Dungeness crabs are harvested all year and that's just as well says Chris McKinney of the Rim Rock Café since his customers order crab cakes all year too.
But even though the crustaceans are not seasonal according to McKinney, there's something just a little more spectacular about crab cakes when they are eaten in the summer. There's something even more exquisite about the experience of enjoying crab cakes when the eating takes place on a sunny patio.
McKinney, who is originally from Montreal, says he chose to highlight the Rim Rock's crab cakes because the coastal waters, just a few mountain ranges to the west and less than a one hour drive to the south, offer an abundance of seafood that is easily accessible to Whistler foodies.
"Summer time, the crab is always so good, and you can't go wrong with the corn (either)," he says.
The fresh crab that goes into the Rim Rock crab cakes is most abundant from May to October from Mexico to Alaska. But we humans aren't the only ones who covet the Dungeness crabs. Octopus, halibut, dogfish, sculpin, birds and other crabs seek out the tasty meat under the hard Dungeness shell.
To find the beginning of this story one has to jump back to 1998 when McKinney first came to Whistler. His sister was living here already and she helped him find an entry job in the resort. It was his second resort job that landed him in the food and beverage industry.
"One day I saw an ad in Pique for a cook at Teppan Village — no experienced required — so I thought this is my chance, I'll get in the kitchen there," says McKinney.
One of the owners was also from Montreal, he explains. They got along well and so began McKinney's cooking career. He tried to leave Whistler – a stint on a commercial fishing boat wasn't quite as interesting as what he left behind in Whistler. Like so many before him, McKinney was lured back. He applied for a job at the Rim Rock and owner Rolf Gunther hired him.
Nine years later for McKinney, he's excited about the Rim Rock going into its 25th year of operations offering its consistent menu focused on meat and seafood dishes.
In the course of those nine years, McKinney admits to stealing away to France for a winter season and spending a little time at Langara Lodge.
"It is funny, with the Rim Rock everybody always comes back," he says with the laugh of a stock trader with insider information. The staff retention at the Rim Rock is impressive and McKinney is quick to admit his nine years is nothing compared to the number of years most of his coworkers have dedicated to the Rim Rock.
"We are always busy," he says. "It is just a good vibe. Rolf is very hands off as far as a boss goes. He knows we can all handle ourselves and we do."
The Dungeness crab McKinney serves at the Rim Rock is as fresh as the halibut, which is in season right now and very popular with Rim Rock customers,
According to McKinney, halibut is more popular than salmon and significant amounts of halibut is being served this season.
"It's tasty and people really look forward to halibut season," says McKinney. "B.C. diners are informed about it."
But there is more to the 25-years of success of the Rim Rock than just its great seafood, he says. The crab, the halibut and all the other fresh food is offered at great value.
"The food is pretty simple," says McKinney of the dishes he produces. "There's not a lot of crazy things going on in our kitchen. There's no nitrogen and there's no chemicals. It is just basic, simple food.
"People like the value that they get when they come here. There are very few small plates here."
Spring Crab Cakes with corn puree, fresh corn and Chorizo
1 lump of Dungeness crab meat
2 cups panko bread crumbs
8 chopped basil leaves
Reserve 1.5 cups of panko for dredging
Combine all other ingredients, form into cakes and coat with remaining bread crumbs.
1 tbs butter
2 ears of corn (off the cob)
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tbs minced shallot
Sweat the shallots and corn in butter. Add wine and cream then reduce for five minutes. Puree and pass through a fine strainer. Keep warm or reheat in a saucepan.
Corn and Chorizo
1 ear of corn (off the cob)
1 dry Chorizo sausage
(sliced "toonie" thick)
10 cherry tomatoes (halved)
Heat a pan, add Chorizo, toss for a minute, add corn and continue tossing. Add tomatoes at very end.
Heat vegetable oil in a pan, add crab cakes and cook until golden brown. Meanwhile, sauté the corn and Chorizo in a separate pan. Put warm corn puree on plate then put corn and Chorizo mix on top of that then add crab cakes on the top. Add salt and pepper to taste.