Located 315 kilometres west of Victoria, Tofino, population 2,000, and neighbouring Ucluelet, population 1,600, are massive tourism destinations, with their rugged coastal beauty and endless beaches. The area explodes with visitors in the summer months, with estimates of 22,000 people in the area on some days in July and August.
The growing list of award-winning restaurants is a product of the many retreats that offer visitors first-class treatment within the velvet embrace of coastal rainforests and roaring waves. But ask chef Tim May, and others who came to Tofino for the chance to kick back on the beach year-round, it is the locals who drive the scene, wanting it fresh, local and the best.
“Think of Vancouver Island as Europe,” said May, who runs the RedCan Gourmet, an open-concept commercial kitchen where customers can interact with the chefs as they create West Coast dishes. “It’s a New World Europe in a sense of the different kinds of micro climates and the farms that can grow certain things in specific areas. That’s what Vancouver Island is.”
May said local chefs pride themselves on working together even though they depend on the same customer base. The Tofino-Ucluelet Culinary Guild, which helps source the freshest and most in-season items for the restaurants, binds the locals, he said.
Chef Lisa Ahier, who owns Tofino’s SoBo, billed as sophisticated bohemian, agreed it’s the locals who created and support the community’s top-notch foodie scene. “I have never seen a town with this few residents that has such a high level, consistently, of cuisine,” said Ahier, who started in Tofino in 2003 with a food truck and now wins awards at her bricks-and-mortar location.
“The people who live here is why I do what I do,” she said. “I set up my business 13 years ago for locals and the locals demand quality, the best fuel for their bodies. You can’t fool our local clientele. They want good food that makes them feel great.”
Article Credit: Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press