Slow Fish with Diane Bernard, Naotatsu Ito, Dan Hayes & Andrew Sheperd

Chef Naotatsu Ito and Diane Bernard. / tofu and prawn salad with daikon radish and nori vinaigrette. Photos by Rebecca Wellman

Seafood excites me. In my world of culinary exploration and imagery, seafood is among my favorite things to eat. However, when I was invited to the 3rd installment of the Slow Fish Series at the London Chef, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The name of this particular evening was sea ‘things’, focusing on seaweed, sea salt and other things that are ‘foraged from the beach and tidal waters’. Hmm.


What drew me in besides mere curiosity was trust in those who were organizing the event. First up, Slow Food Vancouver Island. Manned with a number of highly regarded, super informed foodists, the fact that they were at the helm made it a no-brainer.


Secondly, the fact that the event was at The London Chef, one of the most unique and beautiful cooking spaces around town, complete with ample charisma, big time know-how and fantastic natural light for photos made it even better.


Top it off with Diane Bernard (aka The Seaweed Lady – a passionate and intelligent woman who I connected with immediately), Chef Naotatsu Ito, formerly of the well loved Daidoco Restaurant in Victoria, and Andrew Sheperd of Vancouver Island Salt Company, and that was it. I was hooked.


The evening was a plethora of information, with lots of familiar Victoria food scene faces and the smell of salt in the air. Diane kept us captivated with her endless knowledge, explaining her 10-year history in her craft, while her fabulous seaweed skin care products sat on display nearby. She told us of her delve into the culinary world as we tasted several different kinds of seaweed, both raw and cooked. She recounted how she solved her supply and demand challenges for restaurant supply by having her whole family become certified scuba divers (and not all of them happy about it!) An interesting pastime indeed, her profession has always intrigued me.


Diane not only educated us extensively on the origin, complexities, foraging and usage of some of the various multi-named seaweeds she gathers, but also provided the staples for Chef Ito’s creations. Seasonal spot prawns were on hand as well, and we started off with a spot prawn custard – a savory, creamy, prawn topped concoction that was a lovely start.


This was followed by a tofu and prawn salad with a nori vinaigrette, and a panko coated and fried rockweed – the little claw shaped, water filled seaweed we see on the beach, which can also be baked into salty little chips (or used to squirt your brother in the eye, which I did as a kid – such a versatile vegetable).


Chef Ito, his shy and charming demeanor in contrast to his strong and impressive knife skills, kept us happy with a few Japanese cooking secrets. For example, “the addition of citrus or vinegar cuts the ‘fishy’ taste of seaweed” , as tastefully proven by the nori vinaigrette.


This cooking and educating went on as we sniffed, touched and nibbled on various sea greens, tried a few different types of the VI Salts (winter sea salt = yum), and prepared for the next dish – Chef Dan Hayes’ spot prawn risotto. While you may think that it would be studded with chunks of spot prawn, it wasn’t. It’s all in the stock. And said stock created the base for a lovely, al dente, perfectly seasoned and flavored, simple risotto. Perfection.


Sea asparagus, an extremely salty, dark green and thin, firm vegetable was up next, in the most imaginative way: blanched, and topped with a sabayon. And to top it all off, a chocolate brownie, with port, chili and (impressively) local Vancouver Island salt.


Thus ended my excursion into the unknown world of Merroir.  A welcome feast of both food and knowledge.


By Rebecca Wellman





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