Chef Castro Boateng, born in Ghana, immigrated with his family to Canada when he was nine years old. After graduating from culinary school in Toronto, Castro worked under European Master Chefs at the prestigious Turnberry Resort in Scotland, followed by The Fairmont Southampton Princess in Bermuda, Chef de Cuisine of Eden, Rimrock Resort Hotel in Banff, Alberta and, most recently, as Executive Chef at the Villa Eyrie Resort. He has lived in the West Shore with his wife and two sons for 11 years.
Q: What motivated you to open your restaurant, ‘The House of Boateng’, here in the West Shore? How’d we get so lucky?
A: Ever since we first moved here, we’ve been excited about living in Langford. We told people about this place and they would say, “Langford? Never heard of it. Why do you want live there?” For us, we’ve always felt a loving, genuine appreciation for this town. People told us we should open our business downtown; but, my wife and I wanted to be a part of this growing community. It’s like an extension of our family now. Even the balcony view from where we used to live, looked down on a little red house that stood right here where ‘The House of Boateng’ is today.
Q: Well, that settles it! You were fated to open a business here! What’s the foundation for your caring, welcoming philosophy?
A: As a kid, I spent more time with my grandparents in a village community, than with my parents. My wife’s way of life with her family in Greece was similar. We want this place to be special for people, a place to celebrate special events. We’re a family-committed business. Even with our staff. We’re not looking to hire people with all the talent in the world. We’re looking to hire talented people who are personable, who are willing to work hard and work with each other, and who want to bring something special into the neighborhood.
Q: You trained at Turnberry Resort—pre-Trump, I assume?
A: Yes, it was. I was very sad to leave that resort. I moved from Toronto, with millions of people, to this little village in Scotland with two thousand people. All my friends were saying: ‘Why would you do that?” But, for me it was more, “Why not!” Scotland was a whole new experience for me. My intention was to be there for eight months. I was there for two years. I loved everything about it. From Scotland, I could travel everywhere by train. It’s very inexpensive. And the Scottish people, they’re amazing. I’ve spent times in people’s home, thinking, “I don’t even know these people!” Yet, they were so welcoming and funny and—if you’re willing to have a pint—they’re your buddy!
Q: I understand that along with the restaurant, you’ll be using the space for corporate events, public and private functions.
A: Yes, the restaurant will be open during the daytime; but, in the evening, we were going to utilize the space for private events or special events open to public. There’s no reason, for example, why we couldn’t celebrate Father’s Day, with a nice, big table— like a banquet—because we have the room to do that. We want this place to become a [social] hub for the West Shore!
Q: And you take groups on foraging tours? What’s all that about?
A: Most of my food source experiences before I came to the island were a very different as a chef: I just picked up a phone to order [what I needed] and it showed up. When I moved here, I met a couple of young men who were into wild food and foraging. You know, you hear or read about people foraging; but it always seemed like a mystery to me.
Q: Yeh, it’s like “Weird people do that!”
A: [laughing] I actually thought that! But, once these guys took me foraging, I realized that I could never find any of those wild ingredients on a suppliers’ list: all the wild mushrooms, and spring vegetables, berries and nuts.
We began foraging tours because, first and foremost, we wanted to have fun; so it’s not always about work, right? We took groups out to Sooke in the fall, when it’s all about mushrooms: chanterelles, pine mushrooms, matsutake and cauliflower mushrooms. People love scavenging! Doesn’t matter their age; they’re like kids playing in the woods. After a couple hours, we do a three-course lunch. Now, everybody’s thinking an outdoor lunch will probably be sandwiches. No, we do a proper, three-course lunch, like you’d have in a restaurant. We cook what we collected on Bunsen burners, right there in the woods!
Q: Amazing! That really does sound like fun.
A: And when you come out of the woods with all this amazing, free food, you become even more respectful of the environment [that gave you the food.]. You fall in love with the place. You know what, one of the saddest things, for a lot of us, is we’re so busy, we don’t spend enough time to enjoy this beautiful environment. With foraging, you get to places that you would never, ever have seen. I can say this with more conviction, because I’m not from here; so, I probably notice these things. I even took my new chef foraging. He was born in Japan, but we worked together in Banff. I was so glad to see his excitement because that’s how I felt. It energized me because I knew I was sharing something with him that’s special to Vancouver Island. A while back, an island forager came to introduce me to a plant called Japanese Knotweed1 to see if I could use it in some way. So, we pickled about fifty pounds of it and about fifty pounds of Sea Asparagus2. So, instead of using pickled beans in our Caesars, we’re going to use the pickled Japanese Knotweed and Sea Asparagus. To me, the Japanese Knotweed is the essence of Vancouver Island. Taking something that’s a problem and making it into something to eat! And then, there are stories to share about where all this food came from, too.
Q: I can see this space, the events, the food, the foraging—it’s all going to be a labor of love for you, right?
A: It is. And I want to share all of that with my community.