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Courtenay restaurant featured on Big Food Bucket List

Food Network show’s episode filmed at the Atlas Cafe airs this month
Atlas chef Slone Romano gets ready to serve up some seafood for Big Food Bucket List host John Catucci. Photo supplied

The Atlas Café’s website says it has been ‘serving the good people of the Comox Valley since 1995.’ It seems it serves some from afar too, as word is clearly spreading.

The Courtenay restaurant will be featured on an upcoming episode of the show, Big Food Bucket List, this month.

The host of the Food Network Canada staple, John Catucci, was only too happy to come to the area to taste what the Comox Valley has to offer. He and the crew were here for a couple of days to feature chef Slone Romano and his team at the Atlas.

“Working with Slone and everyone there was a great experience,” Catucci says. “You can’t help but have a great meal…. It was such a great vibe.”

RELATED STORY: Courtenay’s Atlas Cafe celebrates 25 years, and a re-opening

He also says he could feel the support from people in the community for the Atlas.

“They can’t help but show their love for the place,” he adds.

For the host, diving into the area’s seafood was a new world, even when it came to finding to food at the source. Catucci’s time here included such ventures as fishing for geoducks.

“Those are weird,” he says. “They’re odd-looking.”

Catucci admits he also ate some of the best doughnuts in his life while here, but seafood was the reason for the trip.

Romano and the Atlas Café pride themselves on using fresh, local ingredients. For the episode, one of the stars will be the restaurant’s seafood chowder, which includes a mélange of seafood and other fine ingredients. The dish is expected to be a staple on the Atlas menu for years to come.

“It’s a little bit different than your normal chowder,” the chef says. “It’s a really good showcase for the kind of local stuff here.”

Catucci can hardly hide his enthusiasm for the dish, telling Romano, “You really elevate it, especially with those smoked oysters.”

The episode will also feature a salmon dish mixing many flavours such as pesto and garlic scapes, which is likely to be more of a featured item during the year because the scapes have a short season.

“It’s special because the window is so short,” says Catucci.

For Romano, it’s important to have consistency in terms of quality, which means some things are regular items and others make their annual appearances as they become available.

“You have to take seasonality into account a little bit,” he says.

Catucci agrees, saying eating in season is exciting, and in this case, means the flavours are ‘just ridiculous.’

Atlas has been around for a generation, but it is in a transitional phase, as Romano and his brother Zane, who is sous chef, will be running the business, as they take over from their aunt and uncle.

“We’re both chefs, so it’s a kind of a good fit,” Romano says.

The past two years have been extra tough for the restaurant business as a whole, but the TV show offers a chance to boost local restaurants like Atlas, and all in all, for Romano, working on the episode left a good after-taste.

“It was a great experience for us at Atlas,” he says.

The Big Food Bucket List episode airs on Saturday, April 30 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

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Atlas’s seafood chowder is one of the star’s of the episode. Photo supplied