Tell us a bit aboutWickaninnish Inn
Wickaninnish Inn is a 75-room resort that embodies “rustic elegance on nature’s edge.” It’s situated on Chesterman Beach in Tofino, which is on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island. We have the ocean at our doorstep and a temperate old growth rainforest as a backdrop. The inn is a member of Relais & Chateaux and is operated by Charles McDiarmid and his family, who all were raised in Tofino. This is probably the most important factor of the hotel. The entire concept, design and construction of the Inn is rooted in the traditions and heritage of the West Coast and pays respect to the environment and culture of this incredible corner of the planet.
What can guests expect at the restaurant?
The first thing guests notice when they enter the Pointe Restaurant is the view. We have floor to ceiling windows that wrap around 240 degrees, so they can dine and look out at the Pacific Ocean. This is particularly exciting during winter storm season, where 25-foot waves crash onto the rocks just below the restaurant.
Although the restaurant is largely its own entity within the Wickaninnish Inn, we embody the same ideologies as the hotel and translate them to something that we can present to our guests. We source almost all our products from Vancouver Island or the lower mainland and utilize as much as possible from the surrounding rainforest and seashore. We work with a local forager, who brings us all sorts interesting and exciting shoots, roots, flowers and berries. It’s also common to see our young cooks in their chef whites scrambling on the rocks in front of the restaurant at low tide, gathering seaweed and sea lettuce. Our goal is to take all of this incredible product and use it in our cuisine to embody the rugged, pristine environment we’re surrounded by and to convey the feeling it fills us with, so that our guests can understand what it’s like to live here through their dining experience.
How did you decide on the menu?
Our menus are a balance of what we want to express and what our guests will enjoy and want to come back for. Because many of our guests stay for an extended period of time or visit on several occasions throughout the year, we want to have enough variety on the menu that they can come back over and over again and always find something new and interesting that appeals to them. We also let the seasons dictate how we write our menus. We change them four times a year, and we have a new tasting menu weekly, which allows us to utilize those fantastic products that come and go within weeks.
What would you say has inspired your cooking the most?
As a young cook, it was the heritage of our trade that inspired me. I trained at a restaurant in Vancouver called Le Crocodile, which is a classic French institution. I spent many years after that working on my classic techniques, which really inspired me. Now, I take a lot of inspiration from all of the great chefs around the world who are all doing such interesting, unique and exciting things. It is thrilling to be able to learn so much now from so many places and take in so many different techniques and apply them to this environment to create something unique to The Pointe Restaurant.
What are your earliest memories of being interested in food?
It isn’t one memory that took me down this path but a realization. In my youth, I was always interested in science and how things worked. I was also very creative and fairly artistically driven. While I was cooking after I graduated, to earn some money to attend hospitality management school in Switzerland, it dawned on me what a perfect balance of science and creativity cooking was. Fortunately, at that time I was working with a gentleman who saw some potential in me and helped arrange my apprenticeship.
Describe how you see your own culinary style and how it has evolved over the years.
I like to let my surroundings and the products I have available to me inspire me. As for my evolution, it is still very much in progress, as I hope it will always be.
What are your most indispensable ingredients?
Vinegar, citrus, butter and oils.
What would you say has been the most memorable moment in your culinary career so far?
I have had many memorable moments. A very recent highlight was reading an interview with Michel Jacob, the chef I trained under at Le Crocodile. He was asked about several reputable chefs who trained under him, and then asked who he thinks are the ones to watch – and he mentioned me! It was a thrilling moment, and one of those experiences that I won’t forget. It was validation that I had finally become a chef in my own right.
What’s next for you?
2016 is a big year for the Wickaninnish Inn, and as such, for the restaurant and me. We’re going to be celebrating our 20th anniversary, and we’re planning some culinary events and, hopefully, bringing in other chefs for some collaborations.I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore my culinary vision at the Wickaninnish Inn and The Pointe Restaurant. Here, I feel that I’ve been able to become the chef I want to be. I plan to continue on this road, in this kitchen, and maybe, eventually, open my own restaurant and inn.
What restaurant is currently at the top of your list to dine at?
Hawksworth and Bao Bei in Vancouver, as well as Olo in Victoria.