nov. 7, 2019
A unique aspect of the Aikens Experience – and a big reason why out of his hundreds of trips In-Fisherman Editor-in-Chief Doug Stange called Aikens “still the finest all-around fly-in experience” – is our gourmet dining. Our many corporate groups often say Aikens is the pefect place for a work retreat or sales incentive trip, frequently citing quality customer and co-worker bonding moments around the table while feasting on fillet mignon, grilled shrimp and cheesecake.
Because we pride ourselves in providing a first-rate dining experience for guests we are excited to announce our renowned chef, Enzo Costantini, will be returning to Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge for his third season in 2020.
"We are thrilled to have Enzo coming back as our chef for a third season next year,” said co-owner Julie Turenne. “He’s extremely talented with great experience even before Aikens. In addition to opening and running his own successful restaurants, in his earlier years he also was the head chef at another high-end fishing lodge and was a senior chef at one of Winnipeg’s premier steakhouses."
At Aikens, Enzo has elevated our fine cuisine to a whole new level of greatness.
“One of my specialties is slow cooking meats,” said Enzo, a Red Seal Chef with 38 years of experience. “Take back bacon, for example. I like to brine it for five or six days, then smoke it for four hours, and serve it at breakfast before guests hit the water for a great day out fishing with their guides.”
“The smoked tenderloin is another dish I’m proud of,” said Enzo. “You’re seasoning it, letting it marinate, then it comes up so tender it melts in your mouth.”
Of course, Enzo’s Italian heritage also contributes to his repertoire. He learned to cook from his Italian immigrant mother, Franca, and to this day incorporates many of those family secrets passed down thru the generations. One example? Understanding the importance of fresh herbs.
This past year, Enzo brought a variety of herb plants to Aikens and grew them to pick from all season long. They had a very special origin.
“My mom brought them straight from Italy, the Abruzzi region. Dry oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil––I love them all, and you use them different ways to bring out different flavors. This year we added fresh pesto to our chicken parmigiana and it’s gotten killer reviews.”
Enzo also takes pride in creating the same fantastic food while employing different techniques, as needed, to accommodate any dietary restrictions our guests might have. Much like Julie and Pit pride themselves in flying in specialty wines, favorite cigars and hosting customized events to create meaningful memories that corporate groups reminisce about for months or years back at the work place, Enzo embraces the challenge of accommodating requests.
“We can handle anything,” he says, beaming with a confident smile fueled by expertise and experience, not bravado. “Gluten-free, celiac, all the special preferences. We never say ‘no.’”
Enzo says the more advanced notice the better, and encourages guests to fill out Julie’s pre-trip questionnaire so the entire Aikens team can prepare and perfect your customized experience at one of Manitoba’s most scenic lakes, with high-cliffs, countless islands and sand white beaches in the midst of a boreal forest entirely isolated yet only 90 minutes from Winnipeg.
“I do a lot of research when guests have requests, and I also enjoy talking with the guests,” Enzo said. “A lot of the knowledge just comes over the years, knowing which cake mixes are OK, being careful with sauces. With ribs, for example, Bull’s Eye BBQ sauce is gluten free, most others aren’t. The response we get from guests is super rewarding. It’s awesome to have people remember you and say, ‘We’re so glad you’re here.’”
One such repeat guest is Paul Capecchi, from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Paul is a retired lifelong 3M employee who has years of experience at high-end corporate dinners and customer retreats as well as Canadian fishing trips. In fact, while baseball aficionados can recite batting averages and ERAs, Paul can answer trivia questions when quizzed about most any Canadian fishing lodge.
This past summer, his fourth visit to Aikens, Paul was blown away with Enzo’s excellence in the kitchen. “This has to be the greatest dinner you’ll ever have at a fly-in lodge,” Paul said of the fillet mignon, shrimp, Caesar salad, fresh bread and cheesecake.
“It’s as good or better than any of the top restaurants in Minneapolis, and there’s two big differences. First, here (at Aikens), it’s all-included while at a nice restaurant in the city this is a $100 plate. Secondly, you go to the best restaurant in Minneapolis and you’re packed in the middle of the city, looking at buildings and knowing you’ve got to get the car and fight traffic after your meal. Here, you’re enjoying this phenomenal food watching the sun sparkle on the lake 50 yards away thinking, ‘Do I go back out on the water for an hour after this, or am I just going to walk along the beach back to my cabin and relax?’”