As a journalist in print, radio, television and the internet, Don Genova has found a way to transmit his love for local food across just about every medium. Currently a columnist for CBC Radio All Points West, Aqua and Flavours Magazines, he also offers cooking classes and writing courses…while still also finding the time to write about his passion for local food. His newest book “Food Artisans of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands” explores the region he loves best both by category (where’s the best coffee on the Gulf Islands? How about the best charcuterie?) as well as telling stories about the top food producers on each island. It’s already climbed the top of the Best Of BC list – so we caught up with him to find out more.
We Heart Local: Congratulations on Food Artisans of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands! What makes Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands such special places when it comes to great food?
Don Genova: We really have it all here. Fresh seafood with wild salmon, halibut and ling cod. Amazing shellfish including spot prawns, sidestripe shrimp, Dungeness crab, and excellent farm-raised clams, oysters and mussels. On the land side, smaller-scale poultry production, lamb, pork and grass-fed beef, not to mention a full slate of foraged and farmed fruits and vegetables. We even have three sea-salt producers! For the home cook or restaurant chef, there’s really no excuse for not using local ingredients.
WHL: Who did you have in mind as an audience when you wrote this book?
DG: The audience for this book is the growing number of people who care about where their food comes from. People are waking up to the idea that we should pay more attention to how we feed ourselves, and the book gives them a guide to finding quality food products, close to where they live.
WHL: This book is a practical guide to finding great food, and it puts food producers front and centre. Can you tell us a little about what draws you to telling their stories, instead of just focusing on the food?
DG: I find the backstories and struggles of the food producers fascinating. They work so hard and for many hours of the day, even in the face of steep competition in the marketplace. And yet they keep making their products for appreciative audiences. Sometimes they have come from previous lives totally disconnected from the world of food, but they tell me why they changed their lifestyles. Usually it’s because they believe in building a better food system for their neighbours and they are willing to make many sacrifices to make it so.
WHL: Can you suggest one or two favourite foodie destinations from your SaturdaySojourns section that our hungry readers shouldn’t miss?
DG: I hate having to name favourites! Certainly going to any of the farmers’ markets in the SaturdaySojourn regions will always be a rewarding experience. I think one of the must-sees on the Saanich Peninsula is Fruit Trees and More in North Saanich. Summer is the best time to visit to see the magnificent abundance of fruit on the staggering variety of trees Bob and Verna Duncan have propagated. But even a visit in the winter yields views of lemons, oranges, limes, grapefruit and pomelos hanging from branches, sometimes warmed only by a sunny wall or a string of old-fashioned Christmas tree lights. In Greater Victoria, you get double-barrelled delight from stepping into the single building in Oak Bay that houses The Whole Beast Salumeria and the Village Butcher. Cured meats for your appetizer platters and fresh meats for the barbecue, side by each.
Don Genova’s “Food Artisans of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands” is available now from Touchwood Editions, and it’s a must-read if you’re looking to plan the perfect weekend DIY food tour…or you just want to know who makes the best chocolate on the Gulf Islands. Got a favourite coastal foodie destination of your own? Let us know about it!