With his new book Food Artisans of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, Don Genova drops all of the best foodie knowledge he can muster for his readers. Genova is an experienced food and travel journalist, radio broadcaster, podcaster, and all around food man. He has the props to dish on all the Island’s goods.
Clocking in at 31,285 km2 the Island is still mostly wilderness and spacious greenery. Unlike Vancouver, and most cities, you can take a step without tripping over a place to grab a bite or a drink. Mostly, the Island is seen as a retirement home and the place that Tacofino came from originally.
While definitely being more rural, the remoteness is in no way a challenge for the flourishing food scene that is only a ferry ride away. Genova’s book outlines just how urbanites and islanders alike can access this scene in highly digestible (pun utterly intended) profiles on different food businesses up, down, and across the Island.
The dominating feature of the book is this series of short profiles on each business, categorized by what type of product they bake, cook, mix, and sell. Farmer’s markets, cafes, fresh seafood, and so on are each separated into groups. The choice of structure is a weakness of the book. In content, Genova delivers exhaustive coverage of each business, but grouping them by service is a bit counterintuitive. As a hypothetical visitor to Vancouver Island, I might prefer that the book be restructured by area. That said, there are helpful appendices and maps of each area at the back of the book for easy reference.
The structure may be the book’s only glaring flaw because in the end, Genova is a passionate and descriptive writer who knows his food. Not only does he provide a positive and concise overview of each business, but he also hooks the reader up with some sweet recipes using the food he so dearly loves. The range is impressive. A verjus sorbet? Mussels saganaki? Even big main courses of pork shoulder, chicken thighs or Dogfish are detailed throughout. By covering Vancouver Island, Genova champions an aspect of Canadian food culture that is not so much overlooked as it is unknown.
Let’s talk about seafood as an example. Canada generally succumbs to the lofty reputation of other culture’s traditional food. France, Italy, the U.S., all with deep and incredible food cultures. Canada is seen as a mosaic of different foods being brought together under one country. It’s in our nature to be humble. Considering his passion, Genova likely believes that good food is good food, no matter who, what, or where. However, he does mention quite clearly that Vancouver Island’s seafood isn’t just good, it’s the best. He isn’t wrong.
Much of the backbone of the Island’s food culture is based around exceptional ocean fare. Whole communities live because of the salmon run. Genova should be admired for not only highlighting this exceptional part of our culture, but also for firmly believing in the sustainability of a system that provides the coast with beautiful and tasty products.
All told, Food Artisans can be used as a guidebook, a reference, or even an encyclopaedic outline for good shopping. Collectively, these businesses can provide everything one needs to shop for food sustainably. The small business model only continues to grow, which means good things for food lovers across the island. With it will come new editions of the book, surely. Pick it up and go for a drive.