Canada is a land of distinct regions, each with its own landscape, colours and flavours. These qualities can keep people coming back year after year to recapture that special essence they can find only in one location. Food and drink are particularly potent ways to evoke the personality of a region. Here is a selection of properties offering guests a true taste of their locales.
Fogo Island Inn
Nestled off the coast of Newfoundland, Fogo Island Inn is defined by its unique sense of place. “The ties to community are deep,” says the inn’s chef de cuisine Timothy Charles. “You could almost consider it to be community-owned; all the profits go back to the community.” The chef’s menus celebrate cod — the fish that brought settlers to the island in the first place. “It’s the star of our food program for sure, and we’re lucky enough to be using a lot of fish that is caught here and processed on the island,” he says. “We’ve been working with growers on the island since before the inn opened; it’s been part of the informal mission of the inn to incentivize some of their traditional practices of keeping gardens — there aren’t any formal farms on the island.”
Fogo Island Inn goes a step further with its drinks, creating cocktails from ingredients foraged by staff. The island is carpeted with edibles, including about 17 types of berries. In addition to pies and sauces, the inn’s chefs also concoct syrups for mixing. “Our bar program uses a lot of berry shrubs [like blueberry-juniper] in the cocktails,” says Charles.
Drake Devonshire Inn
The 13-room Drake Devonshire Inn in Ontario’s Prince Edward County is also soaked in local flavour. “We like to think of ourselves as a community hub,” says general manager Karla Brennen. The boutique-style retreat is tied into community events in the area, which has recently become a favourite with urban food tourists. For March’s annual Maple in the County — a celebration of the maple-syrup season — the inn offers a community pancake breakfast; it also promotes the region’s offerings at Countylicious, a twice-yearly food festival.
The Drake Devonshire has recently imported chef Alexandra Feswick, who commanded the kitchen for about three years at the inn’s sister property The Drake Hotel in Toronto. “She’s got a lot of expertise in farm-to-table and vegetable-forward dishes,” Brennen says. “She started her career working on farms and cooking with the things they grew.” Feswick, who has relocated with her family to Prince Edward County, will have an array of local wineries, as well as nearby cheese producers, chocolate factories and apple growers to call upon when designing her menus.
With the boom in demand for VQA wines and craft beer, along with the recent emergence of craft cider and even local spirit distillers, it has become easier to integrate local offerings into a beverage program as well. For instance, the Drake Devonshire’s house wine, “Vintner’s Daughter,” is commissioned from nearby winery Rosehall Run, and a changing selection of local beers is always on tap.
Fairmont Pacific Rim
Botanist, the new restaurant at Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim, is “ingredient-oriented and seasonally driven,” says executive chef Hector Laguna. “Everything varies, depending on the season we are in. We like to work with sustainability — not to say that that’s all we do; however, everything we’ve done since we’ve opened in April has used only sustainable ingredients.”
Some of Laguna’s menu favourites include spot prawns in season as well as B.C. sablefish, salmon, sturgeon and trout. Then there are stone fruit from the Okanagan and duck from the Fraser Valley. “The flavours are different when you cook with fresh ingredients than when you bring them from halfway around the world,” Laguna explains.
Botanist has also developed an extremely elaborate cocktail program. Apart from an array of house cocktails using unique botanicals such as the Electric Daisy, there’s a Cocktail Lab as an extension of the bar — “kind of like a bartender’s studio,” says the hotel’s Creative Beverage director Grant Sceney. Only three drinks are concocted in the Lab, which is glassed-off, so patrons can watch mixologists at work.
Deep Cove ($28), named for a popular bay outside Vancouver, is served in a custom punchbowl and includes local Sheringham gin, blue algae, sea buckthorn and crushed ice with ribbons of cucumber that resemble seaweed. The earth element is represented by Candy Cap Magic ($28), based on locally foraged mushrooms. “They can’t be cultivated,” Sceney says. Pretty Bird (the air element, $28) is served in a bird-shaped glass, complete with nest, and combines gin with centrifuged strawberry juice, a dill-seed tincture and a splash of Blue Mountain Gold Label Brut from the Okanagan.
“Tapping into local feeling is unique,” says Sceney. “Most people, when they’re travelling, are looking for a local experience.” You might say they’re literally hungry for a taste of their destination.
Hotel Arts, which runs two onsite restaurants (Yellow Door Bistro and Raw Bar) and a banquet operation, is a boutique property in downtown Calgary that showcases the city’s new urban flair. “We’ve got a partnership with Alberta Food Tours: Karen Anderson runs a series of walking tours with a culinary focus,” says Fraser Abbott, the hotel’s director of Business Development. “It’s a great vehicle for us to introduce our hotel clients to what the local scene is all about.” Hotel Arts is also a transportation hub for tours to Eau Claire Distillery — located about 40 minutes out of town — and features the distillery’s gin in its beverage program.
“Our chefs’-choice tasting menus are always changing,” says Abbott. Local and regional suppliers’ products are showcased whenever possible, like root vegetables from Poplar Bluff Farms, as well as beef, lamb and duck from local producers. The hotel also highlights Food Day Canada, the annual celebration of our national cuisine (which will fall on August 4 in 2018). The hotel’s Yellow Door Bistro develops a special menu to run for that week. “We want to make sure we’re showcasing our taste-of-place experiences,” Abbott says.
Hotel Arts offers craft beers and B.C. wines for its bar specials and participates in events that spotlight the region’s offerings. “We host the Pig and Pinot festival; 10 or 12 different restaurants come in to do a pork dish paired up with wines. We generally use pork sourced from people who are producing unusual pork breeds,” says Abbott. “We’ll do the same thing next year with beef and barley — the barley [represents] not just risotto, but craft beer.”
Written by Sarah B. Hood