Stone Soup Inn
Cowichan ValleyThe chef: Brock WindsorGuilty pleasure: Corn chips with guacamole.Photo caption: The cedar bentwood box at Stone Soup Inn, which pays homage to a traditional First Nations seafood dish.
The scent of ocean-dashed cedar emanates in little huffs and puffs from a bentwood box in Stone Soup Inn’s dining room. Filled with hot rocks, B.C. spot prawns in season (still hopping!), Manila clams from Sooke, Salt Spring mussels, sea asparagus and water, the wooden container cooks the seafood in no time, caressing it with the essence of land and sea. Eaten plain, it’s elemental. With duck-egg mayo, it’s elevated.
It makes sense that a sensitive-artist type like Brock Windsor, best known for advancing Pacific Northwest ingredients at Whistler’s Bearfoot Bistro, would settle his family in this secluded spot near Cowichan Lake. It’s a humble setting – tiny farm, two-room guest house, all-Island wine list and no-frills esthetic – for refined palates. The magic of Windsor’s cooking is that it comes off as natural, even instinctual. The details, however, show a thinking man’s chef. The briny jus from the communal bentwood box (a Coast Salish tradition), along with drippings from roasted red peppers in the sunny salad that follows, is thoughtfully reused in the sauce for the confit chicken later on. An intense shrimp bisque features gently smoked ivory salmon, pale and perfect. Pasta trembles under steamed halibut and sweet verjus-poached Qualicum scallops, revealing a mastery that big-city kitchens would covet. But someone who has a eureka moment finding wild oyster mushrooms on his property’s alder stump (briefly pan-fried with butter and shallots before serving) isn’t moving any time soon. Come dessert, he’s outside, snipping Grand fir needles to add the edible evergreen to caramelized apple tartelettes and ice cream – giving us the Island’s enviable three seasons on one plate.Stone Soup Inn
6755 Cowichan Lake Rd., Cowichan Valley, B.C.