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Bearfoot Bistro cutting out the middle man this lobster season

Upscale restaurant shipping lobster direct from fishermen on Magdalen Islands for its spring special



Lynn Albert still remembers when lobster didn't have quite the same cache as it does today.

"I remember when I was in school and very young, (some underprivileged students) would bring lobster in their lunchbox and we would eat bologna," said Albert, 50, president of La Renaissance des Iles de la Madeleine, a seafood supplier based on the small Quebecois archipelago in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

It's safe to say lobster has enjoyed a renaissance since those days, and especially the lobster of the Magdalen Islands, known for its high quality and distinct flavour. Bearfoot Bistro, Whistler's award-winning fine dining restaurant, has never shied away from bringing in the finest ingredients from near and far. As part of its lobster-season campaign, the upscale eatery has arranged to ship lobster direct from the fishermen of Magdalen Islands, cutting down on transport time and ensuring freshness.

"This is way more direct, which is great because you know the lobsters haven't been tanked," explained Bearfoot Bistro's Executive Chef Melissa Craig. "When we buy through distributors on the West Coast, we don't really know if they've been tanked for months or not. This way, they basically come out of the water and we get it."

The lobster of Magdalen Islands stands out due to its environment. Because of the frigid waters and rocky sea bottom surrounding the archipelago, the mineral-rich shell is harder than your average lobster's, which gives the meat a distinctly sweet flavour and firmer texture that's highly valued by chefs and gastronomes around the world.

"Demand is really high, especially now we got demand overseas and in China and those places, eh? That's helping us out a lot," said Jesse Dixon, who has been fishing lobster in the Magdalen Islands for eight years.

Life on the archipelago revolves around the highly sought-after crustacean: Dixon is one of 325 people licensed to fish lobster there, and each fishing boat typically employs at least one or two others as well. Add in the local lobster processing plant, with another 300 or so staff, and you see how lobster is most certainly the No. 1 game in town.

"Lobster fishing on the Magdalen Islands has been there for 135 years, and it's still going strong," Albert said.

Craig said she plans to keep things simple in terms of preparation, letting the bold flavour of the lobster shine through.

"We're going to boil them whole, crack the claws and have them with clarified butter, veg and potatoes," she said.

Throughout the month of June, Bearfoot will be offering 50-per-cent off lobster six days a week either a la carte, or as part of its three-course or five-course spring menu. (Saturday is the only exception: although lobster is available, it won't be offered at half price.) The lobster season promotion may be extended into July as well.

"It's being shipped on Air Canada and depending on the demand we have, we'll keep ordering lobster," said Marc Des Rosiers, Bearfoot's marketing manager. "It's live and it's fresh and it's fun to be able to work with some local suppliers."

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