An oceanside dinner celebrating BC shellfish and seafood this June sold out in three hours.

The occasion?

The 10th and final BC Shellfish and Seafood Festival Gala Dinner June 17 in Comox.

The gala, presented by the BC Shellfish Growers Association, celebrates the best of BC food, wine and craft beer. It attracts seafood lovers from all over Canada, the U.S. and as far as Mexico, and this year, those diners will be feasting on a dish made by a culinary team from right here in Campbell River.

Chef Matt MacDonald from Berwick at the Sea and his team will be creating a dish with local albacore tuna for the gala.

MacDonald was on the founding board of the festival and he was chosen as one of six featured chefs for this year’s gala dinner, which will be the final one.

Photo Courtesy: Julia Loo
Photo Courtesy: Julia Loo

MacDonald will be joined at the BC Shellfish and Seafood Festival by Whitney Ramn, sous-chef Shawn Galway, lead host Shayna Greenwood and servers Allison Graham and Elizabeth Crum.

MacDonald jokes that he has been cooking “since pterodactyls were flying.” He has worked for Berwick facilities for almost 10 years and has also had a couple of his own restaurants, including in Victoria and Courtenay.

Ramm has worked at Berwick by the Sea for about six months, and before that, she worked in camps in northern Alberta and at Salmon Point Restaurant and Pub.

Galway has a lot of experience in Asian food and has worked at many different places in Campbell River, including Wasabiya Japanese Sushi Cafe, the Royal Coachman Inn and the Heriot Bay Inn.

Greenwood has been working at Berwick by the Sea for just over a year and has been at the hospitality business for about eight years. She ran a local nightclub here for a couple of years and before that, she worked at Wasabiya for five years.

Graham has been at Berwick by the Sea just over a year and was at the Heriot Bay Inn before that. She has been in the hospitality business for seven years.

Crum has been at Berwick by the Sea for about five months and she has worked in hospitality for about eight years. Besides acting for the Tidemark Theatre, she has worked at the Riptide Marine Pub and the Heriot Bay Inn.

MacDonald says there’s a lot of strength in the team.

“I think there’s a lot of diversity in background and I think that basically creates collaboration,” he said.

The team will be creating a Thai sweet and sour dish using tuna loin for the gala dinner. Earlier this spring, they started preserving limes so they can make a relish out of them, and they were planning to make a slaw with Thai vegetables. They were going to dredge the tuna loin with a peppery dredge and sear it off on barbecues.

“What you end up doing in things like this is in many cases, you are choosing from your stock of dishes that you normally do, but it’s a bit more fun to conceptualize and to try to put something together,” said MacDonald. “So I looked up a recipe, I entirely changed it up and basically took the ingredients that were in the recipe and mucked around, played around until I came up with something that was right.”

MacDonald and his team plan to do a tasting of their dish for the Berwick residents about a week before the gala, which MacDonald is excited about because it will create an energy at the facility.

“An event like this creates an energy that we can put forward.”

“In that case, we’ll do a micro-version of the whole thing, mostly just a tasting to get a sense of all the flavours and the garnishing that we’re going to do,” said MacDonald. “That’s a great opportunity for the residents to get behind it and it also allows to do last-minute touches, so it’s like a test run.”

MacDonald is excited to bring his team to the festival and showcase what they can do.

“Because we’ve got a team going there, I think it’s good for the morale of the team,” he said. “I think it’s great. I think one of the things is that Berwicks in general have gone out of their way to put staffs together that include fine-dining chefs and with that in mind, that allows us to showcase what we’re capable of doing. An event like this creates an energy that we can put forward, even in the service staff too, in terms of they’re going to be doing some fine dining where they have to lay platters very quickly and a lot of wines and things like that are being poured. It requires staff all around that are very professional. And it gives us an opportunity to do something brand-new and off-site.”

Photo Courtesy: Morgan Cross
Photo Courtesy: Morgan Cross

Ramn and Greenwood are both really looking forward to the experience. “It will be the first time that I’ve ever done anything like that in such a large scale and professional situation,” said Ramn.

This will be Greenwood’s first time taking part in something of this scale as well. “It sounded like it would be a lot of fun to do,” she said. “I like doing a lot of catering events and being with people.”

The BC Shellfish Growers Association Annual Gala Dinner takes place June 17 at Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park in Comox. After a raw oyster bar reception, guests sit down to a six-course meal and each course is created by a different BC chef and paired with a BC wine or craft beer.

Along with MacDonald and his team, this year’s featured chefs are Garrett Schack of Vista 18 in Victoria, Jeff Keenliside of The Marina Restaurant in Victoria, John McManus of The Vancouver Fish Company in Vancouver, Ian Riddick of Long Beach Lodge Resort in Tofino, and Peter Zambri of Zambri’s in Victoria.

“We’re really pleased that Matt and his team are together in doing this and we’re very proud that they’re involved in this and that they’re allowing Berwick to be involved in this process as well by allowing us to test it out,” said Wendy Mayers, Berwick by the Sea’s community relations manager.

The gala dinner is part of the BC Shellfish and Seafood Festival, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and will take place June 9 to 19 in the Comox Valley. A variety of events are planned for the 11 days, including salmon farm tours in Campbell River.

Tours take place June 11 and 13 and leave from the Discovery Launch Water Taxi at the Coast Discovery Marina. The tours take place from 9am to 1:30 pm. and cost $50, which includes lunch. For more information, visit discovercomoxvalley.com/bc-shellfish-and-seafood-festival/info.