Thunder Bay

Kenora chef poised to introduce Canada to his northern pike cakes

A northwestern Ontario chef is on a mission to popularize a freshwater fish that hasn't traditionally shown up on many dinner plates.

Northern pike doesn't deserve its 'bad rap,' says Jay Barnard

One nickname for the northern pike is the 'water wolf.' (visitsunsetcountry.com)

A northwestern Ontario chef is on a mission to raise the stature of a freshwater fish that hasn't traditionally shown up on many dinner plates. 

Jay Barnard, who owns Freshwater Cuisine in Kenora, is working to popularize his northern pike cakes. 

The deep fried cakes are delicious, he said, but the toothy fish they're made with has a bit of an image problem. 

"When you say northern pike people get scared," said Barnard. 

"When they go fishing and they catch a northern pike, it's slimy, it gets in the net, it smells, it's got teeth, it looks ugly, so they never keep it." 

For Barnard, that "bad rap," presented an opportunity. His company tries to use fish and fish parts that are undervalued, he said. The strategy worked well for their first big product, Walleye Wings. 

He was convinced that northern pike could also be a hit. 

Barnard said when he first launched his northern pike cakes in a Kenora restaurant, people told him they wouldn't sell. 

"We ended up selling 709 orders of them, which is like 2,300 cakes, over the course of three months," he said. 

Now, he's gearing up to bring the dish to southern Ontario, to be featured at the Restaurant Canada Show taking place from Feb. 26 - 28 in Toronto. 

It's exciting to be able to showcase an undervalued fish from northern Ontario at such a big culinary event, Barnard said. 

As part of the Restaurants Canada Show, the cakes have been chosen to be part of a special event on Monday night, he said, that will feature regional dishes from across the country, prepared by well-known chefs. The northern pike cakes will be used by Matt Basile, of Fidel Gastro's in Toronto. 

Barnard said he's excited that both northern pike, and northwestern Ontario will be in the spotlight.

"I think it's huge for northwestern Ontario," he said.