Eating the Island’s best – at Deerholme Farm

In the 30+ years I have been paying attention to the Island food scene, one concept has emerged to a much broader understanding and acceptance: Local and seasonal farm to table cuisine.

Locally sourced fruits, vegetables, meats and local/regional cuisine conceptualization is finally coming into its own.
Photo – L to R – Chef Bill Jones, Patrick Barber and Don Genova coordinating the next plate with impeccable timing.

And it makes sense. When you look at the hard reality of how little of our Vancouver Island food supply is actually produced here – well, it is kind of staggering and it makes any level headed person ask… “Why!?”

Well, the times they are a changing – and leading the charge on experiencing, learning and savoring the fruits of our harvest is none other than Chef Bill Jones of Deerholme Farm

No stranger to global cuisine, Bill Jones has wowed Island residents for 8+ years within the realm of “Farm to table”, seasonal cooking and the ever popular “foraged foods” – utilizing his star power to promote the areas incredible collection of seasonal morels (mushrooms).

Last night (Saturday – July 13) Andrea and I and two dear friends had the distinct pleasure of joining Chef Bill Jones (photo-Left), food journalist Don Genova (photo-Right) (CBC Food Matters and his own well read blog over at Blog.DonGenova.Com ) and avid food enthusiast Patrick Barber (Son of the Urban Peasant James Barber no less…)

Chef Bill Jones dining room holds a couple of dozen folks comfortably – keeping in mind that the farm is not a restaurant in the truest sense of the word – and when you have successfully “applied” to attend one his special events, you are indeed within a learned circle of enthusiastic food folks… in a space that is very open, friendly and conducive to group interaction and learning.

On our particular visit to the Deerholme Farm in the Duncan area, the single challenge was getting there. That said, the 4 of us were kind of reading from several sets of instructions – and for me, it was quite by accident that I ended up at the end of the very short Stelfox Road – not quite in the middle of nowhere but not far from it. Note the map below.

The Deerholme farm is quite unassuming and very farm like – so do not expect an obviously purpose built farm/food showcase. Because it’s not. It is a very active working farm that is also center stage for Bill Jones culinary experience.

Dinner at the farm often runs from 5 PM til 9 PM. We arrived fashionably early and took the opportunity to wander the rustic farms herb garden noting the grandeur of the area.

By 5 PM all the guests were seated and the first plate was in front of us: A savory Thai chicken sate (local organically grown chicken) complimented with freshly grilled Porcini bread and a smoked eggplant puree… a very gentle and easy going introduction to what would be a fascinating evening of brilliantly crafted “small plates” – portion sizes oriented towards enjoyment and learning – each course accompanied by Bill or Don giving us a little lecture on where (and when) the ingredients came from. Photo above – Bill and Don connect the timeline of the ingredients to each plate.

Within a 1/2 hour or so, we settled into a handsome salad of Argentinian inspired grilled flank steak over local farm greens – the steak (amounting to a couple of ounces of meat protein) topped by a Chimichurri dressing (Chimichurri is often made from finely chopped parsley or Cilantro, minced garlic, olive oil, oregano, and white or red wine vinegar…) – the steak is served medium-rare and you could almost cut it with a fork.

By 7 PM or so and a chance to stretch legs, get to know the folks at the table we were sharing – cleanse our palates with some mineral water, engage in conversation, etc and it was time for the next course:

A BBQ Bean soup – (a mixture of beans, the white beans being from Saltspring Island), ham hock with smoked salmon, sweet pea salsa (hot!) and grilled Pasilla pepper puree. This was a very rustic and flavorful soup that would be perfect any time of the year – but especially enjoyable in mid-summer with all fresh and local ingredients.
Photo above – long smoked beef brisket.

By 8 PM the star of the show was about to roll out: Photo – Slow cooked smoked beef brisket – with grilled red onion-mushroom jam, kale polenta, Providence Farm baby tomatoes, fresh garlic, basil and bread sauce. The brisket was portioned at around 3.5 ounces (perfect for the overall pacing of the meal) – rich with a complex and dark smokiness in the flesh – this brisket being grass fed and free range, is very low in saturated fat – so although the portion is slightly fatty, the fat portion is quite reminiscent of pork belly… melt in your mouth and healthy!

By 9 PM we were all very content and almost right on schedule an incredible dessert was presented: A local fennel and pear tarte tatin with a hazelnut caramel mousse, smoked pecans garnished with a maple-candied dehydrated bacon slice (surprisingly it fit in perfect…)

Any one of these plates would have made a delightful centerpiece on any other meal somewhere else – but taken as a whole, this grouping left a clearly lasting impression that will not be forgotten soon – as a local coffee enthusiast mused, “Of my top 5 meals I have had anywhere, 4 of them were at Deerholme…”

And considering the selection of great food and drink on Vancouver Island,
that says something!

For our group, the Deerholme Farm represents a unique and memorable eating experience – Hey, Andrea and I try (on principle) to eat out once a week (somewhere nice) and Deerholme is not like anything you have ever experienced – If anything, it makes me hopeful about how we see food on Vancouver Island – and the road to (at least a bit more) self sufficiency.

By all means contact Chef Bill Jones over here and consider attending one of his events. They are generally on Saturdays, year around. Deerholme Farm is located near Duncan, British Columbia – click on the small image above for the bigger view of the area.

Bon apetit!