Ask two hip, hot Whistler chefs what their favourite B.C. food is, what with B.C. Day coming up, and what do you get? Two British Columbia classics with a fresh twist.
First up: James Paré, co-owner and executive chef with the creative touch and great sense of humour at the long-time favourite, Caramba! Restaurant in Whistler Village.
"Oh my God, well, there's a few of them that I love," he says with a laugh. "The problem for me is that there are so many things that I like, I'm a multi-facetted liker of food!"
But James quickly narrows it down for B.C. Day, which started in 1974 since other provinces had an August long weekend and we didn't. (B.C. Day also echoes B.C.'s official start, on August 2, 1858.)
"First of all, I'm from Chilliwack. So come on... Chilliwack corn! Of course!" he says.
For anyone in Whistler and beyond, Chilliwack corn is a local, summer must-have. Given the short trucking distance anywhere Sea to Sky, you also know your Chilliwack corn, whether it's Peaches and Cream (James' favourite) or Sweet Jubilee, will have been picked and shipped in such a short cycle all those natural sugars we love will have less time to change to starch. That's the secret to fresh corn-on-the-cob: Pick it and eat it as soon as you can.
There's science behind that secret: Most of the glucose plants produce making energy through photosynthesis, and more, is metabolized right away for growth and reproduction. Glucose not used right away is converted into starches.
To cook your corn, James says leave the husks on, and steam them on the grill or bar-b for 20-30 minutes, until they're cooked. When they're done, pull the husks back and tie them with string to make a handle. Then just put out a pound of Canadian salted butter and let everyone roll away to their heart's content. For zip, try a sprinkle of something like Old Bay Seasoning (also great on seafood). Fun for the kids. Fun for everybody.
Of course, you can also toss the peeled cobs into a pot of boiling water for just a few minutes, but why bother? You'll just have a pot to wash.
If you have a microwave oven, you can also try the old microwave trick, which is also way more sustainable than boiling up a pot of water. It all depends on your microwave's power, but try cooking two cobs on high (husks on), a minute and a half each time, for four separate cycles. Rotate the cobs 45 degrees each round of cooking so they cook evenly. Yes, they're hot to peel when done, but probably someone nearby has asbestos hands, like my hubby. The tasty, not-watered-down results are worth it.
For a new twist, James has another concept that segues nicely into our other chef's choice: corn succotash with fresh, wild, B.C. halibut or salmon.
"Succotash" is from the Narragansett First Nation's word msiquatash, originally an American dish of corn and lima beans. But James' corn succotash is made from some lovely cooked white beans and corn, with just enough light, lemon cream to coat them and a little kick from jalapeno, smoked chipotles, or those sweet little red piquillo peppers from Spain.
Once the corn and beans are succotashing away, sear your fish in a second hot pan so it's nice and caramelized on both sides, then then pop it into your succotash stew. Voila. "You've got your one-pot wonder," says James.
As for our other top chef's top pick, Tyler Moey at the hip, popular Hunter Gather Eatery and Taphouse, also in the village, says his B.C. favourite is definitely sockeye salmon. His favourite way of preparing it? Curing it for a day, then smoking it.
"I usually cure it in a mixture of fennel and celery seeds; dill, if I have some; brown sugar and pickling salt. Put it all on top of the salmon, and rub it all over with your hands," says Tyler, who's originally from Australia and doubles as the kitchen manager at Hunter Gather.
"Once it starts taking the moisture out of the salmon—taking the liquids away from it—you can continue to do that until it's completely cured, which is generally one to two days, and you can literally just eat it like that—raw." Perfect for a charcuterie platter.
But after 12 to 16 hours, Tyler prefers to pull it out of the fridge, where it's been curing, wash it, and hot-smoke it for about 15 minutes using applewood chips.
In keeping with the spirit of Whistler and all things summer and funky, Tyler points out you can buy a smoker, cheap, but it's really easy to make your own using any old big metal pot with a lid or foil on top (think Whistler's Re-Use-It Centre), and a rack for your salmon above the chips. Or just partially wrap your smokin' chips in a foil roll in the bottom of a heat-proof pan.
If you don't like that idea, grill or pan-fry your sockeye—"or anything you want to do," and try it with Tyler's brew pick, Day Dreamer IPA from Coast Mountain Brewing in Function Junction. Highly recommended.
The thing is you get to have fun and pump out some really tasty results on B.C. Day, which is about as "B.C." as it gets.
Whatever you do, "you don't want to sit there and be cookin' all day," points out James. "You just want people to enjoy it and have another glass of wine, right?"
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who'll take B.C. salmon and Chilliwack corn anytime.