Jesse McCleery of Pilgrimme Restaurant in Galiano Island, BC: Mav Chefs 2016
Jesse McCleery creates a taste of the island at his forest restaurant with his unpretentious approach to food: guests share platters of delicious, creative flavours made from local produce and foraged ingredients. McCleery has cooked his way all over British Columbia, from the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort on Vancouver Island to the King Pacific Lodge in northern BC. His resumé also includes a six-month apprenticeship at Noma in Copenhagen, where fermented, pickled and powdered cooking techniques are applied with great success. McCleery applies his experience wisely at Pilgrimme: the entire menu is ingredient driven, with a strong focus on vegetables and Canadian grains.
What do you love about cooking?
The fact that you will never know everything; there will always be something to learn. And perfection doesn’t exist, only the idea.
If you could describe your culinary style in one word, what would it be?
Simple, ingredient driven.
Why did you decide to open Pilgrimme?
Basically, to have the freedom to express my philosophies and ideas of food, our food system and our environment — to create the change I wanted to see.
What surprises have you had with a restaurant in a forest and on an island?
There have been many surprises, things I had never thought about: worries of the well running dry in the summer; trees falling in the middle of the night ripping out our phone line; no Internet at the restaurant for the payment system. These are just a few things that changed the way we were used to doing things that make us cautious, aware and grateful.
Using locally sourced ingredients, is there a risk that you’ll run out before a night is through?
Yes, we tend to put the more limited ingredients on our blackboard, and print the menu with the dishes where the ingredients have a more steady harvest or we have a good stock of preserves.
How important are vegetables when you’re planning your menu?
Vegetables are almost always the primary focus. We work around what is being harvested or what we have preserved. In the winter months, we tend to be heavy on the ferments, pickles and dried ingredients. It gives us a wider range of flavours and textures when winter squash and winter greens are a lot of what we see.
What sort of ingredients do you forage in the forest and what role do they play in your restaurant?
We forage for many things from the forest, fields, beaches and water. Tree tips and buds, daisy leaves and flowers, sea vegetables and bull kelp — and many more. They all play an important role at Pilgrimme because they are of the island and full of life. We want our guests to try new things, to become grounded with a sense of place. We hope they leave with the feeling that Galiano is as special a place as we believe it to be.
Why serve your dishes as sharing plates instead of individual dishes?
There are several reasons. First and foremost, we like to eat that way; to share food, create discussion and chemistry between our guests. Secondly, we started with bare equipment and literally only myself in the kitchen doing all the cooking and dishes for the first seven months — it was the only possible way to put the food out in an organized way when the dining room was busy. We do plan on adding a tasting menu in the very near future and currently serve tasting menus when desired, kind of omakase style.
What is your most memorable/favourite food moment to date?
That’s a tough one. My dinner at Relæ in Copenhagen, my mother’s pork and ginger dumplings. Finally understanding why my eccentric grandmother’s pickles that were kept under her bed in the dark tasted different (they were lacto-fermented, rather than vinegar-pickled).
What is the one thing you absolutely can’t stand about the restaurant industry that you have tried to fix/correct at Pilgrimme?
Ha ha, where to begin. I can’t say I try to correct it, but one thing I hope for is that people will stop feeling the need to take so many photos of the food. Instead, be present in the moment, enjoy it and company you are in. I’d be a liar if I said I never photograph an amazing plate, but sometimes one is enough, sometimes none is better. I believe the experience — the energy, tastes and people one chooses to share the meal — even as a faded memory many years later, can outlive any social media post or photo.
Peaches stewed in kvass & butter with peach kernel cream
When BC fruits are abundant in peak summer we end up with many that are a little far gone. As well, making real sourdough in the restaurant, we do not sell them all or have stale ends. So we make a fermented beverage or stick with rye berry, the left over bread, honey and aromatics. Our food is very simple in most ways but involves a lot of building blocks that need advance preparation (bases, ferments, etc.) This is one snack we serve.
250 g organic cream
25 g honey
250 g kvass (recipe to follow)
Cut peaches in half around the pit and separate. Remove pit and set aside.
Take peach halves and place in a dehydrator at 125°F until quite dry but still malleable (time varies depending on size). Set aside.
Crack peach pits with a hammer or mallet. Not too hard, as you do not want to crush the kernel. Remove small kernel from each pit.
Peel each kernel, revealing the white, fragrant, true peach kernel.
Steep peeled kernels on low heat in cream and honey. Strain and discard kernels. Let cream cool.
Once chilled, whisk to soft peaks and set aside.
Place dried peach halves in a sauce pot; add kvass and butter. Simmer and cook down until peaches soften and a nice sauce forms.
Remove from heat and stir to emulsify the kvass and butter sauce.
Spoon warm peaches and sauce into a plate.
Garnish with dill and parsley, spoon over kernel cream. Serve at room temperature.
1 kg water
75 g honey
200 g stale sourdough
75 g sprouted rye berry
15 g salt
Fresh bay leaves
10 g each toasted: peppercorn, coriander seed, caraway seed (all toasted)
Combine all ingredients and seal in a container, let ferment 1 week stirring or agitating the mix at least 3 times a day.
After 6-7 days the liquid should be soured and slightly carbonated. Strain and refrigerate in an appropriate container, glass is best.