Sixty foodies got a special “appetizer” of the BC Seafood Festival when celebrity Chef Ned Bell served a gourmet “estuary luncheon” in the Comox Valley. Canadian cookbook author, national TV personality and champion for sustainable seafood and oceans, Chef Bell came to support Project Watershed’s Kus-kus-sum project to restore the old sawmill site on the Courtenay River. With partners the K’omoks First Nation, the project seeks to “unpave paradise” and restore nature for the benefit of local salmon runs and the community. It is currently in its fundraising phase.

On Sat. May 26, Locals Restaurant hosted the three-course “globally inspired, locally created” benefit lunch with the North Vancouver Island Chefs’ Association. Chef Ronald and Tricia St. Pierre, owners of Locals, strongly support Kus-kus-sum. “That is why we are donating all proceeds from the luncheon to the restoration,” said Tricia.

More than two dozen local food producers also donated ingredients which were showcased in hors d’ourvers and lunch features. “Our culinary brigade enjoyed working with Chef Bell on this one-of-a-kind sustainable seafood menu,” said Chef Ronald St. Pierre.

From smoked sockeye salmon and tuna tataki to seared sablefish, beer-poached oysters and butter clam chowder paired with BC white wine, the flavours also got people thinking about where lunch came from.

Healthy waters and sustainable seafood go together. “If we want to enjoy local food, we have to support local food ecosystems,” said Chef Bell. “Did you know the K’omoks Estuary is one of the top Chinook estuaries in all of BC?”

Bell said we need to rethink our relationship with the ocean, both what we let into the water and how much we take out for food. In addition to threats like urban pollution and increased flooding, the infamous “salmon killing wall” in the Courtenay River – where seals prey on unnaturally high numbers of salmon – all make habitat projects like Kus-kus-sum a critical step to restore declining nature.

“Ned Bell is doing highly recognized work all across Canada to connect the dots between our food choices, healthy rivers and oceans, and a sustainable future,” says NVICA President and Chef Leslie Stav. “The luncheon was a perfect match for Ned and Project Watershed.”

“As soon as I heard about Kus-kus-sum,” said Chef Bell, “I wanted to show my support and help raise awareness. There is no more important conversation we can be having than the future of our rivers and oceans.”

Bell is currently on tour for Lurehis sustainable seafood cookbookHe is Executive Chef and ambassador of the OceanWise seafood program and founder of the national Chefs for Oceans movement. Bell received the Global Seafood Award for Advocacy at the 2017 Seaweb Seafood Summit. His mission is making delicious food into a common ground conversation-starter that expands people’s minds as well as their tastes.

Bell said responsible aquaculture, as certified by OceanWise, plays an important role in our food future to offset overharvesting and help wild fisheries recover.

The lunch entrée of organic Baked Sturgeon came from BC’s Northern Divine farms, the only white sturgeon meat commercially available due to the wild fishery being so threatened and limited.

Tim Ennis of Project Watershed and the Comox Valley Land Trust thanked lunch guests and the Chefs’ Association for supporting local habitats. “For a long time, we heard people saying that ‘they’ should do something with the sawmill site,” said Ennis. “But the ‘they’ who must do something is us, and it starts with a shared vision like we have today.”

Chef Bell said he felt inspired by the Comox Valley’s caring culture. “It takes all of us. If we care, we can make impacts together not just for today but for future generations,” said Bell. “Like you, the work I do is for one hundred years from now. It’s for my sons and this place we call home.”

Listen to the podcast recorded live at the luncheon, with interviews including Chef Ned Bell, on the Edible Valley Podcast, Episode 175Can Sustainable Seafood Save the Courtenay River Salmon?

To give to Kus-kus-sum before Project Watershed’s next June fundraising deadline, visit www.kuskussum.ca.

Other contributors who made the luncheon possible include: Rob Bowker of Vancouver Island Audio, Jonathan Frazier of Blue Spruce Ice Cream and Darren Howlett of The Edible Valley Podcast.

Written by Vanessa Scott