Episode Six: Lobster Bake by the Ocean
Red-sand beaches, fertile farmland and loveable maritime crustaceans greet our intrepid chefs in Prince Edward Island. For Hughes and Smiles, familiar faces made for a memorable final episode.
“For us it was fun because we have a lot of friends there,” adds Chuck. “A lot of the other spots we did not know many people. There we actually knew most of the people that were going to be on the show and helping us out. From foragers to bakers, to lobstermen and stuff like that,” he explains.
Their guide is islander and chef, Ross Munro. He takes the boys out fishing and proceeds to prepare lobster rolls right on the boat, before sending them off to find fresh ingredients. “We went foraging for mushrooms…they have tons of great stuff,” says Danny.
On what sets PEI apart from other Atlantic provinces, both chimed in near simultaneously saying, “They’re on island time.” Chuck elaborates: “The world slows down a bit…it’s like they’re living in the past in a positive way, not in a negative way.” The sentiment triggers memories for Danny of a familiar coastal setting: “It’s the Salt Spring Island of the east.”
The culinary escapade culminates with an oceanside meal in Prince Edward Island National Park. The pair was thrilled with how it turned out, with Danny exclaiming, “That was a crazy, crazy feast we did. You have to watch that episode. When we unveiled it. Wow. It was something else…eating on the beach. I think it will entice a lot of people to cook like that.”
What lies ahead? “Hopefully chapter two,” says Chuck. On where they’d like to go next, “For us the first one that sticks out is Quebec. If we had the chance…Labrador. Really far up north. Manitoba looks amazing. But, the most important one for us would be to do a winter one. Hopefully in B.C. near Whistler,” he says with a wry smile.
Episode Five: Acadian Feast from the East
The cross-country culinary adventure is soon coming to a close, but not before they make their mark on the Maritimes. Last September they set up shop in Fundy National Park. According to Smiles, “That was something else…New Brunswick was like the Wild West for us.”
While foraging for delicacies like caviar and moose meat, they meet up with Moncton’s Pierre Richard, chef at Little Louis’ Oyster Bar and Fine Cuisine. When a planned fishing trip for mackerel goes awry, the boys get down and dirty digging for quahogs.
“We ate fried clams for five days straight,” quips Hughes. “Obviously, for the show, we’re cooking and trying new stuff, but the second those cameras cut [it was a] steady diet of fried clams.”
Aside from their penchant for the seaside snack, it was Fundy National Park which left a lasting impression on Hughes: “When you wake up in that campground…there’s no five-star hotel that’s going to beat that.”
Episode Four: Mexi-Canadian Fiesta
The boys gain inspiration for a Mexican-Canadian feast from chef Elia Herrera of Los Colibris and the area’s Mexican workers who help during the growing-season. Their setting is Rouge National Urban Park — a biodiverse terrain with human history dating back over 10,000 years. It’s also home to the few remaining working farms in the Greater Toronto Area.
“It’s pretty close to the city [Toronto]…and once you’re in the park, you have no clue…That was amazing.” For Danny, “That’s what’s special about Canada and these regions.” More and more, that’s what people want to do. They want to eat from the land.”
Proud of his hometown’s preponderance for great produce, Hughes notes with humblebrag that “In Quebec, we always think we have the best of everything…It turns out that other places have good stuff. We got a new appreciation for the basics: tomatoes, carrots, onions. It’s in every recipe but you don’t think about it.” Of the holy culinary trinity, Danny notes, “it’s the mirepoix capital of Canada.”
“Yeah we’re cooks, but it’s not like we pick a carrot every time we cook. To have that link, even though we’re very close to our food. To see where food comes and to meet the farmers.”
Newfound perspective on familiar foods leads to their twist on a Mexican fiesta. For a fruitful visit of your own, consider these ingredients: unblemished beaches, adventurous hiking and some of the country’s oldest known Indigenous sites.
Episode Three: Salt of the Earth
Hughes and Smiles are fiercely loyal to their hometown, but seem especially smitten with B.C.’s Salt Spring Island. Their RV odyssey continues, with a little help and guidance from chef Brooke Winters of BNurtured, Salt Spring Island’s first farm-to-fork food trailer.
“It’s definitely a special place in Canada. I don’t think it runs the same way as anywhere else. It has that hippie [vibe], everything is organic. People are salt of the earth as well,” says Smiles. Quasi-jokingly he quips, “How do we relocate here?”
As the guys gushed about the local produce, talk turns to “health craze,” “plant-based diets” and how locals are “brewing their own kombucha.” With sincerity, Danny adds: “We ate at a vegan food truck and it was actually delicious. There’s a lot of variety on this super small island.”
Seeking inspiration for their series’ signature campground meals, it was the farmer’s market, held on Saturdays in summer, which seemed to encapsulate their experience. “If you want to sell [your wares] at the market, it needs to be grown by you. It has to come from Salt Spring Island,” adds Hughes.
Sometimes it’s the journey, not the destination that leaves a lasting impression.
“On the way there [to Salt Spring], the flight from Vancouver to Victoria is epic. It’s an Air Canada flight, but you’re 4,000 feet in the air. You can see everything. Then you land and you take a ferry, which we saw whales on the way to Salt Spring. Along the way we had amazing experiences, but I think both us [loved it there].”
Episode Two: Island Time
Their first trip to Vancouver Island, B.C. — considered the Mediterranean of Canada by some — exposes the guys to the country’s warmest climate, longest growing season and underwater jungles. You’ll soon understand why Chuck says, “They have it all…It’s a very special place.”
On the maiden visit to the island, Chuck notes, “It’s very inspiring. The mountains and the ocean, you can’t ever get tired of it. Especially living out in the woods and camping [in Goldstream Provincial Park]; to make your morning coffee overlooking the Pacific is something special.”
Cowichan Valley chef Dan Hudson introduced them to west coast cookery. With a twinge of jealousy, Chuck laments: “They have a variety that’s not available to the rest of us.” Without being prompted for an example, he adds, “We actually had figs in Victoria — pretty unique that you would have figs growing in your garden.”
Biggest takeaway: Get to know your local seaweed harvester. In Victoria, they donned wet suits and dove into the deep with Amanda Swinimer from Dakini Tidal Wilds, who sustainably harvests, by hand, edible seaweeds and wild herbs. “When you’re harvesting seaweed in the ocean, it’s a scary, eerie, underwater jungle. Very humbling,” says Danny.
“Honestly, I was not excited to eat seaweed,” says Chuck. “Everyone who has had seaweed knows something about it. But what we had was the actual stipe [the stem of the plant].” Pleasantly surprised by the fruits of their labour, Chuck says “we chopped it up, barbecued it with olive oil, salt and chili. It tasted like olives.”
Proof that travelling can expand your mind and taste buds.
Episode 1: Bounty from the Counties
I asked Chuck and Danny to share something that surprised them most during their visit to the neighbouring counties of Prince Edward and Hastings, in Southern Ontario.
“This sounds geeky, but it all starts with the soil,” says Chuck, the co-owner and executive chef of Montreal hot spots Garde Manger and Le Bremner. “There’s something down there that is different, special and unique.”
With the confidence of a geologist and swagger befitting that of a “Top Chef Canada” runner-up, Danny says, “It’s the limestone. It resembles the soil found in Burgundy [France].” “That’s why Norman Hardie decided to go there to produce wine…everything that comes from there tastes a little bit better,” adds Chuck.
Danny then recalls his fondness for another vine-inspired treat: “Just the cherry tomatoes we had there. We’ve had tomatoes, but that was quite something. Very, very special.”
Reflecting on the people who till the land, Chuck notes, “they’ve kind of been off the grid and really passionate about what they’re doing. Not in secret, but almost. There’s something unique about how they grow vegetables and produce the wine. You can taste it. You can actually taste it in the food. The Farm we visited, Earth Haven Farm, they make their own soil and take it to another level: biodynamic farming, no pesticides. Just really well-done stuff.”