After a full moon, the mushrooms just sprout,” enthused guest
chef Daniel Rigolett, as we hunted for wild mushrooms in the
Rigolett can sniff out prized chanterelles growing a good 100
yards away. He knows his mushrooms, but just in case, he carried
his “National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American
Mushrooms” to help identify the species we find (and discard any
renegade poisonous ones). Earlier in the day, we had joined fellow
mushroom lovers on a fall mushroom hunt offered by The Aerie
resort, located just north of Victoria on Vancouver Island. Armed
with baskets, knives and rubber gloves, we trudged into the
second-growth forest, where mushrooms thrive on the tree decay.
By the end of the outing, our baskets were nearly full, although
we didn’t find any fragrant pine mushrooms and the bright red
lobster ’shrooms (which look like lobster claws) are too mushy from
the previous night’s frost. But we lucked out with the
All too soon, we’re spirited back to The Aerie. Executive chef
Christophe Letard reviewed the best cooking methods for the
mushrooms, and we toasted our finds with mushroom martinis and
tucked into a three-course lunch featuring& mushrooms, of
Dining is a big part of the experience at The Aerie. Guest chefs
are regularly invited, and on our weekend visit, in addition to
leading our mushroom hunt, Rigolett worked with Letard to create an
unforgettable seven-course French dinner.
Not that Letard needs any assistance. His kitchen is quite adept
at serving up its own three-, four-, five- and seven-course
dinners. Perhaps a blue cheese croquette for an amuse bouche, then
a seared scallop appetizer with a duck confit wonton and rhubarb
relish? Follow that with rosemary and hazelnut-crusted sweetbreads,
and a baby romaine Caesar salad. Next comes a spiced apple sorbet
to cleanse the palate, before moving on to the main course of roast
ostrich or maybe grilled sablefish with a snowpea saute. And
finally, for dessert, warm chocolate pastry with a thimble of
lavender ice cream.
Dinners at The Aerie are such a hit that Letard holds menu
discussions each afternoon at 4:30 p.m. to review the menu with
guests and showcase the ingredients, which are all organic, and as
much as possible, locally produced. For an even more in-depth
culinary immersion, three-hour cooking classes are offered in the
resort’s private show kitchen.
If clients feel the need to burn off any of the calories consumed
with all that fine dining, there’s a lovely 40-minute forest trail
circling Spectacle Lake, a short distance away. Nearby Goldstream
Provincial Park also has several trails that meander through large
stands of moss-laden, old-growth Douglas fir, western cedar,
cottonwood, big leaf maple and alder trees.
Mind you, simply relaxing is appealing at The Aerie. Perched high
in the Malahat mountain pass, the opulently decorated suites of the
35-room, Mediterranean-style mansion come with fireplaces and
couches perfectly placed for soaking in the magnificent views. Its
separate six-suite Villa Cielo is even more luxurious think
Brazilian cherry hardwood floors, one-of-a-kind art furniture and
fresh flowers and chocolate truffles upon arrival.
This year, the Saturday mushroom hunts will be held on Sept. 16,
23 and 30, and Oct. 7, 14 and 21. The five-hour excursion,
including lunch, costs around $108 per person. This autumn, Brother
Michael, a Benedictine monk from the local Sole Dao Monastery and a
mushroom expert who has supplied local hotels and restaurants with
mushrooms for years, will be conducting the hands-on mushroom
Weekend rates at The Aerie start at around $265 night, dropping to
$220 as of Sept. 28.
Commission is 15 percent.