Fab Foodie Tours in Granville Island, Vancouver

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Granville Island Public Market
Granville Island Public Market

Granville Island is a small chunk of land populated by old shipbuilding warehouses separated from downtown Vancouver by False Creek. Little ferries are constantly crisscrossing the inland waterway that opens out into English Bay and the Pacific Ocean. On the downtown side, the coast is built up with gleaming glass and steel condos developed on the old Expo 86 site next to the newly developed district known as Yaletown, filled with organic coffee shops and designer restaurants.

The vibe on Granville Island, with new and old leisure and commercial boats bobbing up and down in the marinas, is wholly different. The historic pre-WWII warehouses where men once built wooden fishing boats and repaired sails by hand are now filled with, well, organic coffee chops and designer restaurants. As well as: art galleries, bookstores, outdoor adventure outfitters, a sake shop and Emily Carr College of Art+Design. The island is one of North America’s earliest examples of successful adaptive re-use architecture, and it’s easily Vancouver’s most proud example of how to combine smart design, the great outdoors and hip (West Coast) urban style—something this city thrives at.

The star attraction is the sprawling Granville Island Public Market filled with every locally produced fruit, flower, veggie, meat and dark chocolate truffle imaginable. The place is bursting with energy. People elbow to elbow are entranced with the mesmerizing display of freshness and infinite variety of teas, herbs and spices. Raspberries, plums and cherries from the Okanagan Valley glisten in the natural light. Cheese in its infinite varieties are fondled and squeezed by admirers. Marbled sirloins and fat pink salmon give the place its lively scent mixed with sea air, and the whole setting screams of the healthy lifestyle you know you should be living.

People touch everything. It’s an orgy of the senses for food lovers, and nobody walks out of here without eating something.

“Butter or margarine?” shouts out Julian Bond, executive chef and program director of the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA), based on the island. He and his colleagues lead a whole host of tours and teambuilding events centered around sustainably-produced food and wine, and how to enjoy them. Fully, with gusto, con brio.

I’m here with our group of MICE industry buyers and suppliers for a tour of Granville Island. Sensing a trick question, most of us are uncertain how to answer. The safe bet seems margarine.

“Butter, definitely, as long as you get some kind of exercise during the week, butter is healthier,” says Bond. “There is nasty stuff in margarine, like zinc. Eat more butter!”

I like this guy already. Bond provides us with earphones hooked to a receiver so we can hear him speak through his microphone without having to huddle nearby him on the busy island.

We begin at The Lobster Man building housing an assortment of tanks filled with live Atlantic lobster, Japanese scallops, Manila clams and all types of oysters: Kumanoto, Village Bay, Golden Mantle and Large Beach. Bond expresses awe for the delicate, sweet Kusshi oyster, explaining that once you become accustomed to Kusshi it’s difficult to ever again eat the plumpy, chewy, more pedestrian types.

“Is it true what they say about oysters being aphrodisiacs?” giggles a hotel sales rep from Ireland.

“Yes, they are, to a degree,” says Bond with a lascivious grin. “But do you know what is the best, most powerful aphrodisiac?”

Crowd murmurs, “What?”

“Pine nuts!” exclaims Bond with triumphant vigor. “Do you know what’s the worst food?”

Crowd murmurs, “What?”

“Processed sausage.”

Eww.

Granville Island Public Market

Next door, the fishermen-owned Finest at Sea smokery has made a name for itself throughout Vancouver for its sustainable fishing methods including commercial “flash freezing” at sea.

At first glance, the idea of freezing seems to go against the very grain of the Public Market’s mission next door. But Bond explains that when you freeze something very quickly it doesn’t have time to create the pockets of air that retain moisture, which typically creates the sogginess of most frozen food. And so, flash frozen food upon thaw is considered more fresh than food at most “fresh” markets, which may have taken from two days to a week to go from the source to the shelves.

There’s also the sustainability issue of shipping fish via air freight inside Styrofoam boxes, which are non-reusuable and one of the most problematic garbage  elements in the sea today.

“It’s just stupid to keep flying fish around the world,” says Bond. He points out to the type of fish that the smoker sells also: local sablefish, halibut, sockeye and red spring salmon—“All fish that will last forever because we’re paying attention to how we harvest them,” says Bond. “You know Chilean Seabass, that sweet, beautiful, yummy fish that we all love so much? Oh, it’s so good, right? It’s almost gone. We’re going to fish that right out of the ocean.”

From there we enter the sprawling Public Market, and for the next hour Bond teaches us about all of the various meats, cheeses and produce.

He holds up a wheel of Camembert and Brie?

“What the difference between these two?” Bond asks.

No one knows for sure. And I’ve always wondered.

“About 200 kilometers (125 miles),” he says. They are both the same recipe from two regions in France. Camembert tends to be sold in larger wheels though, so it dries out slower and often tastes a little milkier.

Presently, both are trying to secure their names exclusively for their cheese, like Champagne and Bourbon do to protect their bubbly and hooch.

In the interests of sustainability, chefs are now being required to purchase more of the cow from the more responsible farmers to lessen the amount of waste. Bond explains that’s why you’re seeing more beef jowls, necks and backsides on even fine-dining menus.

“And butt tastes good!” shouts out Bond, raising more than a few heads of passerbys in the crowd.

He also explains that by law, farmers are only required to feed cattle grass in pastures for the last two weeks before slaughter to call it the more pricier: “grass-fed beef.” So chefs are starting to claim exactly how the beef on a plate was brought to market.

And it goes on. If, for example, you’re interested in buying organic food, start with celery. Celery, of all the veggies, retains the most chemicals used in mass production. Then we taste delicious, homemade raspberry jam and learn the economics of local, artisan food.

“The more we buy fresh, local, organic, the more the prices comes down,” says Bond.

He explains that PICA was the first culinary school in Canada to achieve Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise status, similar to Monterey Aquarium’s vaunted Seafood Watch program.

“We all have a responsibility to learn more about how our behaviors are affecting our planet, our home,” says Bond. “I try to make it fun learning about that—and delicious too!”

For a whole host of corporate team building programs with Bond and PICA, visit picachef.com.

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