As brightness of the summer and fall seasons give way to the dark chill of a damp West Coast winter my disposition towards food changes. Whereas only 8 weeks ago I was craving crisp, light and refreshing fares, I am now drawn to foods to comfort and warm my soul. Quick purees, vibrant salsas and vinaigrettes are replaced with slow braised rich meats, sauces made from painstaking reduction. Delicate herbs are replaced with hard fall spices, naturally pushing inspirations towards complex Middle Eastern preparations & fruit chutneys. Local orchard fruits, winter squash and hearty root vegetables still in their peak of quality have taken the main stage, it seems like so long now since the first tomatoes, summer squash and berries hit my kitchen, gone but not forgotten.
There is a tangible sigh of relief at the end of a bustling summer season in a resort & tourist community. I am proud to be a new member of this not so little Coastal community of Quadra Island. In turn I’m seeking out the kinds of foods that bring me back yet make we feel at home like the first smell of coffee in the morning. I’m trying to create dishes that wrap you up in a warm hug. The butternut squash gnocchi achieves this for me, as a child my mom would make a simple snack of cheese, crackers & apple. The delicate winter squash dumplings are like pillows, sauteed in brown butter and herbs until their exterior crisps, a reduced crème fraiche adds a sort of bright creaminess to this rich dish, along with the kick of pungent blue cheese, all topped with sweet and juicy sliced Bartlett pear & the satisfying crunch of toasted walnuts. I feel so at home I can hear my mom asking me to do the dishes.
Many chefs talk about seasonality and the role it plays in influencing their menus. As with all animals and we humans are no exception to that, there’s an innate connection to our world and its changing seasons. That’s what guides us in creating these seasonal menus where we let the products that are naturally in their prime to be the stars on the plate. Where I would have to manipulate adjust and cajole an out of season ingredient I can allow a perfect fresh ingredient be itself and it shines as if all on its own. So here's to celebrating the rich warm flavours that keep us cozy during these cool month, they nourish our bodies and souls as we hideaway and dream of the summer season and all of all the dainty berries and vine ripe tomatoes to come.
~ Chef Joe Volk
Photo Credit: Erin Wallis Photography