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When 'roughing it' isn't that rough at all

Sonora Resort celebrates the finest in West Coast cuisine at Cornucopia

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Nestled into the Discovery Passage is the picturesque Sonora Resort, one of Canada's top luxury hotels, ensconced in the rugged wilderness of Sonora Island.

The resort is renowned for its breathtaking surroundings, luxurious accommodations and adventurous outdoor tours, and was named the sixth best hotel in the country by Trip Advisor users this year. But the acclaim also extends to the dining room, where Executive Chef Terry Pichor serves up a bounty of fresh, regional ingredients that celebrates the best the Pacific Northwest has to offer.

Fortunately, a number of guests at this month's Cornucopia festival didn't have to take the 50-minute helicopter ride to Sonora to sample Pichor's classical approach to West Coast cuisine. The Manitoba-born chef hosted two events at the annual food and wine extravaganza, including a table luncheon at a private residence that wowed diners with a locally foraged mushroom soup, seared Quadra Island scallops, and several other delectable courses.

"I thought it was a great event," Pichor said. " I felt that people were really curious about what we were doing when we did the lunch in the house. They weren't there just to eat, drink and leave. They were in there asking questions, and for me that was probably the best event."

Maintaining a five-star culinary standard miles away from the nearest city presents a unique challenge for Pichor and his kitchen team, who source as much as they possibly can from Sonora Island. But that mostly constitutes sea grasses, like kelp, and mushrooms when in season, meaning Pichor has to look to Quadra Island for his shellfish and Vancouver for any other ingredients he may need.

"It's pretty cool because I can get a (product) list from the farmer on a Tuesday, place an order on a Wednesday and it's up to me by helicopter on a Thursday. Considering where we are, I think it's pretty impressive to get the product that fresh."

But Pichor isn't the only one doing all the cooking on Sonora Island, with a range of culinary classes on everything from making handmade gnocchi to preparing fresh seafood on offer. Add those to the fishing and grizzly bear tours the hotel has become known for, and Sonora Resort is changing the way people think about wilderness tourism. It's one of the reasons eco-tourism continues its rise in popularity among British Columbians.

"There's a lot of fishing resorts on the West Coast, but I think what we do a little bit differently than everyone else is we offer a lot more variety for families," said Pichor. "Only 60 per cent of our guests actually fish when they're up there, so people come up there for other things; just to relax for a weekend, use the spa or take a cooking class. I think we're a lot broader in that way and we just keep getting busier every year, so it seems to be working."

Sonora Resort is open from May to mid-October each year. Visit www.sonoraresort.com for more information.

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