Story by Angela Cowan Photography by Don Denton
For Chef Ian Blom, opening his own restaurant has been a long dream in the making, and it was always meant to be a family affair. He and his wife, Kimberly, met in culinary school, and it quickly became a mutual goal; this past November, that dream became a reality when The Ainslie opened its doors in downtown Duncan.
Named for their five-year-old son, the couple’s restaurant is a tri-generational business, co-owned by Ian’s mother, Heather, and propped up by Kimberly’s tireless efforts behind-the-scenes.
The Ainslie offers up a unique fusion of fine dining menu items in a relaxed atmosphere, something Ian says hasn’t really been available in Duncan before, and it has been met with great support from the community in its first few months.
“There’s been a couple restaurants that have been ‘fine dining,’ but as far as downtown goes, it’s a lot of pub food and sushi restaurants,” he said.
The lunch menu in particular has a lot of comfort-food based dishes that offer a delicious twist, like the Fried Chicken and Waffles, marinated in soy buttermilk, with an aged cheddar waffle and thyme-infused honey. Or the Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese, made with heirloom tomatoes and caramelized fennel, and a sandwich of house onion bread, caramelized onions, Haltwhistle cheese and pesto.
“I’m testing out what people like to eat in the Cowichan Valley,” he said. “Sandwiches, really good burgers, comforting foods. People can come and feel like they’ve been filled up without a lot of grease.”
And with a menu that changes regularly, any dish on offer is guaranteed to include the freshest and most seasonal ingredients available.
Ian, who grew up in the Cowichan Valley, wanted to highlight the incredible abundance of his hometown as much as possible in designing the dishes.
“I really wanted to try and promote the Cowichan region and the produce we grow here, as well as support the breweries and distilleries in the area,” said Ian. “That’s our scheme — to put the Cowichan Valley on the map.”
“Working in Victoria, even when I was in Calgary, we were importing stuff from the Cowichan Valley,” he added, explaining it just made sense for him to focus on developing a business here. “I love living here and I wanted to give back. I love the community.”
With summer just around the corner, the team at The Ainslie is excited to promote their newly opened patio, a gorgeous, tucked-away spot surrounded by the restaurant’s gardens. It’s the perfect spot to drop in, relax and indulge in some amazing food.
“I just want to show people that you can have great food and not be overwhelmed by the restaurant itself. You can come in and be completely relaxed in an environment where you’re treated like family, with food that can stand up to any food in the world,” he said. “Flavour and fresh and seasonal, those are always our keys and passions. And it’s definitely a passion-based business.”
Soy Caramel Sauce
2 cups granulated sugar
2 Tbsp water
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup sambal Olek
1/4 cup fresh ginger, rough chopped
8 cloves garlic, rough chopped
1/2 stalk lemongrass, rough chopped
4 star anise, whole
Add sugar and water to a heavy-bottomed pot and cook on medium heat until sugar becomes caramel in colour.
Mix remaining ingredients in a separate bowl, then add to the sugar all at once. This creates a lot of steam, so be mindful not to burn yourself.
Simmer on medium heat until mixture reduces by one third.
Strain and serve warm over grilled meats or vegetables, roasted and spiced sweet potatoes, etc.
Check out The Ainslie here.