Eatery named Island’s best

Hudson’s on First – the stylish Duncan restaurant that’s been getting more and more buzz as its young owners spread their creative wings – won a top provincial prize last week.

The eatery took gold as best Vancouver Island restaurant outside Victoria in the 25th annual Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards 2014.

The award was handed out Tuesday, April 22 at a gala at the Sheraton Wall Centre in Vancouver. It follows close on the heels of winning top Young Entrepreneurs at the recent Cowichan Valley Black Tie Awards.

To say that owners Daniel and Andrea Hudson are stoked about this latest honour is a real understatement.

Andrea took a few minutes out of their busy Saturday to talk about the award and what it means.

Amazingly, despite only having been open for a year and a half, this is not the first time Hudson’s on First has been nominated for this glamorous award, she said.

"We just snuck in last year. But, this year we were up against some big players and it was a huge honour to win gold. We were amazed we won it. This award has been ping-ponging back and forth between The Pointe at the Wickaninnish Inn and Sooke Harbour House in our category. We were so happy to be able to win it."

The Hudsons are part of a group of enterprising Cowichan business owners who are trying to build the reputation of the Valley as a food and wine mecca.

"There’s been a lot of movement in the Valley. It’s really growing, and it’s all about the experience here. It’s been a good start. We were very surprised at winning this. We knew we could stand shoulder to shoulder with them but to take gold was huge," Hudson said.

To win this prize, Hudson’s on First was evaluated secretly by unknown judges.

"We don’t know if they are coming. It’s anonymous. We just have to be on our game every day, no matter what service. That’s what makes this award really special."

Each award has its own uniqueness, according to Hudson.

"The Black Tie is a nomination from your community and that’s a huge honour in itself. This one is an anonymous judged event. Many of them come through and want to see consistency, like a Michelin star guide. Then, there are other ones, like Trip Advisor, which we’ve won the top place in that involves the public voting for you. It’s a different public every time. It’s really neat to have an array of awards that come from different sources."

A plaque is now prominently displayed in the restaurant’s foyer to mark the win.

"We also have a nice write-up in Vancouver Magazine. That’s pretty much their most sought-after issue. Everyone holds onto it because it lists the best of all the restaurants in B. C. Then, we went over to the Sheraton Wall Centre, which was a lot of fun. They put on an amazing spread.

There were 800-900 people attending, all the top restauranteurs and chefs and then they put on a big after party. It was red carpet all the way. And, of course, we have bragging rights," she said.

News of the award was not widespread in the Cowichan Valley Saturday, but it was starting to get out and the buzz is sure to grow now.

The Hudsons aren’t resting on their laurels.

"We’re going to keep on top of what we are doing. Now we know we’re at the top so we have to really focus on consistency and elevating what we do," Hudson said.

"We’re very seasonal, we change our menu regularly, with local produce; we have a very knowledgeable small staff.

That’s what sets us apart. We really pay attention to all the details. That’s what we’re going to continue doing and slowly add more and more organically as we can.

Hopefully that will keep us up there for next year."

She said many Valley producers are focusing on putting quality ingredients out there.

"We want to do even more promotion of the producers we are using. So we want to continue that," she said.

But there’s more. And foodies can join the fun.

"We’ve also just started doing cooking classes. They are selling out very quickly.

May is almost sold out already.

"Each class is going to feature a unique technique that is appropriate to the month’s seasonal ingredients. May is all about spot prawns and asparagus and edible flowers because we are also working with the Cowichan Garden Club and sponsoring their show.

"Then as the summer and then fall comes along, those will change, maybe be all about preserving or pickling, charcuterie and then braising meat and roasting in the winter. Each month that we are doing something, we’re partnering with a different supplier," she said.

"In May, we’ll be partnering with Cowichan Bay Seafood and really doing that cross promotion. I think it’s a really important thing: showcasing the ingredient and what can be done with it and our establishment and their business," Hudson said.

"So it’s a win-win all around. And it’s seasonal every month. That’s very exciting."