Tofino's Burgeoning Foodie Economy
By Jen Dart
People flock to Tofino for countless reasons; there’s the old growth rainforests, long sandy beaches, hordes of wildlife, and the crashing surf.
With all these amazing draws, you’d think that Tofino would be satisfied to rest on it’s well-endowed natural gifts and count the increasing number of year-round visitors as they arrive with surfboards on the roof and binoculars around their necks.
Alas, no. Despite having a relaxed reputation, Tofitians (as residents are often called) have always had an unrivaled entrepreneurial spirit. These days, numerous high caliber restaurants – ranging from food carts to fine dining — are attracting culinary travelers from around the world: Tofino is now getting recognition as a top-notch foodie destination.
Although tourism has been an economic staple here for decades (Pacific Rim National Park Reserve was established in 1971), the economy perceptibly shifted in this direction in the 1990s. Always a desirable place to visit, Tofino became well known internationally with the opening of the Wickaninnish Inn in 1996. The Pointe Restaurant at the Inn drew a number of chefs to this area, many of whom stayed and went on to other ventures.
The area has only increased in popularity since then, and many new resort properties and restaurants have been added. Dining in Tofino can have you sitting outside enjoying fish and chips at an outdoor eatery or, at the other end of the spectrum, sitting with a 270-degree view of the ocean enjoying a five-star dining experience.
There are many little gems in between these experiences as well. For a list of Tofino restaurants, see this page
It certainly helps that local chefs have the opportunity to get fresh salmon, halibut, crab and prawns, as well as locally foraged chanterelle mushrooms, berries and more.
Recognizing the interest in locally sourced ingredients, a collaborative organization in Tofino and Ucluelet is also working to bring more sustainable ingredients from all over British Columbia to the local area and bring this area€™s ingredients to others. The Tofino-Ucluelet Culinary Guild has as its mission to bring farmers, fishers, foragers and chefs together for farm and boat-to-table culinary experiences. The food sourced by the TUCG is also available to local foodies, although many of these folks have their own gardens.
Locals interested in bringing organic and sustainable food to town have also formed theTofino Community Food Initiative as a way to share information and work together.
Several culinary events help highlight the culinary strength of this area, and are a reason to visit all on their own.
In March, the Pacific Rim Whale Festival includes numerous food and drink related events, including the ever-classic Chowder Chowdown, the Sweet Indulgences Dessert reception, the Martini Migration and more.
Feast! is a Tofino food festival that begins in May. This festival focuses on a different local seafood each week for three weeks, and also involves dine-around menus at local restaurants, specials dinners, tours, and more.
Feast! leads right into the Tofino Food and Wine Festival, a weekend of events, including the signature Grazing in the Gardens when restaurants, food purveyors and wineries come together in the Tofino Botanical Gardens for an afternoon of tasting.
The final festival of the year in Tofino is the Clayoquot Oyster Festival — a celebration of yet another local product. Oysters are grown in abundance on long lines in the sheltered inlets of Clayoquot Sound. They are feasted on and celebrated each November by locals and visitors alike.
For a town of its size, the culinary opportunities available in Tofino are unheard of.
The locals are into it, and we hope you are too.
About the author
Originally from Barrie, Ontario, Jen is a long-time Tofino resident, although not quite long enough to be considered a full-fledged local. Jen has been writing professionally for the past seven years. In that time, she's worked for the Tofino-Ucluelet Westerly News as both a part-time and full-time reporter and photographer. Jen has been published in a variety of publications, including SBC Surf Magazine, the Native Journal of Canada, the Victoria Times Colonist and the Vancouver Sun.