Living La Vida Locavore
Twenty-five years ago, the specials on many Pacific Northwest restaurant menus featured ingredients from afar—Italian truffles, French foie gras, Australian lamb, and so on.
Not so at the Sooke Harbour House. Since 1979, godfather of locavorism Sinclair Philip has been gathering the indigenous foodstuffs from the fronting Whiffen Spit Beach and 55-acre farm neighboring his inn and restaurant. “We’ve been focusing on the foods of southern Vancouver Island, which is really one of the richest places in the world for mushrooms, winter vegetables, rabbit, and all kinds of seafood,” says Philip.
Another Pacific Northwest pioneer of the farm-to-table movement is The Herbfarm in Woodinville, Washington. Husband-and-wife proprietors Ron Zimmerman and Carrie Van Dyck opened the restaurant in 1986 and gained famed for their 100-mile menus featuring produce grown on their own farm. Everything else—from the salt in the shaker to the salmon on the plate and the wine in the glass—comes from local food and beverage artisans they have personally vetted.
The couple also organizes excursions so their staff can “better understand the wealth and diversity of the region that surrounds the Herbfarm,” says Zimmerman. Most recently he and his wife boarded a float plane with six of their kitchen and wait staff and flew north to Vancouver Island, with a stop first on Salt Spring Island to visit a few of the island’s artisan cheesemakers. “The people we visit get to know us better, and there has never been a trip when we didn’t get insights that increase the authenticity of our dining experience.”
A new generation of locavore is impressing at the Willows Inn on Lummi Island, located in the San Juan archipelago off the northern coast of Washington state. Twenty-something Olympia, Washington native Blaine Wetzel took command of the Willows kitchen last year, following an apprenticeship at Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark (named the number one restaurant by the San Pelligrino survey of the world’s restaurants).
Wetzel’s tasting menu is an epic experience—18 courses when I visited last November—starting with “snacks” of smoked (still smoking, actually) salmon. Each sultry-smoky, succulent bite tasted all the sweeter knowing the fish was caught by the Quinault Indian Tribe using reefnets, one of the most sustainable fishing methods in the world. The restaurant and inn has its own adjoining Nettles Farm, the source for a basket of freshly picked baby vegetables.
Another local treat: Kelp studded with herring roe, nature’s own version of caviar leather, harvested that day from the beach. Its texture was equally crunchy and chewy, flavor- and texture-wise literally bursting with brininess. “What really excites me are foods like this that most people have never eaten, yet they’re all around us,” says Wetzel.