Ned Bell is passionate about West-Coast seafood that’s tasty and ocean-friendly. The chef ambassador for Vancouver Aquarium’s sustainable seafood program, Ocean Wise, famously served geoduck (giant clam) to royal visitors Will and Kate. And he’s best known locally for his amazing kelp brownies and seasonal seafood tacos, which you can try at the aquarium. When he’s not busy cooking or talking about sustainable seafood, Ned loves to explore his home city—and the neighbouring coastal towns and islands—with his wife and kids. Here he shares his family’s favourite ocean-friendly restaurants and coastal spots.
Hands-on Fun at Vancouver Aquarium
“My sons love coming to see Daddy at work at the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park. Max (8) likes to touch the rays in our ray pool—it’s a very tactile experience as these gorgeous rippled fish pass over your hand. Baby Jet (18 months) finds the jellyfish wall mesmerizing. The marine biologists talk to kids about the behaviours of the sea creatures while they’re feeding them— it inspires this generation to be future ocean eco-warriors. And of course we eat at the Aquarium Café. My favourite dish is the sustainable halibut burger, which is dressed with warm lemon butter, cucumber yoghurt, crunchy shaved fennel and an orange dressing.”
The Best Fish and Chips in Vancouver
“My son Max and I do some of our best father-son bonding at the Fish Counter, on Main Street, in Vancouver. I get the lingcod and he gets the halibut. The fish is done in this beautiful crispy batter and the chips are hand-cut, and it all comes with crunchy kale coleslaw. It’s co-owned by Chef Rob Clarke, a trailblazer in sustainable seafood, and his business partner, marine biologist Mike McDermid. They also sell an amazing array of fresh fish and shellfish, and do tacos, oyster Po’boys and fish burgers that you can sit in and enjoy on one of the wooden benches. This is the first 100% Ocean Wise fish counter in the city, so that means you can relax knowing everything has been ethically caught.”
Ocean-Friendly Dessert at Bella Gelateria
“Bella Gelateria is an amazing family spot in Vancouver’s Cole Harbour. Chef-owner James Coleridge is a world gelato master. He does traditional flavours, using nectarines, cherries and apricots from the Okanagan Valley, but I say try his seaweed gelato, Coast to Coast, which I challenged him to develop and eagerly helped him to taste as he perfected his secret recipe. It’s made with Vancouver Island sea salt, vanilla, lime and kelp, and it’s the best gelato I’ve ever had—sweet, savoury and sharp. It just won a special mention in the Gelato World Tour contest at James Beard House, in New York.
Fish Boat Watching in Steveston
“Just 40 minutes from downtown Vancouver, in Richmond BC, is Steveston, a quaint fishing village, right on the water. The kids love to go there to Steveston Fisherman’s Wharf and watch the boats come in and the fishers offloading fresh fish and shellfish from the Pacific. For me, there’s nothing quite like chatting with the old fisherman and hearing their stories about battling the high seas to bring us back their catch. In May, we’ll go to pick up gorgeous plump live spot prawns and I eat them raw, right on the wharf; then later in summer, we’ll go pick up fresh Dungeness crab. The boys are fascinated by these feisty creatures. The salmon season runs from late spring through mid-summer. On the wharf there’s a host of restaurants and fish and chip shacks, where you can try all the seasonal seafood too, fresh from the boat.”
Shellfish and Sea Kayaking in Comox
If you have the opportunity to jump on a floatplane from downtown Vancouver, you can be in Comox, on the east coast of Vancouver Island, in about 45 minutes. The ferry from Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay terminal is also a fun way to go too and you can enjoy the famous BC ferries Manhattan-style clam chowder on the way there.
Comox is where most of BC’s oysters, mussels and clams are harvested. The waters are perfect for shellfish farming: they’re protected from the open ocean with this clean flow of water flushing through. You can go to Fanny Bay Oyster Seafood Store and pick up some of the freshest oysters in the province, whole or shucked, or you could treat yourself to other local sustainable seafood delicacies like squid ink pasta at Locals Restaurant or some souvenir cans of Estevan Tuna Co. smoked wild-caught albacore tuna at Comox Valley Farmer’s Market. While you’re there, I recommend paddling over to Tree Island (official name: Sandy Island Marine Provincial Park) in a sea kayak. The white-sand beaches, seabirds and wild flowers, not to mention creatures like sea stars, sand dollars and moon snails—make it a magical family destination.”
There’s such a bounty on the West Coast for seafood and nature lovers. And by looking out for the Ocean Wise symbol on menus and talking with your servers and fishers or fish vendors about the catch of the day, before you indulge, you can be sure you’re making ocean-friendly choices. Go on—you can have your (sustainable) crab cake and eat it too!
main image credit: Vancouver Aquarium