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Theres an appreciation for simple, beautiful, everyday things, like the spring-fed lake or the towering cedars and Douglas firs that provide plenty of blow-down for nightly bonfires.
Follow Highway 14 along the southernmost point of Vancouver Island, past the signs for fresh eggs and the turnoffs to summer camps and swimming holes, and eventually you’ll reach the family cabin of Michele Lafreniere. The Victoria-based ceramicist and her husband, Philippe, purchased the property on Kemp Lake in 2013, seeking a place that recalled Philippe’s childhood memories of chalet life in Quebec, and tapping into a quietly happening scene of small-scale farmers and artisanal food and drink producers.
It is a serendipitous fit: through her studio, Buttata Ceramics, Michele turns out thoughtfully made stoneware dishes that are used in some of the Island’s best restaurants, including the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino and Olo and Agrius in Victoria, as well as in editorial collaborations with friend, chef and recipe developer Jennifer Danter. Glazed in coastally inspired shades of grey, blue, off-white and, occasionally, sunset pinks, the dishes are designed with practicality and presentation in mind, says Michele, recalling a flecked cream plate she once made to complement a brilliantly red Sun Wing tomato salad.
“They are meant to be used every day,” she says, “whether to carry a salad to your friend’s table or be washed by your 13-year-old son.”
Life at the cabin follows a similar logic. There’s an appreciation for simple, beautiful, everyday things, like the spring-fed lake (“It’s one of the best lakes ever to swim in,” says Michele. “Not weedy, not murky.”) or the towering cedars and Douglas firs that provide plenty of blow-down for nightly bonfires.
The generous landscape begets generous hosts. In an annual tradition, the Lafrenieres host dinner for family and friends, most of the ingredients for which are sourced from the surroundings. On this mid-summer day, the party of 11 is put to work, with Danter guiding the menu.
For the first course, herbs and salad greens are clipped from containers on the sunny side of the deck, followed by pit-roasted corn on the cob and a side of salmon brushed frequently with a bouquet of fresh herbs and a glaze made with honey purchased from the neighbour’s stand. For dessert, a blackberry patch down the road provides the filling for a rustic galette and lends tart-sweetness to a fresh lemon-blackberry muddle cocktail mixed with Seaside Gin from Sheringham Distillery in nearby Sooke.
Hours in the making—the slow food movement may have originated in this corner of the world—dinner is served on the sprawling deck with seating pulled from every corner of the house: a Tolix bar stool here, a pair of Tulip chairs there. “Nothing is done quickly here,” says Michele. “It’s a place where it all just comes together. It is meant to be shared.”
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