- Story by Angela Cowan
Ken Hookham is Chef de Cuisine for Q at the Empress at Victoria’s Fairmont Empress Hotel – an award-winning signature restaurant that defines the destination. Ken takes his culinary inspiration from the Pacific Northwest region and its abundance of local ingredients, celebrating the amazing farmers, foragers and artisans that make Vancouver Island so unique. Chef Hookham takes great pleasure in allowing the local offerings — from vegetables to seafood — to guide him in telling an authentically island culinary story.
• Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
• Did his classical training at Vancouver Community College and apprenticed under Chef Robert Le Crom at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.
• Chef de Cuisine at Q at the Empress since February, 2018.
What are you best known for as a chef? Letting the natural ingredients shine. I feels as chefs, we can sometimes overthink things and play with food too much. I enjoy dishes that truly just let the flavours speak for themselves and celebrate what our region has to offer.
What are the 10 or so most important ingredients in your pantry? Empress honey, Salt Spring Sea Salt, Noble Tonic 03: Maple Sherry Vinegar, verjus, Olive the Senses olive oil, juniper berries, mustard seeds, smoked paprika, dried chickpeas, preserved lemon.
What’s your favourite dish to cook and eat on a crisp autumn day? Yarrow Meadows duck confit with charred stone fruit. I find slow-cooked dishes really warm the soul and are perfect for the colder weather.
What’s your go-to item when sampling other chefs’ fare?
I look for original items on menus. Steaks and fish are mainstays on most menus, but I want to try something that represents the area and shows the skill and originality of the chef and his brigade.
Hobbies? Hiking, swimming, obscure movie quotes, 2 am Backgammon games with my wife and exploring what the land around me has to offer.
Anything else we should know? I think food has an amazing way of connecting people. That’s really what drew me into this as a career. Connecting to the region, sharing that with guests and watching the stories that unfold as shared bonds are made over good food. Very exciting.
Can you share an easy, seasonal recipe for a quick bite this autumn? I have shared two … the Q Ugly Soup is so local that I think readers will love it, and who doesn’t love hearty soup in the fall? The second uses an emerging ingredient that is playful and delicious: Salish Sea Geoduck Ceviche.
Salish Sea Geoduck Ceviche
Chef Hookham says: “I think geoduck is amazing. It is incredibly hearty, yet has such delicate flavour. This product is really just being discovered by Canadian diners and I love the opportunity to showcase what we can do with it, so it can be enjoyed simply and easily at home.”
(Locally sourced products are noted to showcase Vancouver Island producers. However, ingredients could come from other producers.)
180 ml Charred Lemon Dressing (recipe below)
120 gr Marinated Salish Sea Geoduck (about 1/3 of a geoduck after blanching and cleaning)
8 pieces cured BC spot prawns
1 head Saanich Organics Escarole
4 leaves Foxglove Farms Red Shiso
1 piece Sunwing Farms Baby Cucumber
Crushed Corn Nuts
Mix geoduck and prawns in Charred Lemon Dressing and allow to sit for 40 minutes to cure. Pour dressing into the bottom of the bowl, then mix greens and seafood and build a tower on top of the dressing. Roll baby cucumber slices into rings and place around ceviche.
For the Geoduck
Bring 4L of water to a boil in a large pot and add salt. Add 1 whole geoduck (2 lbs) to the water and boil for about 45 seconds. You will begin to see the skin blister and this will let you know it is ready to come out of the water. Transfer the geoduck to a large pot of salted ice water and chill completely. Once cool, remove the geoduck from the ice bath and pull open the shell. Using a knife, cut away the innards leaving the siphon. From the base of the siphon, peel the outer layer of skin off. Split the siphon into thirds. For the tip, split the siphon in half, and rinse out any sand and julienne. For the middle portion, slice the geoduck into thin rings, and ring out any sand. For the base, cut the siphon into chunks then rinse out any sand. Reserve the meat for marinating. It can be eaten raw, cured for ceviche, or cooked into a stir-fry or stew.
For the Charred Lemon Ceviche Dressing
50 ml Mirin
50 ml Olive the Senses Basil Olive Oil
60 ml sweet chili sauce
Salt Spring Sea Salt
Cut Lemons into haves. On a grill or in a hot frying pan char the flesh of the lemons, then set aside and allow to cool. Juice lemons, then mix in other ingredients and salt to taste.
|Ugly Soup, Salish Sea Geoduck Ceviche and bread with honey butter prepared by Chef de Cuisine Ken Hookham at the Fairmont Empress Hotel. Don Denton food photography
Q Ugly Soup
“The idea for Q’s Ugly Soup came from discussions with our local farmers. We wanted to focus on supporting local farmers during the winter months and using organic vegetables year-round. Since many of the ‘second’ vegetables that may be scarred or not visually perfect end up as waste, Fairmont Empress purchases these ‘ugly vegetables’ from Saanich Organics and creates this delicious, seasonal soup.
180 ml Saanich Organics Vegetable Soup
3 pieces Portofino Bakery Peasant Loaf Croutons
45 ml Charred Scallion & Kale Pesto
10 leaves arugula or baby kale garnish
Heat soup, plate in warm soup bowl and garnish with a dollop of Charred Scallion & Kale Pesto (recipe below), fresh greens and crunchy croutons.
1 loaf Artisanal Portofino Bakery Peasant Loaf
30 ml olive oil
salt and pepper
30 ml sherry vinegar
30 ml grated parmesan cheese
Tear loaf of Portofino Bakery Peasant bread into 3-cm chunks. Toss in olive oil, season with salt and pepper and bake at 400 F for 5 minutes to crisp outside, but allow the centre to remain slightly soft. Toss freshly baked croutons in sherry vinegar and grated parmesan.
Charred Scallion & Kale Pesto
100 g Scallions
100 g Dinosaur Kale Leaves
4 cloves garlic
300 ml olive oil
In a small sauce, pan cover garlic with some of the olive oil and cook on medium heat for 20 minutes until garlic is soft and golden brown. Set aside to cool. Char scallions on barbecue or in a frying pan until the outer edges begin to blacken. Blanch kale leaves in boiling salted water for 10 seconds then shock in salted ice water to stop cooking. This will reduce any bitter flavour the kale may have and help to bring out the bright green colour. In a blender, combine roasted garlic, roasted garlic oil, the remaining olive oil, charred scallions and blanched kale and blend until smooth. Season with salt.
Saanich Organics Vegetable Soup
Carrot, celery, onion and tomato will always be a base, but everything else changes based on seasonality and availability. From squash and leeks, to beets, parsnip or salsify, let the farmer’s bounty guide our soup recipe.
3 cups vegetable stock
10 threads saffron
300 ml dry white beans
1 small onion
5 cloves garlic
1/16 tsp chili flakes
1/16 tsp fennel seeds
1/16 tsp smoked paprika
2 pieces bay leaf
1 Yukon Gold Potato
2 stalks celery
2 pieces carrot
1 piece leek
500 ml crushed tomato
1 piece delicatta squash
10 ml Tabasco
salt and pepper
Soak dry white beans in 1 L of water overnight in the fridge. Add saffron threads to vegetable stock and bring to a simmer. Turn off heat and allow to steep for 30 minutes and then strain out saffron threads. Toast and grind fennel seed. Trim green of leeks and discard, then julienne and wash the leek whites. Thinly shave garlic. Dice celery, onion and carrot. Cut delicatta squash into rings, then into half moons and remove the seeds. In a thick-bottom soup pot, on medium low heat with minimal vegetable oil, sauté onion, garlic, chili flakes, fennel seeds and smoked paprika to release aroma. Add potato, celery, carrots and leeks and sauté for 5 minutes to begin to soften. Add crushed tomato, bay leaf, hydrated white beans and steeped vegetable stock and bring to a simmer. Add delicatta squash and simmer for 40 minutes until beans and vegetables are tender. Add Tabasco sauce and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.