All aboard the ferry to Salt Spring Island, as chefs Chuck Hughes and Danny Smiles head out to one of Canada’s premier growing destinations, 20 minutes off the coast of British Columbia.
Brooke Winters, center, with Chefs Danny Smiles and Chuck Hughes
After meeting up with , chef and owner of BNurtured Farm to Fork Food Trailer, to get the lay of the land, Chuck and Danny fall in love with the Salt Spring Island Saturday Market — in order to sell here, you have to have grown it, made it or raised it yourself — and immediately add it to their list of .
Chuck and Danny enjoying the vibes at the Salt Spring Island Farmers Market.
Gorgeous vegetables from the Salt Spring Island Farmers Market
The island’s specialty is sea salt, which comes from evaporated sea water. Fleur de sel is made from the prized salt flakes that form on the top of the water during the evaporation process.
The chefs learn some salty language from local expert Philippe Marill, owner of Salt Spring Sea Salt. “As a chef, as a cook, you’re nothing without salt. It boosts the flavours in all your ingredients,” says Chuck. Fellow francophone, Philippe, who hails from Montpellier in southern France, teaches them his method for salting food: holding your hand high, sprinkle the salt, rubbing it between three fingers to crumble the flakes. “Don’t touch it on the plate,” he warns. “Accept the chaos — that’s what you want to create, a little roller coaster of taste and also, emotion.”
Chuck is impressed. “Philippe is deep,” he says.
The salt will be a big theme for the dinner — with five different flavours, including jalapeno-lime and blackberry, it’ll be a saltapalooza, promises Chuck.
The menu is ambitious, with Philippe’s salt in every dish. To take the edge off of people’s appetites, guests roast salt sprinkled spot prawns over a campfire, while the chefs stay hard at work, packing a salt crust around ling cod (thanks to Chuck’s fishing prowess), and working on the pièce de résistance: lamb three ways. Chuck and Danny are more than up to the task as they prepare rack of lamb with garlic sea salt, lamb loin chops and thinly sliced barbecued lamb for lettuce wraps.
Chuck and Danny’s grilled lamb chops with fresh herbs and lemon.
Danny shows how to make his smokey and creamy baba ghanoush.
A key component to their DIY lettuce bundles is a unique baba ghanoush, made Chuck and Danny style by placing the eggplant directly onto the hot coals to pick up the smokey flavour and aroma. The chefs are using a few types of local eggplant, including a Turkish variety, from EcoReality Co-op — an organic permaculture farm in Salt Spring Island’s Fulford Valley — to lend a riot of colours, tastes and textures to the dish. Eggplants are widely varied in terms of bitterness, firmness, thickness of skin and number of seeds, and roasting them on a barbecue is a forgiving cooking method that allows home cooks to try an assortment of shapes and sizes. After roasting, the eggplants are covered with plastic wrap, which allows the steam to soften the flesh, making the eggplant skin easier to separate.
In the RV, Danny blends the eggplant with roasted garlic, tahini, cumin and Salt Spring’s smoked mesquite salt. Home cooks can steal Danny’s secret ingredient — a touch of plain yogurt — for a creamy consistency. “It’s almost like a cheat to add richness to it,” he says. A final drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of more salt to garnish, and the baba ghanoush is ready to pair with the lamb, lettuce and pickled garlic scapes for a sweet and savoury parcel.
Long after the salt celebrations come to a close, Chuck is still consumed with their new discoveries on Salt Spring Island. “I think you were even talking in your sleep about that salt,” teases Danny. “You’re obsessed with salt on this trip — it’s changed your life.”
Find out more about how sea salt is made.