bit about the history of DeCourcy Island, which in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s was home to the Aquarian Foundation, a religious cult led by Brother XII. The self-described “Twelfth Master of Wisdom” convinced 8,000 followers to give up their worldly possessions and follow him to this island. He faced trial in 1933 for his dishonest dealings, but disappeared without a trace. Today, there are rumors of buried treasure on the island.
But it’s time to get back in the boats for another 2-3 hours as we traverse across Pylades Channel to Blackberry Point on Valdes Island. We paddle close to shore, along the “Cliffs of Valdes,” towering sandstone monuments rising more than 300 ft. I’ve seen the magnificent Malaspina Galleries on Gabriola Island, but these formations are stunning and surreal. It’s as if local artists were hired to carve the sensuous renderings. I almost expect to see red “sold” dots on some of the more impressive installations.
Chef James points out a primitive floating home where “Crazy Pete” lives. We’ll spot this colorful character throughout the weekend, as he voluntarily patrols the beaches, chatting with the ebb and flow of kayakers.
At last we pull into the white clamshell beach of Blackberry Point. Elegant arbutus trees hanging overhead frame the organic carpet. It’s more Mediterranean than Pacific Northwest.
While we pitch our tents, Chef James, whom I quickly dub “Chef Coleman” for being able to create gourmet meals on two Coleman stoves, pulls his wilderness kitchen together with fellow guide and sous-chef Mont-Petit. James prepares a late afternoon lunch of hot smoked albacore tuna Nicoise salad with fingerling potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, olives, eggs, truffle mayonnaise and fresh basil vinaigrette.
This isn’t your typical camp fare of freeze-dried food and Toblerone bars. All the menus are prepared from local ingredients featuring Vancouver Island organic vegetables, pasture raised poultry, wild BC fish, artisan cheeses and creative desserts.
Later that evening, he makes another memorable meal, again served on brightly colored blue and yellow plates: seared rare albacore tuna loin, goat cheese stuffed polenta cakes, Puttanesca sauce, braised greens, arugula pistou, black olive tapenade and Calabrese peppers. Dessert is a hazelnut financier with a Merridale Cider reduction, chevre noir (goat cheddar) and caramelized apples served with Cherry Point Blackberry Port.
Dinners are served with such fine BC wines as Alderlea Pinot Gris, Blue Grouse Pinot Noir and Winchester Cellars Chardonnay from Vancouver Island and Joie Year One Noble Blend and Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer from the BC’s Okanogan Valley. Mornings we awake to locally roasted coffee made in a French press. I’m first in line for both.
Chef James is skilled beyond his 33 years. Born and raised in Ontario, Canada he jumped into cooking as a way to support his snowboarding habit at BC’s Silver Star Resort. His resume also includes stints as a tree planter in BC and working for a chef in Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island. He’s been a kayak guide for ten years. After moving to Victoria, he managed the restaurant Canoe and was a waiter at Brasserie “l’école.”
“My big passion is food and wine,” says James, who speaks almost as quickly as he can create a meal for 12 hungry kayakers.
He loyally supports such local island vendors as Fantastico Coffee, FAS (Finest at Sea Seafood), Cowichan Bay Farm and Butterchik.
More Paddling, More Yummy Food
Day two dawns more of the same—blue sky and calm seas. After a breakfast of brioche French toast with blackberries and maple syrup, Gamon bacon and sautéed fingerling potato hash browns, we’re off to Cardale Point. We paddle close to shore and spot eagles high above us. Other wildlife sightings during the weekend include seals, cormorants, pigeon guillemots and mink.
Lunch is spread out under a grove of shade trees and includes hot and cold smoked salmon club sandwiches with avocado and chipolte mayonnaise on sage garlic bread.
Today’s paddle time is another 4-5 hours and it’s a warm one. It’s also Canada Day and the start of a three day weekend; dozens of kayakers have arrived during our absence. As I spot the red and blue “Kayakpalooza” tarp marking our campsite, I realize how tired and hungry I am.
Even the solar/sawdust-composting toilet tucked into the woods is a welcome sight.
Chef James pulls out all the corks for our farewell dinner that includes chicken leg confit, fingerling potatotes, shelled English peas, baby morels, little carrots and foie gras butter. BC wines and a divine dessert of rose petal pavlova with fresh whipped cream and strawberries round out the menu.
The evening’s entertainment is watching yet another spectacular sunset and stirring up bioluminescence in the water. I sleep outside on this final night, watched over by an almost quarter moon and the Milky Way.
Sunday morning, after a breakfast of wild mushroom omelettes with talleggio cheese and pan-fried fingerling potatoes, we pack up our kayaks and paddle back to our launch site at Cedar-by-the-Sea.
I laugh at my apprehension about spending a long weekend paddling and camping with folks I don’t know. I’ve just made eleven new friends.
And fallen in love with kayaking.
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For More Information:
Gourmet Kayaking Trip – 3 days/2 nights
Price: $649 CDN per person + GST
Departs from: Victoria or Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, BC
Edible British Columbia
Blue Planet Kayaking
About the Author
Sue Frause is a Whidbey Island freelance writer and photographer. www.suefrause.com She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on her website, www.SueFrause.com.