Magazine article Sunset

Swept Away

Magazine article Sunset

Swept Away

Article excerpt

I'M ON the ferry from the British Columbia mainland, churning across the sparkling water. I should probably be at the bow with the other tourists, watching for whales. Instead, I'm hunched over my phone, scrolling through the menu of a restaurant that lies ahead, deep in the woods of Galiano Island.

I'd been wanting to visit Pilgrimme ever since I saw pictures of the place, a wooden cottage glowing among the cedar and fir, like something out of a fairy tale. Its chef had spent time at Noma, the world-famous Danish restaurant, and was conjuring meals from strange, wonderful ingredients gathered from the beach and forest. Now I'd made the thousand-mile trek from San Francisco to try it for myself.

When we disembark, I discover I'm the only foot passenger off the ferry, dragging my ridiculously huge suitcase onto the shore. That's because here on Galiano-an 8-mile-long island where the deer are said to outnumber the people-there's no bus, no taxi, no Über. After panting a few hilly blocks up to the Galiano Inn, I'm relieved to find I can rent one of its Smartcars. Following a map that looks like a guide to buried treasure, I scoot past the little downtown and the island's lone gas station, toward Pilgrimme.

Fir and spruce rise high on both sides of the road, a canyon of green. Funky earved-wood signs point the way to potters and painters, knifemakers and glassblowers. And then, above a bay on the island's south side, there it is-the cottage from the photos, awash in sunlight.

Leanne Lalonde, Pilgrimme's apple-cheeked co-owner, welcomes me inside. The eight-table dining room is all thick wooden beams and coziness, with bits of the island-antlers, pinecones-on display. In the small, neat kitchen, chef Jesse McCleery and his cooks work in focused silence, darting between the pots and counters to a spillover outdoor space with a couple of grills, a rudimentary smoker, and a beat-up freezer. Everywhere, there are pickles: housemade ferments like green strawberry and sea asparagus stacked behind the bar, more jars up the outside wall, and vacuum-sealed bags of vegetables, ballooned with their gases, in a storage nook.

It might seem a bit lofty to name a restaurant Pilgrimme, to imply high moral purpose, but McCleery is hardly pretentious. In his mid-30s, he's wiry and shy, with alert, dark eyes and a bare murmur of a voice. As we sit down for coffee on the restaurant's porch, he tells me that for him the name simply describes a traveler, an explorer: "Everyone is searching for something, whether they know it or not."

McCLEERY'S own quest started in his hometown of Winnipeg, on the Canadian Prairies, where he was cooking by the age of IS. Later, while working at the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort in Tofino, on Vancouver Island, he had a food awakening: "There was a woman on the other side of the bay who would forage and bring us sea plantains and sea arrowgrass," he says. "It was super interesting to work with those flavors. There was nothing like them on the prairie."

Those three years in Tofino began to shape the way McCleery cooks. "It was the first time I saw the limitlessness of cooking, where everything around you could play a part in your food," he says. As he went on to work in restaurants all over the province, including the King Pacific Lodge in the Great Bear Rainforest (where he met Lalonde), he spent his downtime teaching himself from cookbooks, especially René Redzepi's Noma. Then in 2013, he landed the culinary equivalent of a spot at Yale: a position as an intern at Noma in Denmark, whose championing of Scandinavian ingredients-especially foraged foods-has prompted chefs around the world to scour their own terrain for overlooked edibles.

"At Noma, I saw someone on the other side of the world using ingredients I'd known years before, but doing way cooler stuff with them," says McCleery. Fried reindeer moss. Duck cured in dried kelp. Fermented plum skins. The cooks at Noma applied old-fashioned techniques in new ways to explore how far ingredients could be pushed. …

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