Tofino Food & Wine Festival

Chef Cam Goes Island Happy!

This is the first in an ongoing series of posts by frequent flyer and serial restaurateur/entrepreneur Chef Cam Dobranski. He's MRCA’s globe-trotting co-founder and our VP of PR and GT (good times… wait, maybe that should be G&T).

As usual, things were busy and stressful at Brasserie and Winebar, my two restaurants in Calgary. But I needed to get my ass to Vancouver Island to represent Medium Rare at the Tofino Food & Wine Festival and hang with Chef Nick Nutting who was getting ready to open up his new restaurant there, Wolf in the Fog.

I’ve learned the best way to make any trip happen is to just book a flight and hope shit doesn’t hit the fan. So that’s what I did.The plan was to fly into Comox where my real-life brother, an artist who lives in a remote village on the island, would pick me up for the drive over to Tofino. I only get to see him every other year if I’m lucky (or unlucky… as you’ll see). His job was to line us up a place to stay.Here’s how the trip played out…

On the road

The flight from Calgary is fast. Way faster than I thought it would be, which is cool. I get off the plane expecting my brother to be late, as per usual. So I’m not surprised when I get the call saying he’s delayed due to some sort of blasting on the highway. I chill and decompress.My ‘chauffeur’ arrives an hour later in this bad-ass, beat up 1990-something Ford Bronco and I listen to him bitch for a few minutes before we get to the business at hand -- picking up some beer and a micky of Fireball Whiskey for the road.

The road weaves in and out of little towns and villages, and a forest with trees bigger than anything I’ve ever seen. Really fucking big. Along the way, we pick up some Dungeness crabs from a little fishing shack, stop at a scallop farm to grab a couple pounds of West Coast scallops, then hit a little dive bar for a kick-ass fried oyster burger.

Eventually, we make it to Tofino.

 

Tofino
No Surprise, my brother doesn’t have the number of the guy we were staying with but knows where he hangs out: Jack’s Waterfront Bar. The guy we’re meeting is something local legend. He’s a sculptor and artist who runs with hot chicks and, rumour has it, also has a tattoo on his dick. I’m intrigued by the idea of a dick tattoo, but brush it off as we head to the bar.

As we’re having our beers we remember we’ve got live crabs in the car and no place to cook them. Luckily, we run into a local geoduck clam diver my brother knows who offers to put the crabs in a trap off his boat to keep them fresh. We plan to meet the next day to pick them up. It seems like everyone knows everyone on this island.

After a while our guy, Jim, shows up. He’s an older gent in his 70’s, kinda rough looking, with a slow walk and a limp due to a bad accident. He’s a really nice dude though, who doesn’t care for drugs or booze anymore, even though it’s kind of the local sport. To me this means one thing: we might have a designated driver. Cool.

I forget to ask about the dick tattoo.

From the bar we head out with Jim to Shelter, a local hot spot. We’re hoping to meet up with Nick and the crew from Wolf in the Fog later on and need some food to keep us going. The food is good and we chill until Nick calls.
We meet up with the crew from the Wolf at a little oyster bar and introduce ourselves over a nightcap. My first impression of Nick is he’s a stand-up guy, but intense, and at six-foot four or something he’s probably a little intimidating to young chefs in his kitchen.

Jim gives us directions to his place and bails; we stay for another couple of ‘night caps’ and hitch a ride home later with the Wolf crew.

Turns out that Jim has a house, but rents it out during the busy summer tourist season. He kinda forgot to tell my brother that part. When we arrive at the address he’s given us we find out he’s putting us up on the dusty floor of his sculpting studio -- with the choice of a mouldy blow up bed or a mouldy mattress. I make my bro take the mattress.

Good news is we’re not looking for luxury, just a place to crash while we check out the local scene.

Day 2
The plan for Day 2 is to cruise around the area, check out some restaurants and drive down the peninsula from Tofino to the little town of Ucuelet, with Jim as our tour guide and DD. Turns out a lot of restaurants are only open for dinner service here so we revert to Plan B: go for beers. Black Rock Oceanfront Resort is a highlight.

En route back from Ucluelet we make a detour and meet up with some of my brother’s friends at one of the famous beaches of the area; Tofino is known for its surf scene and stunning, sandy beaches. The water is cold as fuck but the scenery is beautiful. We hang out with this crew, drink some beers and enjoy the view.

From the beach, we drop Jim off and hit the geoduck diver’s place to pick up our crabs for later. Dude’s been nice enough to clean them for us, plus, he and his pals have a pot of crab boiled and ready for consumption and they ask us to stay (fuck ya, I’m in).

After a few more beers, wine and crab with the geoy dudes, we go to pick up Jim, have another beer next door at Tofino Brewery, then cruise by Wolf in the Fog to join in a staff dinner.

The crew at the Wolf have been hitting it since 7 AM, prepping about 850 pieces for the Tofino Food & Wine show and getting ready for the restaurant’s grand opening.  Work hard. Play hard. I know how that goes.

As we’re walking up the stairs to the second floor of the restaurant, hip-hop is blasting and everyone is head down and focused on prepping for the event and for the restaurant’s opening in a few weeks. No stressed out looks on these guys; they are pros.

Nick’s restaurant is my kinda place. Lots of wood, big bar, high ceilings… awesome.

 

Our crab and scallops join the menu for the staff dinner, which includes a spring salmon they caught the day before and have roasting under the salamander. The whole crew and us lucky guests are treated to a seafood feast.
After dinner, things go a little sideways. We all know we have an early morning and a long day at the Food Fest, but ignoring all logic we decide to consume every bottle of promo booze the restaurant has accumulated and get trashed.

You know it’s going to be rough next day when you crush a bottle of good rum in five minutes at 2:00 in the morning. These are my kind of people.

Day 3
7 AM. Showtime. Once again, we peel our selves off our mouldy sheets and mattresses and get ready. I’m glad I brought my own towel.

Jim wanders down from the loft above us and I finally get to ask him about the dick tattoo. I’d heard the rumours, but wanted to know if the story is legit. He’s happy to talk about it… and I’m happy hear the story… I just don’t want to see it.

Long story short (ha!), Jim was an avid drugging, drinking biker and ladies man. Back in the day, he decided he wanted lightning bolts tattooed on his dick. It took a while, but eventually he found some unlucky tattoo artist to do it.

It’s still the talk of the town 40 years later. The way this dude rolls, I can guess that a lot of chics have been hit by lightening in Tofino over the years.

After we shake out the cobwebs -- and the mental picture of a dick tattoo -- we pack up our gear for the show. It’s taking place in Tofino’s botanical gardens.

The setting is awesome, the weather is top notch and we’re located right beside the Wolf in the Fog guys.

The show is a huge success, the food is great – so is the wine and cider and beer – and everyone loves our Medium Rare gear.

That night repeats the theme of the previous two -- more drinking and eating -- and mental prep for the trip back home.

Next morning, it’s a sombre ride back to the Comox airport for my brother and me. Not much is said. We beat the shit out of ourselves, crashing on the floor, drinking and eating excessively and getting nowhere near enough sleep. All in all, a pretty fucking awesome time!

When we stop for some oyster shots, a Bloody Caesar and some greasy goodness we share a few good laughs about the weekend.

We’re bummed the trip is over, but we both agree it should purposely be a while until we meet again. It’s the same routine whenever we get together, which is fun as hell but probably takes a couple of years off our lives every time.

From there we hit the airport, high five and part ways. My Tofino adventure is complete.
 

As I settle into my seat and close my eyes for the short hop back to Calgary, I’m just hoping my restaurants haven’t burned to the ground while I’ve been out of town.

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