Chef Lisa Ahier knows how to cook for a community of young, healthy, outdoorsy people.
Tofino, home to her SoBo (Sophisticated Bohemian) restaurant, has an average age of 34 and is full of surfers, fishing guides, whalewatching guides and young families.
"So you have to have menus that are relatively healthy and affordable and that people need as part of their daily lifestyle to fuel them," said Ahier from SoBo this week.
It sounds right up Whistler's alley?
"Hopefully not," joked Ahier of expansions out of Tofino. "I believe that part of SoBo's success is the family nature of it and for me, SoBo is about lifestyle and my lifestyle choice is to live in Tofino and raise my children (here)."
And so, we have the next best thing — The SoBo Cookbook.
Ahier and her new book will be featured at Tasting The Divine: Cooks With Books during the Whistler Writers Festival on Oct. 17.
"Our customers asked for recipes so often that that's what we decided to do," said Ahier, who too often found herself replying to emails for her cornbread recipe or her chowder secrets.
"I believe recipes are for sharing."
This philosophy of sharing and the passion for her business is what has propelled SoBo's success over the last 11 years. From its beginnings in a purple food truck behind a surf shop in 2003 to an expanded location on Neill Street, SoBo is routinely ranked among the best in Tofino.
So good in fact that SoBo regularand Canadian musician, Sarah McLachlan, who has a home in Tofino, volunteered to write the introduction to the book. Hard to say no to a celebrity endorsement like that.
Ahier attributes that to the passion for the job and "the long-term relationships with people who really care. That is the success of SoBo."
Added to that is the Tofino/Ucluelet Culinary Guild, created in the last five years with a mission to connect the region's farmers, fishermen and foragers with the culinary community to promote sustainable farm/boat-to-table practices.
"That has made life tremendously different for restaurateurs and our community here in Tofino to receive farm-fresh local food," said Ahier. "And, I mean, that's what we're about. That's what SoBo is about — feeding our community and using product from our community."
Since the Ahiers made their way to Tofino more than a decade ago from Texas, Chef Lisa said she has always felt right at home. She'd packed in a lifetime of moving — 21 schools to her name — before what appears to be the final move west. And she hasn't looked back since.
While her confidence in the kitchen is in no doubt — Ahier trained at the Culinary Institute of America in New York and brings her Tex Mex influence to the west coast beach — being a new author has had its ups and down. Seeing her own book in hard copy was challenging. It wasn't the recipe choices or the photos. It was the words.
"I'm not a writer! I'm a chef," she said of the book that was seven years in the making.
She just felt... vulnerable, second-guessed herself, worried that it wasn't perfect.
Her husband, Artie Ahier, read the book for the first time from cover to cover when it came off the presses. He wasn't involved in the creative process.
That night, while Lisa slept, he wrote his first email to her, telling her how proud he was of her and how beautiful the book was.
He was very moved by it.
"That has been one of the most shocking things for me — people who say that they were moved by the book," she said.
"That's our life in that book."
Tasting the Divine: Cooks With Books takes place during the annual Whistler Writers Festival (Oct. 17-19). Three chefs, including Ahier, will be featured and the evening is $12 with cash bar and includes appetizer samples. To read more go to www.whistlerwritersfest.com.
Killer Fish Tacos with Fresh Fruit Salsa from The SoBo Cookbook
I've always adjusted this recipe according to what fish is readily available. In New York I used snapper, and in Texas I used bass. Here in B.C., salmon and halibut have become my all-time favourites.
Fresh Fruit Salsa (see below)
1 lb wild salmon, boneless and skinless
1 lb halibut, boneless and skinless
1 Tbsp salt
½ cup olive oil
1 cup small-diced red onion (about 1 onion)
½ cup puréed canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
16 crispy hard taco shells
Prepare the fresh fruit salsa. Cut the salmon and halibut into 1-inch cubes and season with the salt. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté for 1 minute. Add the fish and fry for about 3 minutes, until just cooked. Add the chipotle chilies and sauté for 2 to 3 more minutes. Remove from the heat. Fill the taco shells halfway with the fish mixture, then top with the salsa. Serve immediately, two tacos per person.
Fresh Fruit Salsa
This salsa should reflect the season, so don't be a slave to the recipe. I mix it up all the time, combining fruits like peaches and blueberries with watermelon, or pineapple with avocado — buy what's fresh!
4 kiwi fruits, diced small
½ pineapple, diced small
1 mango, diced small
1 small papaya, diced small
2 avocados, diced small
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Combine all the ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use. This salsa will stand up for about 24 hours, after which time the fruit begins to break down.
Makes 5 – 6 cups
Cook's Note: The fruit in this salsa should be diced smaller than for a fruit salad, but not so small that the fruit turns to mush. It should amount to 5 – 6 cups all together. If you intend to prepare the salsa in advance, don't add the avocado until immediately before serving as avocado turns brown quickly.