Tria Culinary Studios
Tria is a triumvirate of Chef Kathy Jerritt, and husband and wife team Marla Limousin and George Ehrler of Nature’s Way blueberry farm and Blue Moon Estate Winery. British Columbia’s (other) cash crop is blueberries. But few have had the vision to make wine from their blueberries as George of Blue Moon Estate Winery has done.
“We were lucky,” explains Marla, who also teaches a Cultivating Your Garden class at North Highland College on the island,”When we bought the farm about a decade ago, it was just about the time that there was this run on blueberries. So we quickly found ourselves sitting on a cash crop,” she says with a shrug and a smile. Nature’s Way Farm, soon to be know as Blue Moon Farm, has about 2,000 blueberry bushes that produce about 30,000 pounds of blueberries from about 6 acres. They also cultivate an herb and vegetable garden on site in their greenhouse that Chef Kathy uses in her on-site cooking classes and demonstration dinners.
On a recent afternoon while walking the property with Marla and Kathy and meeting their resident four llamas, Kathy picked a leaf of the tender arugula and mustard greens for a sampling of the kinds of fresh ingredients she uses for her dishes. What a difference fresh makes! My eyes started watering from the spiciness of the mustard greens; Wasabi is grown fresh on the island but if you want to kick your taste buds out of this world, chomp on a leaf of Kathy’s mustard greens!
Now that Spring is warming up and summer is around the corner, make a note of these important Full Moon Feast Dates: Milk Moon, May 27; Strawberry Moon June 27; Mead Moon July 25 and then there’s Wort Moon and Corn Moon to follow in August and September respectively.
These Full Moon dates at Tria Culinary Studios are more than just feasts, they are opportunities to make friends with foodies and build community. “People arrive as strangers and leave as friends,” explains Kathy and Marla. During their Winter Solstice Feast, “people felt connected,” they explain and came in pairs other than just romantic pairs – there were friends, mothers and daughters, colleagues. Each guest had a “shoes partner” whereby whoever they happened to leave their shoes next to when they entered the studio they were paired up with for the evening.
Farmer, Winemaker and Chef are putting themselves forward as trailblazers in the world of culinary experiential adventures. When you first enter the property, you walk into the Blue Moon Winery shop, a cheerful display of blueberry wines in chic-ly labeled bottles greet you. Wine “vintages” include Dusk, Soleil and Midnight. My favorite, especially paired with the Taste of India menu Kathy had prepared for our culinary-class-and-lunch was “Dusk,” which caters to a drier palate and is a blend, full bodied, of 3 varieties of certified organic blueberries from the farm. Soleil, is a golden color and is not blended from blueberries! But rather from 9 varieties of organic apples from Denman Island, the little island that is a 20 minute ferry ride away from Tria Culinary Studios there just South of Courtenay in the Comox Valley.
Marla proudly describes her zero tillage chickweed composting farming techniques as she walks you around the property. “Chickweed builds nitrogen. You should see it in the summertime,” she says, pointing to the large composting heap off to the side of the blueberry bushes, “it steams.” Marla worked up in the Arctic for a number of years as a landscape architect, attempting to grow gardens, so gardening and farming on the island, for her, is “a cakewalk.”
Kathy, who has a Mexican heritage, grew up in the Yukon, in the town of White Horse, and the two women agree that their Arctic roots had them instantly hitting it off. “There’s a real collaborative feeling within Comox Valley among the farmers,” explains Kathy. When she demonstrated her Palak Paneer, the Indian dish that combines cheese with blended spinach, she noted that her spinach was from Pattison Farms. Such big, leafy tender greens you’ve never seen! When I tasted one of the leafs, I could have sworn it was drenched already in butter. But it wasn’t. That was just the natural, raw leaf.
“Our cooking class guests so far just like to watch me cook,” comments Kathy. “But we’ve really envisioned a very hands-on experience here for people who want to roll up their sleeves and dive right into learning how to prepare these dishes themselves.” To that effect, the three of them, the farmer, the cook and the winemaker, designed a large cooking kitchen that boasts two stoves, one that Kathy the pro uses and another that you would find in your average household kitchen. There’s plenty of work space to accommodate those who’d rather do and eat than just watch and eat.
One of the advantages that George the fruit winemaker has over his grape compatriots, is that he can freeze the fruit. So when the harvest is particularly bountiful, George has the option of freezing the blueberries, apples, pears, raspberries, tayberries (an island specialty) and even Saskatoon berries. “Freezing actually enhances the flavor,” he explains. He’ll also show you, with pleasure, his solaire where he preserves the continuity of his vintages’ taste from harvest to harvest.
On the day that we four sat down for lunch at the beautifully-set countertop that looks directly into the Tria Studio Kitchen, Kathy had also prepared Black Cardamom Goat Curry. Only she had substituted Tannadice Farms fresh pork for the goat. Both are grown and processed on the island. And as any good chef does, she only used the freshest and most readily available ingredients to cook with that day. “For our Full Moon Feasts, people often ask what the menu will be when they make their reservations. But I honestly don’t know what the menu will be until, at the very most, three days, or less, in advance,” shares Kathy. She is also partners in a nearby restaurant up on Mt. Washington called Sushi-Mon and has something of a cult following as the “crepe lady” at the renowned Comox Valley farmer’s market.
“On market days, I’ll walk around the market stalls and see what’s fresh. Then I’ll pull from the best and those will be my ingredients for the crepe of the day,” explains Kathy. George points out that her crepes are a fantastic display of Comox Valley cheeses, vegetables and meats. “People phone ahead to get her crepes on market days,” he says with a laugh, “otherwise the wait can be an hour or more!”
Kathy also makes a sweet crepe with her home made berry marmellata. For that, you’ll just have to go there. Good news update: Tria Culinary Studios is developing long-term “food stays” for those who want to immerse themselves in farm fresh goodness and culinary skills.
Tria Culinary Studio www.triaculinarystudio.ca Nature’s Way Farm 4905 Darcy Road, Courtenay, B.C. V9J TR5