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By Hook or by Cook

The culinary class makes waves at British Columbia’s remote fishing lodges.

Henslung CoveWe're still reeling from the view of Henslung Cove, seen from the clubhouse at the West Coast Fishing Club. (Photo: Jessica Haydhal)

I’m out on a luxury Boston Whaler, trying to land a 30-pound-plus tyee while braving the kind of 10-foot tidal swells that could make you lose your lunch. “I don’t even care if I catch anything,” chef Vikram Vij tells me, reeling in his line to check the spoon for knotted kelp. “I’m just so happy to be out here enjoying nature.” Later, back on dry land in a soaring solarium on Langara Island, David Hawksworth, owner-chef of Vancouver’s Hawksworth Restaurant, is teaching a cooking class on how to use transglutaminase (a.k.a. meat glue) and plastic wrap to bind and roll albacore tuna-filled veal scallops into tight little sausages for searing. “It’s just like squeezing Vikram into his man Spanx,” he jokes from behind a top-of-the-line induction stove and a colourful array of Le Creuset pots and pans.

So what, pray tell, am I doing in a remote corner of the North Pacific with two of Vancouver’s most celebrated chefs? This five-day haute fish fry seems a natural evolution for the West Coast Fishing Club, which has been taking the rough out of roughing it since the original clubhouse was built in 1991, high on a bluff overlooking Henslung Cove. After a day of guided fishing or hands-on cooking classes, you and your fellow guests can share big fish tales around a dinner table served by its own organic greenhouse and a stellar executive chef, like Ryan Stone, Canada’s representative at the 2011 Bocuse d’Or competition. And it’s all bundled up snugly against a breathtaking frontier setting shrouded by ancient forest and craggy cliffs.

Chef Melissa Craig’s sweet corn bisqueChef Melissa Craig’s sweet corn bisque, made with spot prawns and Dungeness crab caught at the Rivers Inlet Sportsman’s Club. (Photo: Bonny Makarewicz)

In the wake of unpredictable salmon stocks, lodges up and down the British Columbia coastline are charting new courses through the turbulent tides of the sport-fishing industry. In addition to nature walks and grizzly-bear-sighting tours, many resorts now offer ocean-to-table cooking classes that are transforming the old grubby guys’ getaway into gourmet retreats. At the Rivers Inlet Sportsman’s Club, the executive chef of Whistler’s Bearfoot Bistro, Melissa Craig, has been known to fly in by float plane on Labour Day weekends for gastronomic adventures filled with champagne sabring, elaborate tasting menus and seminars on how to cure freshly caught coho. On the Inside Passage, at the Relais & Châteaux Sonora Resort, private pasta-making tutorials with resident chef Terry Pichor help fill rooms even when the fish aren’t biting. And at King Pacific Lodge, a Rosewood resort floating on the shores of Princess Royal Island, a few lucky guests can cast their lot with the kitchen brigade to help prepare dinner.

Guests show off their chinook on the dock at the West Coast Fishing ClubGuests show off their chinook on the dock at the West Coast Fishing Club. (Photo: Jessica Haydhal)

“This is the way of the future for many of these lodges on the coast,” King Pacific’s former general manager Robert Penman says of the property’s transition to a broadly appealing eco-adventure wilderness lodge from a single-purpose salmon-fishing destination. “The resource isn’t going to sustain that kind of use.”

By the end of the trip, I’ve learned how to make Vij’s family curry with halibut and pan-sear a crispy lingcod crust with the confidence of a professional. I’ve seen mighty chinook leap through the waves and felt the agony of letting several get away. Chef can go ahead and commune with nature if that’s what floats his boat. Me? I finally land a glorious 22-pound king salmon with a lot of netting assistance. Basking in the sunshine, I have a single assignment to complete before I’m off the hook: decide whether my fish will end up fried, cold-cured or hot-smoked.

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Travel Essentials

David Hawksworth and Friends Culinary Adventure
West Coast Fishing Club,
The Clubhouse,
Langara Island

Rivers Inlet Sportsman’s Club

Sonora Resort

King Pacific Lodge

Flight Planner
Langara Island

Flight Planner Langara Island
Air Canada and Air Canada Express offer convenient service to Vancouver from a host of Canadian, U.S. and international destinations. From there, the West Coast Fishing Club will fly you to the lodge on Langara Island.
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