Derek Blais was all alone in the hottest place in the world. He was cruising through Death Valley, California on his 1972 BMW motorcycle at 100 kilometres per hour - returning home from a solo road trip across the States - when the temperature inched up to 48 degrees Celsius and he blacked out. The next thing he remembers is waking up on the side of the road, three strangers hovering over him. He heard helicopters and smelled gasoline.
Blais had broken his back and spent four weeks in hospitals in Las Vegas and Toronto. When he was released on day 30, Blais’ dad asked him where he wanted to go. Without skipping a beat, he said their family cottage on Georgian Bay.
Life recovering on the island revolved around breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Blais’ mom is Oneida, and the time together cooking sparked Blais’ curiosity about his Indigenous heritage: what did his ancestors eat? How did they source their ingredients? What didn’t they have access to? What defines what we consider “food”, anyways? Blais started playing with ingredients he’d find around the cabin or that friends would bring up on the weekends - birch bark, lavender, dandelions, morels, bee pollen, wild game - subconsciously, then purposefully, exploring the question “What is Canadian food?”
In 2017, in a tiny prospector tent on the rose-flecked rocks of Honey Harbour, Sunfish welcomed its first guests.
“No one here has a shellfish allergy, do they?” Asks Blais before sprinkling a pinch of grasshopper salt on our purple asparagus, smoked with hay on the barbecue. (Apparently, the same exoskeletal allergen that’s in crustaceans is also found in crushed bugs. You learn something new every day.)
The menu you’ll find online is just a tease of what could be on your list of courses at Sunfish. Part of the beauty of the experience is the surprise: a bounty of freshly caught Pickerel subbed in for one of Blais’ early hero dishes, Birched Perch. A paper bag of meaty morels, foraged by flashlight on a friend’s Algonquin farm. A bushel of glossy wild leeks, sustainably sourced by Beausoleil First Nation. Blais and his co-chef Jon Barnes will excitedly tell you the story behind each one from welcome drink through dessert (delicate maple-fried reindeer moss, served with a scoop of frosty buffalo yogurt, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with spruce tips).
The courses come one after the other, each Chef’s Table-worthily plated right outside the tent in an outdoor kitchen, where Blais and Barnes work, clicking their headlamps on after the sun sets.
After pulling up at The Hive in Honey Harbour, you’ll make your way down to the Sunfish tent for a welcome drink by the campfire - Canadian wine or a cedar-infused Georgian Bay Spirit Co. cocktail. The tent only seats 10, so you’ll get to know your fellow dinner guests well throughout the night (people swap seats between courses, and often Instagram handles at the end of the meal). If you’re lucky, you’ll watch the honey-hued sunset over the water through the mouth of the tent. If you’re luckier, rain will pepper its canvas shell, droplets sometimes sleeping through the seams and onto the table. It’s all-Canadian, it’s wild, and it’s like nothing else you’ll ever experience.