Gulf Island chef brings wild flavours to Canadian Culinary Championships

Jesse McCleery is representing B.C. in the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna, and brings a wild coastal flair to the prestigious competition.

Chef Jesse McCleery harvests local food from Galiano Island forests and shoreline

Pilgrimme Restaurant on Galiano Island, B.C. (

Eleven chefs competed in Kelowna, B.C. at the Canadian Culinary Championships on Feb. 3 and 4, 2016.

British Columbia was represented by Jesse McCleery, the acclaimed chef at Pilgrimme on Galiano Island.

The island also happens to be the hometown of the CBC's Chris Walker, host of Daybreak South in Kelowna. They sat down to talk about island life, foraging, and food.

For people who've never heard of Galiano, tells us a bit about the island.

Galiano is a relatively small Gulf Island, pretty close to both Vancouver and Victoria. The population is about 1,200 steady residents, and then in the summer it triples or quadruples with tourists and weekenders.

A smaller Gulf Island. Very quiet. Stop signs, but no red lights. Pretty quaint.

Galiano Island (Henny Elizabeth Schnare)

Why did you choose Galiano?

Several reasons. I ended up going there to do some catering for friends, and over the course of weekends, going back and forth to Vancouver I just fell in love with it.

I always wanted to open a restaurant but the city was never my thing.

So this way I could be close to suppliers, and yet away from city politics and restaurant politics. It was ideal for me.

Jesse McCleery of Pilgrimme Restaurant (Instagram @pilgrimme_rest )

Does being on Galiano help your cause in some way by making Pilgrimme something that people build a weekend around? Is it something that's a little more exclusive?

For sure … I think part of the success we've had, which we're super fortunate for, is also just the island itself and just the experience people have coming to the island.

So even if they have a dinner that they think is really good, but not amazing at the restaurant, it can still transform the meal just because of the location, the feeling you have there.  We try to make everything as perfect as possible and tasty, but it has a lot to do with where we are, too.

Charred echalion shallot with smoked herring emulsion, celery root and caramelized Galiano apple vinegar. (Instagram @pilgrimme_rest)

What's your favourite place to walk on Galiano, and tell me about what you find there?

We're close to Montague Harbour so I go there quite often throughout the week, either to clear my head or just to look for things.

Dionisio[a remote beach at the island's north end] is another key one where we do a bit of forging through the fall and the summer.

To bring wild foods back into the restaurant and use them in a sustainable way is amazing, just the flavours you can get out of them.

Montague Harbour on Galiano Island (Douglas Thistle-Walker)

Does the fact that you forage for food, does it change the meal, or change what it tastes like? Does the experience behind it add something to the food?

I think so. I just think harvesting it yourself … it's very peaceful and you're paying respect. And you're treating it well, and because it's from that area, that land, I think it carries through to the plates.

And even our plates are made by local potters, that's also got a specific energy of the island, and good intentions, and hopefully people leave with a sense of Galiano Island and the peace and the beauty of that place.

About the Author

Chris Walker

Chris Walker is a journalist based in Kelowna, B.C. He is the host of the morning radio show Daybreak South.