Editor’s Note: This story is Part 2 of 2, in which Pamela Hamel introduces us to three sets of couples behind some of Northeastern Ontario’s iconic wilderness lodges. All of the passion and hard work that goes into these establishments makes them the latest culinary hotspots in the world of foodie tourism. In Part Two, we meet the couples hard at work behind Lost Lake Wilderness Resort and Elk Lake Wilderness Resort. Read Part One here!
In this two-part mission, I get a behind-the-scenes look into the kitchens of three Northeastern Ontario resort camps. Their proprietary couples put the age old expression of “chief cook & bottle washer” into perspective. These folks are the unsung heroes; the backbone of the hunting and fishing economy in the region.
As an avid traveller, many memories are shaped by the food I eat and the people who serve it, along with their stories. In this case, the stories involve how the food was farmed, picked and hunted! These camp cooks are and need to be creative, especially when access to fresh food is a challenge. Grocery stores can be well over 100 km away!
Auld Reekie Lodge, Lost Lake Wilderness Lodge, and Elk Lake Wilderness Resort are located in the pristine wilderness of Northeastern Ontario. They are a little off the beaten path of other culinary routes, but they certainly deliver above and beyond when it comes to sourcing local foods, being culturally dynamic, and offering authentic eats.
Meet Tony & Melissa
Tony and Melissa are originally from Michigan and are now happily transplanted in the deep woods. Tony found himself unexpectedly out of work during the automotive decline and when Melissa asked him, “what do you want to do with the rest of your life,” his response was, “I want to hunt and fish.” Life’s Plan B was written on the wall. A couple of years later they fell upon Lost Lake Wilderness Lodge and made the BIG move with a toddler in tow.
Their kitchen and dining room is impressive, with a panoramic hilltop view of the Lost Lake. The setting couldn’t be any more desirable for a camp cook. All meals are made on site, home cooked with an emphasis on sourcing from Emily—a local baker who creates exceptional breads and fruit pies.
It is a challenge being a couple hundred kilometres from the nearest grocer but with experience, they have nailed down a weekly menu that enables them to cook accordingly and perfect their recipes. Melissa shows me the complimentary jam and maple syrup for guests to take home. “A little piece of Canada”, she calls it. The dinner bell was ringing and my curious self overheard a guest chatting about the shore lunch he ate while out earlier. The guest was commenting on how he had been fishing many times in his life, but he had never been treated to a shore luncheon that included fresh fish.
Tony says that his signature breakfast is a pizza made with hollandaise sauce, scrambled eggs, bacon and topped with cheese — a hit with guests. The full American plan (three meals a day provided by the establishment on site) with set menu and meal times features many other culinary feasts.
Meet Roger & Mary-Jo
Elk Lake Wilderness Resort is the newbie in the wildland. Meet Roger and Mary-Jo—dog lovers, comedians, vegans and pizza perfectionists! When I met this duo, we were the first guests to stay at the newly acquired Elk Cabins, which has since been duly re-named to reflect their new activity and adventure offerings. The expansion includes a new, state-of-the-art stove that enables the couple to be out fishing while dinner cooks, unattended, to perfection. I love people who brag about their stoves!
“You are such great cooks and love dogs,” I said, “so why not make get into the dog biscuits business?” They didn’t think it was a bad idea but, for now, they’ll keep churning out weeknight pizzas and daily specials that include burritos with fresh guacamole, curry dishes, stuffed peppers. The best part? Roger and Mary-Jo serve to both locals and their guests.
This fall, their menu theme will be “Fins and Feathers”, and feature hearty meals as part of either an American Plan or a DIY breakfast, boxed lunch and dinner, delivered to your cabin on your schedule. Guests love that they can eat when hunger strikes. Flexibility is key for customer satisfaction—some guests buy into the modified plan with just the dinner.
When not eating the food, one should be hunting it! For the novice hunter, guidance is provided as to how to clean and cook your bird. Partridge stew, or maybe a quick bird fry with some Cajun seasonings. New offerings include smoked fish on site, and guests can choose their smoke flavour including woods of apple, cherry or mesquite flavour.
When their second season came around, Mary-Jo decided to play up the history of the former owners and created three burgers, each named after a previous owner. The Wilson, the Pelissie and the Marin. Each is a distinctly different burger and pays tribute to all of the hard work put into the lodge before they came along.
Go on and try one to see for yourself the originality and quality. Committed to buying local is made easier with their location in the heartland of Northeastern Ontario farming communities. There’s an abundance of local products to choose from. Week day offerings at the Resort include pulled pork, pasta dishes and quite likely, a ‘Mary-Jo style’ curry dish.
Hats off to these Camp Cooking Couples. Keep cooking and they’ll keep coming!
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