Fun times foraging and feasting around Tofino with Top Chef Canada winner Paul Moran.
By Laura Di Nardo | March 15, 2021
The early days of the pandemic meant that instead of dining out and trying new restaurants, I ate with my eyes through my television, settling in to Top Chef Canada for some pure culinary escapism. In season seven, Paul Moran was a standout from the first episode, and as I watched as he was eventually crowned the winner, I knew I had to connect with him. As one does these days, I slid into his Instagram direct messages and asked him for the best spots to eat in Tofino. Paul lives in Tofino currently, and I was heading there for a week in August with my best friend.
I got a ping back fairly quickly. “Paul just messaged me back!” I yelled to my boyfriend. While Paul didn’t give me any recommendations, he did offer something far more enticing: an opportunity to take one of his new Forage + Feast private classes. For $250 per person, six of us would spend the morning foraging on the beach, then continue foraging through the Tofino forests. In the evening, we would gather at Paul’s home, where he would prepare a six-course feast using our foraged ingredients.
Dinner was something he would have prepared on Top Chef to blow Mijune Pak’s socks off.
The morning of, we all gathered at Paul’s, loaded into a couple of four-wheel drives and headed to Frank Island. It was barely past eight in the morning and the fog was thick and mysterious. On the island, we identified and collected a variety of mollusks, seaweed and some (apparently) very rare gooseneck barnacles, which look like a monster’s claw. Paul said that in New York, restaurants pay a ton of money to fly these in—$80 per pound. And here I was picking them out of the water for free. After about an hour on the beach, we drove into the woods in search of chanterelle and pine mushrooms.
Setting off with our pails and pocket knives, we found clusters of gorgeous chanterelles and other types of mushrooms, slicing away and filling our buckets. This was the perfect opportunity to chat casually with our fellow foodies, hearing how they ended up on this adventure. There was a couple from Vancouver who chase fine-dining experiences, a doctor from the Yukon and her tech-entrepreneur husband, and a girl travelling solo whose mom is Toronto’s “millionaire matchmaker.” It felt so nice to connect with interesting strangers in an outdoorsy and yet culinary way. When everyone’s bucket was full, we said our goodbyes and met up for dinner a few hours later.
Paul, of course, knocked the meal right out of the park, beginning with the first course, appropriately named the Forager’s Martini: a dry gin martini with a small bowl of pickled seaweed, chanterelles, kelp and gooseneck barnacles—the perfect balance of briny and acidic. The second course was a delightful tomato and locally caught shrimp salad—simple, bold, fresh and flavourful.
The third course spoke to Paul’s talents in executing complex Asian flavours in a simple manner, featuring green bean and sake gomae with teriyaki chanterelles and fresh nori. It was absolutely something he would have prepared on Top Chef to blow Mijune Pak’s socks off.
The fourth course was fresh albacore tuna with marinated chanterelles, zucchini and salsa verde. And the fifth: a crusty sourdough chanterelle-mushroom toast topped with a generous slice of Camembert. If only I could eat this every day.
All food things have to come to an end, and so they did with perhaps my favourite course of all—locally made pistachio ice cream, lemon curd, fresh peaches and blueberries, plus a hazelnut crumble to die for. So delicious.