TOFINO, British Columbia--The restaurant, perched on the hillside of this isolated town on the Pacific Coast of Vancouver Island, is called SoBo, for Sophisticated Bohmeian. It takes hours to get here, overland from Nanaimo, a bit faster by air (floatplane or puddle-jumper from the mainland); there's no direct ferry. To a Seattlite, the town feels a bit like LaConner or Coupeville, simultaneously touristy and working-waterfront. When Artie and Lisa Ahier settled here a decade ago, their criterion was simple: no pizza delivery. Not because they intended to start a Domino's franchise, but because they wanted to live in a remote and out-of-the-way community.
Tofino, fewer than 2,000 souls in winter, ten times that many in summer, named for a Spanish seafarer, attracts more than its share of surfer dudes and footloose adventurers, of course, alongside a few serious foodies like the Ahiers. Sinclair Philip's iconic Sooke Harbour House is just down the coast (much easier said than done); it was Philip who told the Ahiers (then based in Florida) that they had to be on Vancouver Island.
And a good thing it turned out to be. Lisa, who trained at the CIA in upstate New York, runs a kitchen with access to an amazing range of dead-fresh ingredients. (Her son Barkley's first words: "Morel mushrooms.") She's also a co-founder of the island's new farmer-fisher-chef cooperative that sources eggs, produce and meat for a dozen or so upscale restaurants, markets, bakers and caterers. It's food "with a name attached," says the organization's food director, Bobby Lax.
One of those names is Laura Neufeld, skipper of the 42-foot CFV Polara that brings in spot prawns from the island's sheltered inlets. It's competitive, repetitive work, to be sure, but the results are well worth it. Neufeld used to sell her catch live in Vancouver's Asian markets, but has now invested in a freezer-boat that allows her to "explore" longer. The prawn fishery is highly regulated, with only 246 commercial licenses and 50 days of fishing a year. There are six permitted varieties in all; the Humpback prawns (served at SoBo with a Thai roti) were particularly tasty. In the video, Neufeld talks about her work, and Lax cooks up the shrimp.
Cornichon thanks Lana Kingston of Tourism Vancouver Island for hosting this visit.