Why did it take four years before Mile One Eating House put a salmon burger on the menu?
A Chef and Our Wild West Coast
I grew up close to our coastal waters, in Burnaby, with my Dad’s boat docked at a yacht club in Vancouver's Harbor. For all my childhood, the ocean and all the things that go on around it, were second nature to me.
My early years in the culinary world saw me handling top quality products from faraway places. European chefs were all the rage in the mid 90’s and local was an afterthought. John Dory from a world away or Dover Sole that had a seat on the Concord for its Trans-Atlantic journey from the English Channel was what people got excited about. As for BC products, farmed Atlantic Salmon became the staple at the hotel company I worked for.
Growing up, I heard about amazing salmon fishing trips people had been on - always from older people who complained the fishing was no longer any good. This started to make the farmed Atlantic Salmon I was seeing make sense... the wild stocks, even then, were in trouble.
Fast-forward many more years: in charge of kitchens from Tofino to Whistler, I saw huge inconsistency in quality and availability of a very popular menu item - West Coast Salmon. The ocean-farmed product was not getting good sustainability reviews and the wild stocks were in bad shape... I recall one of our deliveries being a product from Russia. This has never worked for me.
Mile One Eating House is big-time into it's products...
We opened in March of 2011 but it was not until January of 2015 that I felt comfortable moving ahead with a Salmon product for our menu. We have had many requests but I have just not seen any ability to consistently handle a wild Pacific Salmon.
I live across the road from a significant tributary of the mighty Fraser River - a Salmon super highway, this tributary sees annual runs of Sockeye, Coho, and Chinook, but you can clearly see it's inconsistent and a little troubling. There's no way I am comfortable putting commercial pressure on this resource. I would rather the bald eagles and black bears remain in my backyard forever, than dish up their lunch to our guests.
What we have landed on is the Lois Lake Steelhead product. I know it’s not one of the five Pacific Salmon species indigenous to our coast, and as an avid Fly Fisherman, (well, I own two dusty rods), I know this magnificent fish as an ocean going Rainbow Trout.
A diligent Chef needs a seafood product to be consistently available for full time menu use. With Salmon, specifically, fresh is always best. In my opinion, it really doesn't freeze very well.
Ocean Wise endorsement is also a must-have for our menu. Local BC and a good community story are very important. The Lois Lake Steelhead farmed by West Coast Fishculture in the Powell River area of BC ticks off these boxes for me. Their product has allowed us to introduce a much requested Salmon Burger to our menu.
We have no issue calling it Salmon as it is from the genus salmonid and as important, it truly delivers a Salmon experience (versus a trout or other type of fin fish related to the salmonid genus).
Many of our contacts in the industry see this as a sustainable Wild Pacific Salmon replacement that gives diners a Salmon experience while treading lightly on our natural resources.
Call it Salmon, call it Trout, call it something else. This is less about the name and more about ensuring that our precious Wild Pacific Salmon stocks, and all the life they bring to our environment, are left to thrive in our ocean.