Six years ago, Burdock Co opened its doors, showcasing chef Andrea Carlson’s unique and attentive approach to local, seasonal ingredients.
A soon-to-be released cookbook has allowed Carlson to reflect on the evolution of her cooking, as well as the impact her restaurant has had so far on this city’s dining and eating landscape.
This autumn, Burdock Co: Poetic Recipes Inspired by Ocean, Land Air (published by Random House’s Appetite) will be released. Among the many recipes in the book, some of the restaurant’s beloved dishes will appear, such as the buttermilk fried chicken with pickle mayo and dill powder; pork and fennel ragout pasta with fennel pollen; and sour cherry and sakura milk custard with meringue.
Unlike other cookbooks that are often organized by food course (e.g. salads, soups, desserts), the recipes in Burdock Co will unfold as “expressions of environments,” explains Carlson over the phone. Chapter titles include “Hidden Places” for recipes with foraged ingredients and “Of the Air” for dishes that incorporate fermentation. The book is very much connected to Carlson’s food philosophy, which is about paying attention to local context and the particularities of interaction between ingredients and their environments.
Carlson, who previously cooked at such well-known establishments as Sooke Harbour House, the former Raincity Grill, and Bishop’s, opened Burdock Co (2702 Main Street) because she wanted diners to “have access to cool, amazing products” from local farmers at more affordable menus prices. Terms like ‘farm-to-table’, ‘local’, and ‘seasonal’ can be assigned to Carlson’s cooking but her commitment to local ingredients goes beyond the cliché or the trite.
“We change quickly. We update menus often depending on availability. We use a lot of foraged ingredients,” explains Carlson. As a result, while certain dishes, like the fried chicken, appear on every menu, others will come and go depending on the season and what Carlson can source from her suppliers. Burdock is also one of the few restaurants in town to spotlight natural wines.
Burdock’s reflection of the west coast goes beyond just serving local salmon, but is deeply influenced by a minute care and love of local offerings. The subtitle of the cookbook contains the words “poetic recipes” because there is an artistic beauty and rhythm to Carlson’s use of the surrounding environment and its natural creations. She says that her cooking is “a botanical expression of the place that we are in, like a native flower in bloom,” seaweed from the briny ocean, or spruce tips from nearby forested areas.
Reflecting on how Burdock’s cooking has shifted in its six years of service, Carlson replies, “Increasingly, I find myself more and more attracted to the vegetables. Increasingly, we move in that direction.” She cooks with local vegetables that are not just the predictable offerings at most grocery stores, treating them with reverence and in unexpected ways in order to inspire her diners to do the same.
An extension of Carlson’s desire to increase access to local ingredients and products manifests at Harvest Community Foods (243 Union St), which is part neighbourhood grocery store and part café/restaurant. Harvest also opened six years ago around the same time as Burdock Co.
The space, owned by Carlson and operated with chef/partner Gabriella Meyer, has a carefully curated selection of local goods, like Flourist lentils and True NOSH Asian cooking sauces, in addition to products made in-house, like jellies, pickled vegetables, and various sauces (e.g. heirloom apple and vanilla bean sauce). Dumplings that appear at Burdock Co as part of the restaurant’s Monday night Disco Dumplings are also for sale (e.g. pork and burdock).
Biweekly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes give customers access to local produce, like parsnips, radishes, and sprouts, as well as recipe ideas for using sometimes unfamiliar ingredients. “It is important to know where your product is coming from. That’s the whole context: those personal relationships with growers and why they are so important,” urges Carlson.
At lunchtime, Harvest is full of customers slurping down bowls of noodles, such as ramen soup with pork shoulder, radish, egg, and candied bacon; and a veggie version with squash and miso broth, nori, scallion, radish and sesame. The dishes are local twists on Asian classics, with flavours that evidence fresh, high quality sourcing.
Meyer dreams up daily specials, like a soba noodle salad with local farm lettuce, mixed veggies, soy ginger dressing, sprouts, and a choice between chicken or smoked tofu; or udon noodles with soy milk miso broth, puffed tofu, mixed greens, enoki mushrooms, and sesame.
Although Harvest Community Foods is not mentioned in the title of the new cookbook, the grocery store is still very much connected to the spirit of the publication: getting people excited about local food.
Carlson reflects on the past six years: “I look back at it all and can’t believe we’ve done all of this. There’s been so much movement and change.” She looks forward to the release of the cookbook and future culinary adventures with local food. Meanwhile, diners can get a taste of the dishes in the upcoming cookbook at her two establishments.