Exploring the Art of Japanese Vegetables At The Sooke Harbour House

Clockwise from Top Left: agar terrine, daikon wrapped tuna, Chefs Ito and Jackson, rolled kabocha, Sooke Harbour House View, Chef Jackson greets guests. Photos by: Morgan K. Sterns




A collaborative, eight course meal from Chef Ito and Chef Jackson at the Sooke Harbour House, detailing and celebrating various vegetables from Japanese cuisine.

As the days on the Island grow shorter and the rains become more constant, the pace of society slows  down as winter seeps in. With this change, a re-evaluation of how we conduct ourselves in everyday life often follows. Whether we adjust our schedules to maximize daylight, or decide to hibernate with a book instead of heading out for a hike, the onset of gray inextricably alters us for a few months.


Unlike our internal clock triggering a change in perspective, the concept of Slow Food, founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986,  is an ongoing and widely accepted belief that approaches the understanding of food through a different lens. The central idea with slow food is based around taking time to enjoy, understand, and educate ourselves about the foods we eat. With that comes a natural inclination to nurture a more sustainable, traditional, and environmentally conscious relationship. On November 18, Sooke Harbour House guest Chef Naotatsu Ito and Head Chef Robin Jackson, created together an eight course meal highlighting Japanese winter vegetables from local Metchosin Farm, Umi Nami. Paired with Japanese teas from Silk Road, and Osake Artisan Sake made with local rice from Granville Island, the evening was designed to educate about the usage and appreciation of vegetables in Japanese cuisine, while enjoying rich conversation throughout the three hour dinner.


Chefs Ito and Jackson presented the menu as an extension of their vision for the evening. Small drawings and brief descriptions of all courses allowed guests to become part of the creative process of  these culinary artists. With each course both chefs came into the room and discussed what we were about to taste and provided a short description of how it was prepared. The explanations of some dishes ventured away from the artistic menu, illustrating the chefs’ skills in preparing plates on the fly. Unlike many restaurants where the menu is unchanging and the chefs are working within the confines of the kitchen, this dinner was much more interactive. The chefs took time to connect with their guests and showcased a sense of spontaneity with the menu. For example, as Chef Ito was pouring hoji-cha tea from overtop a hot stone covered by Grand Fir and green onion wrapped steamed ling cod, he explained that this was not the traditional serving style. Instead of steam cooking a protein and softening a vegetable with sea water, he decided to try it with tea, showing personal flare and insight into his own culinary experimentation. With his new endeavour of opening a food truck in the spring of 2013 consuming a great deal of Chef Ito’s time, being able to attend this unique collaboration between Chefs Ito and Jackson, was an experience that will not be soon forgotten.


Whiffen Spit. Photo: Sooke Harbour House

Kabu, red daikon, broccoli, and chard were the stars of the inventive first dish. Presented in a hard terrine set in agar, a substance derived from red seaweed and used as a hardening agent, the dish was brought to life with a Nootka Rose vinegar flavoured potato puree. A crab and daikon salad, encircled with pancetta and resting atop a marinated radish, the second dish had warmth without compromising the crispness of the celebrated vegetable. Maintaining the theme of local and fresh seafood, the third course was both visually beautiful, and colourful on the palate. Silky, tender, slow braised octopus was served with buckwheat, drizzled red wine reduction and accents of daikon skin, kabocha, and chard. The forth dish was a meeting of perfectly prepared fresh albacore tuna and fine slices of daikon and watermelon radish. A balance between the robust and definitive crunch of the vegetables, and the delicate texture of the tuna was successfully achieved in this plate. Following the hot pot of steamed lingcod and tea mentioned above, the sixth dish was most emblematic of traditional Japanese cuisine, by including the greatest number of different ingredients. Steamed lingcod rested on a kabocha-miso puree, green onion and pearl barley barlotto, and nodding onions. The final course was rolled kabocha with balsamic, crispy bacon and fried skins sprinkled across the plate. Served with locally foraged mushrooms, the sweetness of the kabocha was a delightful segway from savoury to our sweet, and final eighth course. Finding the common theme that tied together green tea and turnip ice cream, black bean turtle cake, and a matcha tea cookie with Japanese plum cherry jelly, was initially difficult, yet upon the first few bites the finale of the dinner proved to be as creative and harmonious as the multi-coursed meal.


Sooke Harbour House was an ideal location for hosting the evening. The dinner drenched in slow food ideals with a focus on local winter bounty, made the luxurious inn by the sea a perfect fit. With a 99% edible garden, immaculate west coast aesthetic, and thirty plus years of cultivating a highly respected reputation as a natural retreat, Sooke Harbour House offers a relaxing atmosphere that comes with being in nature, coupled with the luxury of first-class guest service and high quality food and drink. The boutique guest rooms all boast stone fireplaces, balconies with awe-inspired views, and artwork from locals artists and from the personal collection of Innkeepers, Sinclair and Frederique Philip.


Sooke Harbour House website: www.sookeharbourhouse.com


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