Food is Love
Having someone lovingly prepare a meal for you evokes feelings of warmth and comfort. You can taste the love and effort that goes into cooking and composing each ingredient on the plate. Whether it’s a family style roast beef dinner with Yorkshire puddings in the 80’s, or grilled halibut served on a nearby shoreline today. Each fuels your body, while being nourishing and delicious.
From the 1980’s to present day, the culinary ethos at Nimmo Bay has always prioritized local, delicious, soul-satisfying, and beautiful food. The pioneer of Nimmo Bay cuisine is none other than our matriarch Deborah Murray, co-founder of this intimate resort. At the inception of Nimmo Bay, Deborah was working on Vancouver Island, caring for their first two children, while Craig was in the wilderness starting up the resort. After a series of struggles, the decision was made overnight for Deborah to quit her job in the logging industry. This was their only source of income back then, but it was time to pack up the kids, and move to Nimmo Bay.
The beginning of her journey in the kitchen was keeping Craig, Fraser, and Clifton fed. It was never in the plan for Deborah to cook for all the guests, but when they started to arrive, she fell into it with grace and skill. Her passion for food was always evident. It’s clear as you listen to her speak about the meals she made, she truly loves to feed people. She describes her culinary style as “well-cooked homemade meals”.
The First Kitchen
The original kitchen, not pictured below, was extremely basic. Most of the appliances and fixtures were original relics from a 1930s float home. Starting Nimmo Bay on a shoestring budget meant that Deborah made the most of the space and equipment she had.
It took a lot of mental and physical power to be consistently creative and work in a kitchen that lacked some of the usual comforts. It was cozy to say the least. There was a fridge, a double sink, and these fiery hot oil and wood stoves, with only a tiny window for fresh air to flow through. Deborah was always up for it though; she thrived on the ability to be inventive and loved camp cooking. Her favourite part of the entire kitchen was the swinging door that led directly into the dining room. This was her connection to the guests at Nimmo Bay. Only a door away from hearing them dive into a delicious and satisfying meal. It was also the guest’s invitation to visit the kitchen whenever they wanted, to chat with Deborah and learn about the food they were eating.
The Kitchen rhythm
Deborah would start each morning before the sun, walking into the small and minimalist kitchen to bake fresh loaves of bread for the guests. Firing up the ancient oil stove and making bread was a ritual. No matter what the circumstances of the day held, whether good or bad, warm or cold, there would be bread. Everyone loved her fresh loaves, especially as the smell wafted through the lodge. Once the bread was made, Deb would start prepping for the 6 meals she needed to make for the day, 3 for the family and staff, and 3 for the guests.
Wild food Foraging
When she wasn’t in the kitchen, Deborah was out exploring the forests and shorelines, foraging for ingredients to use in her next dish. Huckleberries, fiddleheads, mushrooms, and sea asparagus were all on the menu. It was a learn as you go situation, but a natural progression to draw from the land that they were living on. She placed importance on using local ingredients, and loved the flavours that the wild pantry provided. Passersby would give her tips and information on what plants were edible, and she would add to her arsenal of ingredients.
Foraging for huckleberries was a family affair. Deborah and the 3 kids would get in the canoe at high tide and traverse the shores, collecting the vibrant red berries in buckets. Their sour to sweet tang is the perfect pairing in a buttery, flaky crusted pie, that would be served the same evening. She was also an innovator. Selecting fresh edible flowers to use on her dishes that would create visual spark and a floral pop. This was before it was popular in mainstream restaurants.
“You feed the eyes first. That’s your basic cooking mantra… and each chef has their own concept of what that visual is. That’s the beauty, the creativity is individual. You look at it and you really go, oh, you wanna take a picture, you don’t want to break this beautiful thing in front of you.”
Challenges in the Kitchen
Behind the beautiful plates of food, there were great challenges to cooking at Nimmo Bay. Running a kitchen in the remote wilderness and raising a family are behemoth tasks. Deborah’s main concern wasn’t cooking related, it was keeping the children alive. Living on a floating lodge, surrounded by ocean waters can be a dangerous place, not to mention the wildlife, weather and isolation. The rule was that the moment the kids woke up they immediately put on lifejackets; lifejackets when they were inside and outside. There was never a moment where she wasn’t thinking about the safety of her family.
The other challenge she faced was timing. Deb was never without three timers clipped to her apron, each one set as a reminder for a specific aspect of the meal. The beeping reminders were a necessity, as she juggled watching the kids, Craig running in with various emergencies, and taking on housekeeping duties. In a moment of desperation and seeking additional help, Deborah found a second-hand dishwasher to buy back on Vancouver Island. With her steely nerves, she thought nothing of taking the small 17-foot skiff by herself across open ocean waters to collect the dishwasher and bring it back. When she finally got it back and plugged in that beautiful appliance, she was in absolute heaven.
A Perservering Soul
Through all the challenges, she kept her spirits high, and held on to that passion for cooking.
“Yeah. I loved the adventure of it all, and the challenge. You had to be young. I mean, I was 26, but you’re still relatively young at 26. But yeah, it took every ounce of energy that I had from Dawn to Dusk.”
Despite the struggles and long hours, her hard work and love of food shone through. To this day, guests still remember the meals she cooked for them. Her famous antipasto sauce is one that stands out, which still garners rave reviews from those who keep in touch.
Growing the kitchen Family
Between the multitude of roles Deborah took on behind the scenes and in the kitchen, eventually it was time to think about bringing on new staff. While some might be hesitant to bring in a new team member in a tight knit family setting, Deborah was thrilled with the idea of an extra set of hands and creative mind in the kitchen. “To me, transformation change is my big mantra and willingness to try new things without prejudice.”
She found the perfect hire in Heather Wallace. Deborah refers to her as a queen, who helped elevate the culinary experience to a whole new level. Heather understood what it meant to be a part of the Nimmo Bay family. With her culinary skills she was able to take on the head chef role, while Deborah could step back and assist. This willingness to change and priority on growth continued the ‘let’s make this the best in the world’ mantra that’s instilled in the essence of Nimmo Bay.
Deborah laid down the culinary foundations that started the food and beverage adventure at Nimmo Bay. Perhaps Craig Murray captured her culinary legacy best when he described her experience in the Nimmo Bay kitchen:
“A good cook is somebody that wants people to be fed property. That’s what makes a good cook. And she was, she was gifted with those qualities. Her food was always healthy, it was always delicious, she worked hard at that job.”
The characteristics and philosophies displayed by Deborah are common threads that weave together the tapestry of the current food and beverage experience and team at Nimmo Bay in 2022. Nimmo Bay’s Food and Beverage Manager and Executive Chef Linnéa LeTourneau is wildly talented in the kitchen. Since she arrived on the docks in 2019, the culinary experience at Nimmo Bay has changed rather dramatically. The 2020 season began with our guests wanting to slow down and savour each moment in the wild. There was a notable shift and people desired the calming effects of nature, which included wanting to feel more connected to the food we were presenting. Curiosities started to peak.
“I think just the way the world’s going, people have slowed down to being more mindful of things, including food.”
The Dining Room
One of the changes was introducing the new floating restaurant, lounge, and kitchen, Little River. As people’s desire to connect to the food at Nimmo Bay grew, it was time for the space to grow alongside the culinary story. Little River allows guests to experience otherworldly food in a warm and inviting atmosphere, connected directly to our chefs working in the kitchen. It also features a stunningly large wooden bar for the front of house staff to invent drink creations from the wildest parts of their imaginations. For Linnéa, “the whole connection piece with the guests and the place and the food is just pretty incredible”.
These feats take an incredible team of people to achieve. There are usually 7 chefs in the kitchen during the day and 4 front of house team members. From a dedicated pastry chef to a sommelier. Little River is a far cry from Deborah’s tiny kitchen, old oil stoves and her mighty 1-woman culinary crew!
Local & Still foraging
Although the kitchen set-up may look quite different these days, the deep-rooted philosophies, first instilled by Deborah, remain the same. We focus heavily on featuring local food, so Linnéa’s creations are vegetable and seafood forward. The menu is crafted based on what’s in season around the dock, in the ocean or on the land, and inspired by the fresh ingredients received from local producers. We work with organic farms in Black Creek, we have mushroom pickers based in Campbell River, and local fishermen who bring us crabs and spot prawns on their boats. We’ve built a multitude of relationships to highlight the culinary wonders of British Columbia.
We’re still out on the water and in the forest, foraging just like Deborah was back in the 80’s. The huckleberries are starting to ripen for picking this month, and the sea asparagus has been growing bountifully. We’re diving down into the cold ocean waters to collect fresh seaweed for dishes and harvesting cedar and balsam bark to use in cocktail creations.
Our Culinary Ethos
Throughout all the evolution of the last 40 years, through the triumphs and the challenges, Nimmo Bay’s core values have remained the same. We hold respect for the land and ocean and what they produce. We focus on local, connect with guests through the sharing of food, create nutritious meals, and make sure they’re beautiful. All these pieces must work together in harmony and collectively create the culinary story of Nimmo Bay.
The Importance of Food
To end, I posed the same question to both Chef Linnéa and Deborah. ‘What is the importance of feeding someone a good meal?’, and here’s what they each said.
It’s a joy for Chef Linnéa to see the curiosity sparking in someone as they indulge in a dish she’s put down. “The most fulfilling part [of cooking a good meal] to me is having someone who might not always be interested in food, all the sudden, have their attention focused in on it and be intrigued and curious about it and want to know more or have questions about the dish itself or perhaps the ingredients, or be engaged by that dish.”
For Deborah, it’s the spark of a memory, enhanced by the food she prepared to go along with it. “What’s the importance? Oh my goodness. Food is everything. It’s the most memorable, remember when, and oh my god, remember that?…Yeah, we climbed the mountain. And then do you remember those granola bars? They were so frigging good…”
It’s evident that food can bring back a rush of personal memories, it can create new ones, it evokes strong emotional responses, and connects people to place. These are the reasons we cherish it so deeply at Nimmo Bay.