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Seafood & shellfish fans find fresh inspiration at Comox Valley festival

Robin Brunet – Vancouver Sun & Province

May 17, 2016

Seafood & shellfish fans find fresh inspiration at Comox Valley festival

As an award-winning Vancouver chef and food stylist, Nathan Fong travels the world to participate in major culinary events. But mention the annual BC Shellfish & Seafood Festival in the Comox Valley, which takes place this year between June 9 and 19th, and he becomes galvanized.

“I’ve been cooking seafood all my life, but I’ve never seen such a huge array of product – or the huge numbers of people who come to have fun, and learn about the incredible bounty in this corner of the province,” he says.

Fong, who will be hosting the June 18th Comox by the Sea Celebration (a festival highlight that includes cooking demonstrations, competitions, and live entertainment), is even more dazzled by the Comox Valley itself.

He remembers visiting the region for the first time just four years ago, “and I was completely blown away by what I saw: over 50 per cent of the province’s shellfish are grown and harvested here; it’s also home to Canada’s most productive oyster farms, and the variety and quality is amazing.”

Fong adds, “And don’t get me started on the local markets and surrounding farms. I always viewed Vancouver as the culinary basket of Canada, but it struck me that the Comox Valley is one of the crown jewels – so participating in the festival is something I really look forward to.”

Now in its 10th year, the BC Shellfish & Seafood Festival is B.C.’s largest such event and has become a major tourism draw for the Comox Valley, thanks to its participating chefs, the Fanny Bay Oyster Shucking Championship, and local aquaculture and seafood-producer tours. But 2016 marks an important turning point: up to 40 seafood buyers from Europe, the United States, the Philippines, Japan, China, Korea, and Vietnam will attend the festival’s industry tradeshow, B.C. Seafood Expo. “That’s more buyers than ever, and an indication of the Comox Valley’s growing recognition as a food destination,” says Fong.

The enthusiasm of buyers is matched by the number of guests who flock to the 11-day festival. “I’ve had up to 2,000 people attend my cooking demonstrations,” says Fong.

As such, the event has become an important mechanism that supports increased awareness, consumption, and export of B.C. seafood products, in addition to driving increased visitation to the region: an impressive achievement, considering it began as a single event dinner hosted by the B.C. Shellfish Growers Association (BCSGA).  “It went from a small event 10 years ago to a very large one after a few years,” says Dr. Myron Roth, chair of the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture’s B.C. Seafood Program Committee. “Comox Valley Economic Development and Tourism (CVEDS) helped out as the festival continued to grow, and then the Ministry of Agriculture, along with the Ministry of International Trade, joined in to support the commerce side and the development of the B.C. Seafood Expo.”

In 2014, a formal partnership between BCSGA and CVEDS to organize the overall festival added multiple partners and included an increased number of industry participants from the seafood sector.

As usual, guests this year will have no end of things to see and do. New events for 2016 include the Chef’s Shellfish Showdown dining experience under the stars at 40 Knots Vineyard & Estate Winery, June 12, and the K’omoks Estuary Seafood Dinner at Locals Restaurant, June 15. Also new is Painting and Pints, June 12, on the patio of Gladstone Brewery in the heart of downtown Courtenay with local craft beer tastings as guests enjoy a guided painting session lead by local artist Jenja McIntyre and inspired by historical Canadian artist, Emily Carr. Painting supplies, canvas and beer tasting are included.

Local aquaculture companies will provide educational tours of salmon and deepwater oyster farms, plus a shellfish hatchery tour. The festival culminates with the family-friendly Comox by the Sea Celebration, to be held at the historic Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park, downtown Comox, featuring interactive displays and live touch tanks along with the seafood tastings and chef demonstration.

Fong says, “This year will be the biggest festival ever, and I would encourage anyone attending to also do what I did four years ago: take extra time to explore out the region. It’s such a beautiful part of our province.”

It’s also easy to get to. B.C. Ferries has regular sailings to Nanaimo; Harbour Air has regular floatplane service from downtown Vancouver to Comox Harbour, while Air Canada, Pacific Coastal and Central Mountain Air has scheduled flights to the Comox Valley Airport (YQQ) from Vancouver International Airport.

For more information, visit: or call the Vancouver Island Visitor Centre 1-855-400-2882

June 18th Comox by the Sea Celebration

June 10, 14 and 18th Oyster Farm Tour with Comox Harbour Charters

This story was produced by Postmedia Works on behalf of Comox Valley Economic Development and Tourism for commercial purposes. Postmedia’s editorial departments had no involvement in the creation of this content.

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