Food For Thought Spotlight – Comox Valley

Food For Thought Spotlight: Comox Valley

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I have to make a confession: While I love the Creston Valley, she’s not always been my “one and only”. Like many many Kootenay kids I was lured to Vancouver Island to hike through old rainforests, surf the frigid pacific, skateboard down Victoria’s well-manicured streets, endure wet winters… and oh yeah go to university.

After school, I landed a job “up island” in the small, but funky town of Cumberland, nestled inland from Courtenay and Comox in the Comox Valley. With the Comox Lake close by, skiing on Mount Washington, quaint mining town cottages, and farms a plenty, the areal felt more akin to my mountain roots than the usual coastal town.

Actually, back in the early 00’s many young coastal ex-urbanites started showing up in the Comox Valley. While taking advantage of cheap land and housing they also brought fresh ideas that rejuvenated communities reeling from the decline in fishing, logging, and coal mining industries in the 90’s (Sound like a familiar Kootenay story?). I had a feeling then that this part of Vancouver Island was going to be a “big deal” and I think I can say I was right.

 

A Sweet, Sweet Return – The grass is always greener on the Island!

 

Now that I’m comfortably living in Creston and enjoying the Kootenay winter’s supply of crisp powder, the 4 seasons that accompany it, and 5 minute work commutes the call of the coast has dwindled. However, a September long-weekend wedding for two close friends on Hornby Island gave me an excuse to escape the smoky BC interior and get some fresh air and see what’s changed in 5 years in my adopted second home.

So why do I mention all this when I’m writing a blog about the Creston Valley? Am I simply trying to make my current hometown mistress jealous by reminiscing about a past lover?

Sort of… The Creston Valley has a lot in common with the Comox Valley as I’ve mentioned. And as I quoted Nigel Francis saying in my last post “Creston is full of opportunity if you are a self-starter and creative”.

My intention in this post is to highlight some unique & trending “foodie businesses” that peeked my interest while I was in the Comox Valley. By writing this post I hope I inspire some “food for thought” for any potential foodie entrepreneurs out there in seeing the same potential here in the Creston Valley!

 

#1 Guerilla Food Company: This ain’t your grandpa’s frozen dinner!

 

While at the wedding, I connected with my friend Jake Galbraith, an old school food wizard who got his chops in some fine establishments in Vancouver and Victoria before moving to Courtenay, and who conveniently for us also catered the wedding lunch.

It also turns out Jake is in on the ground floor of a pretty sweet little new food business these days in Courtney. Along with owner Jason and his buddy Christopher, Jake has helped launch the Guerilla Food Company, a locally-sourced, gourmet frozen food business!

Guerilla Food's & Gladstone Craft Brew - A classy dream!

Guerilla Food’s & Gladstone Craft Brew – A classy dream!

And while it might sound like a paradox to put “gourmet” and “frozen food” in the same sentence, the menu clearly proves otherwise. I certainly wouldn’t mind sitting down to some “Braised Local Pork” or a “Kimchi Rice Bowl” in my own home! To see the rest of their pretty mind-blowing menu check this out!

 

while it might sound like a paradox to put “gourmet” and “frozen food” in the same sentence, the menu clearly proves otherwise.

 

For these crowds going by the Guerilla Food Company shop, loading up on anything from pastas, entrées, pizzas, brunch items, and even desserts seems like the best of both worlds. As a young-ish male living solo, I know my enthusiasm for eating healthy is often more of “work in progress” resolution. I’ve certainly been known to buy a cheap frozen pizza from the grocery.

Finally, to top that all off Guerilla Food Company has also partnered with the recently opened Gladstone Brewery in Courtenay, offering artisan pizzas and other entrees to accompany the craft brewed deliciousness being served up to Comox Valley Locals! Conveniently this also segways into my next Wayne’s World dream sequence!

 

#2 – Gladstone Brewing Co. & Cumberland Brewing Co. – All Hail the Microbrew!

 

It seems like microbreweries are springing up in just about every community across BC these days. From larger scale operations in Vancouver right down to nano-breweries like Torchlight Brewing in Nelson, B.C. has become not just the Wine Capital of Canada, but also the Craft Beer Capital. So far in 2015 alone, twenty-one new microbreweries were born, bringing that total up to over One hundred!

 

B.C. has become not just the Wine Capital of Canada, but also the Craft Beer Capital.

 

Thankfully like the rest of B.C., the Comox Valley has also been caught up in the craft brew craze: In 2014 The Cumberland Brewing Company opened in you guessed it… Cumberland, and Gladstone Brewing Company in Courtenay. It goes without saying that as a fan of a good sturdy beer, I was pretty excited to find these two gems.

Luckilly, the wedding guests generously supplied two kegs from Cumberland Brewing Company, a “Forest Fog American Wheat” and the aptly named “Little Bitter English Bitter”! Being stuck in a large cabin on an island for three days with a group of old college friends gave us arguably over-ample time to enjoy and indulge in these delicious brews!

And while I didn’t get to make it there, Cumberland Brewing’s microbrewery and tasting room located in downtown historic Cumberland is supposed to be a great pit stop after a day of mountain-biking the famous trails that surround the town. And for those thirsty and in a rush you can grab a “growler” to go, the 64 oz. refillable bottles quickly gaining popularity amongst small craft brewers and beer drinkers alike.

Outside the Gladstone Brewing Company Patio!

Outside the Gladstone Brewing Company Patio!

In contrast to my encounter with Cumberland Brewing, I sampled Gladstone’s beers much more “casually” on site with two ex-Torontonian friends who always know the best places to eat, drink, and hangout; handy allies indeed!

Located on a notable corner of downtown Courtenay, Gladstone Brewing is based out of an old auto garage that now houses the microbrewery, tasting room, a patio, and Guerilla Food’s Pizzeria (LINK). And while I was definitely a sucker for the cool vintage tasting room, the buzz of people in the place, and the amazing pizza and Italian Meatballs from the Guerilla Food Company pizzeria, the beer itself definitely won me over in its own right. Most importantly, I was hit with a real sense of envy for what the Comox Valley has.

 

Creston: Future Present?

 

Needless to say, I’m a jealous fan of all of these local Comox businesses. But I also mention these businesses because of the potential similar ideas could have in Creston! As a popular stop for summer visitors, a growing agri-tourism industry, and a community that is already a fan of its beer, Creston seems ripe for a microbrewery.

Simultaneously, full of farms, wealthy retirees, young adults working out of the community, and a few single guys like me afraid of cooking interfering with my Netflix binges, I suspect there’s a supply chain and market for a Guerilla Foods-type operation in the Kootenays!

So am I just wishfully dreaming? Maybe. But with the Town of Creston and Regional District directors Tanya Wall, Larry Binks, and Garry Jackman making agri-tourism a priority, and a notable influx of American tourists this summer with the falling Canadian dollar I think timing could be on Creston’s side.

And while I can’t reveal any details, I suspect at least one of my “wishlist” foodie businesses has a very good chance of becoming a reality in 2016 😉 Until then, I guess I’ll just have to keep cooking myself frozen pizzas and keeping my empty growler by the door!

 

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About Jesse Willicome

Raised all over the Creston Area, from Yahk to Lower Kootenay Band to Canyon, Jesse Willicome is an an adventurer who loves hiking, rock-climbing, full-moon snow-shoe trips up Kootenay Pass, and travelling the globe. As an active community member he is also a board member of Wildsight Creston and vice-president of the Trails for Creston Valley Society. When he’s at home, he can most likely be found listening to CBC radio, stoking the woodstove, drinking a strong espresso, and writing about local agriculture in the Creston & Kootenay area.

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