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Behind the Culinaries in Kelowna

Kelowna vineyard | Photo credt: Travis Littlechilds

The numerous farms and orchards that thrive within and throughout the surrounding area attest to Kelowna’s deep-rooted agricultural heritage, which dates back thousands of years to the First Nations’ use of the fertile land. Today fresh farm produce is readily available in Kelowna, with many restaurants sourcing local goods for seasonally changing menus.

Kelowna provides visitors a marvellous hybrid of remarkable fresh foods and award-winning wines. And as such, visitors flock to Kelowna (and nearby West Kelowna and Lake Country) to savour the locally-sourced cuisine and creative menus and wines.

Agriculture, particularly fruit production, has always been a driving force in Kelowna’s economy. Farms and orchards contribute to the city’s’ burgeoning food culture. Today, local restaurants are often a Kelowna farmer’s best customers. Accompanying this locally-sourced food revolution is Kelowna’s longstanding and continually growing tradition of wine production. Wineries and vineyards set high above Okanagan Lake in Kelowna, along the slopes of Mount Boucherie, and in Lake Country are marked by distinct notes of sage, clover, honey, apple, pear, raspberry, and blackberry.

Here is an insider’s look at just some of the distinguished, often award-winning dining spots, wineries and other unusual culineries in and around Kelowna:

RauDZ Regional Table and Winter Cooking

A point of pride in Kelowna is the outstanding Chefs that wine country attracts. Names like Rod Butters, Bernard Casavant (recently snapped up by Kelowna’s Wild Apple Grill), Ned Bell, Mark Filatow, and others are serious stars on Canada’s food scene. This article from Western Living Magazine praises the area as being the epicentre of a culinary revolution, naming the chefs above as ringleaders and revolutionaries. One star is Chef Rod Butters at RauDZ Regional Table in downtown Kelowna – a chef praised as a Pioneer of this culinary revolution.

“The atmosphere at RauDZ (a combination of his name and Audrey, his life and business partner) is comfortable and unfussy. Photographs of some of the farmers and producers that he sources ingredients hang on the walls over cozy booths. In the centre of the room is a long table designed for communal dining – meaning that anyone can take a seat here and meet their dining neighbour.

The bartenders are called Liquid Chefs (who make a mean Okanagan Martini with local organic fruit purées). The photographs of Chef’s suppliers show his deference for what they do. The kitchen is open so that diners can see exactly where and how their food is made. When you watch the chefs in the kitchen, it is reminiscent of a choreographed dance: they are aware of each other’s movements and positions. There’s no question that Rod Butters has earned his place on the BC Restauranteur Hall of Fame.

Besides putting his energies into creating a delicious ambiance for his diners, Chef Butters also tirelessly promotes local dining and the bounty of the region. His new podcast called Home Plate is featured in the iTunes New and Notable section, and is hugely popular. But at the end of the day, it’s all about enjoyment of food.”

There’s something cheesy about Kelowna (You’ll just have to taste it for yourself!)

“One of the first times I went to Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisan, I came face to face with a bone chilling fear of mine: blue cheese. In fact, I’d never had blue cheese before, and I thought that I was philosophically opposed to it. We’d done the tour of the goat cheese farm: saw the immaculately gleaming dairy, ventured down into the cellar stocked with shelves and shelves of cheese, and came back up for a howdi-do with the goats. After all that, it was time for the tasting in the cheese shop; and there it was, the Goatgonzola.

Somehow though, after seeing how Ofer makes the Goatgonzola, and hearing Ofri speak about the process with so much authority and pride, I was ready to try my first blue cheese. To my surprise it was subtle, mild, flavourful, and indescribably delicious! So were the 20 or so other cheeses we tried – from fresh chevre to soft aged cheeses (reminiscent of Brie or Camembert, for example) to hard aged cheeses (similar to Asiago or Gruyere). And so, too, were the 24 flavours of goat milk gelato.

No wonder so many restaurants in the Okanagan source their cheeses from Carmelis! The farm is a veritable artist studio of cheese.”

– Catherine Frechette

A Pyramid in Canadian Wine Country

Mission Hill Family Estate wine cellar | Photo Credit: Tourism BC/JF Bergeron

If you haven’t heard of Sacred Geometry, there are those in the scientific community who hold that pyramids, domes, and arches have an effect on liquids at a molecular level. But this is important to be aware of when you visit Summerhill Pyramid Winery because of their unique cellar for their wines and sparkling wines. You can’t miss it: it’s a giant 4-storey high pyramid.

Call it Pyramid Power or just plain positive energy, there’s something about Summerhill that puts you in a good mood, and it’s not just the delicious certified organic wines and sparkling wines. There always seems to be something going on at this winery: plays in the summer, special events to honour the Solstice, busloads of happy tourists snapping pictures on the decidedly photogenic patio.

Tours of the winery take people into the Pyramid, which is always fascinating. The winery is open all year-round for tastings and tours. As for dining, with the exception of January and February, the onsite restaurant, Sunset Bistro, is open 7 days a week. As soon as milder weather returns, you’ll often see giddy bridal parties wandering the grounds.

The Sunset Bistro has won the People’s Choice award at the annual Taste of Kelowna event a few times now. Their executive chef, Jesse Croy, is a cooking dynamo. It definitely also helps that the ingredients Jesse gets to work with are sourced locally – many of them right from the garden plots at Summerhill. The restaurant is 100% wild and organic fare.

Owner Stephen Cipes is a veritable crusader for organic growing. If he had his way, all the vineyards and orchard crops in the entire valley would be organic. For now, he ensures that his vineyard conforms to rigorous organic practices and that the farms he supports through the restaurant do the same.

Echinacea Farm blooming

Many of us have Echinacea growing in our gardens. Some of us might also know that Echinacea is not just another pretty flower; it has strong immune boosting and anti-bacterial properties that have resulted in the flower being used in all kinds of herbal remedies for hundreds of years. You can learn all about it at Falcon Ridge Farms.

Falcon Ridge is owned by Marlys and Grant Wolfe and is located in North Glenmore. Marlys and Grant take pride in their commitment to organic production. All of the produce is grown under 100% organic conditions to ensure maximum health and nutritional benefits.

The Wolfes have planted 400,000 Echinacea Angustifolia plants and 20 different varieties of mint. Marlys has been gardening with herbs since 1974 and has been making her own preserves, jellies, jams and vinegars for years. She has combined some of her own recipes with those of a local master herbalist and food engineer.

The Farm is open on Mondays and Thursdays in the afternoon from 1 PM to 6 PM. You can find all kinds of intriguing and wonderful Echinacea products at the little farm store on site.

Camelot Vineyards

Kelowna | Photo credit: Flickr user Kelowna09

You should take some time to meet Rob and Denise. They are the owners of Camelot Vineyards, a new cottage winery in Kelowna, and they have a great story of fate and family support that led them to where they are now. As flight attendants for Air Canada as well as being owners of a winery, this couple sure knows how to balance a busy schedule. Read on to see how elbow grease and dedication is making their wines take flight.

The name Camelot has quite a story behind it. Rob’s father had created a sign with this name on it to serve as the family property name for land he owned in the Lower Mainland. When he moved to Kelowna years ago, he brought this sign along, storing it on the current winery site. Denise also has a link to this name: years before she met Rob, she met a psychic who said to her that he “sees Camelot around her”, which, of course, she didn’t understand at the time. When the couple was thinking of a name and Rob emerged with the Camelot sign as a suggestion, Denise had chills.

The winery produces 6 handcrafted wines: a Chardonnay, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Cabernet Franc/Merlot, and Syrah. Denise and Rob consider their winemaker, Ann Sperling, a special talent. It shows: the winery has already won 3 awards for Ann’s Chardonnay from the Intervin International Competition, All-Canadian Wine Awards, and the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival 2009.

Camelot closes for the winter season, but look for their wines at local wine stores. You can though call for an appointment and if luck and fate have it, you may be able to visit! You’ll find Camelot Vineyards on East Kelowna Road.

Bees, Please!

I admit it: I am a fraidy-cat when it comes to flying things with stingers. But I recently had a turn-around. After arriving at Arlo’s Honey Farm in South East Kelowna, and after taking in the bee-utiful surroundings, I had a chance to speak with Helen Kennedy, the Bee Keeper at Arlo’s. Helen has a terrific bee display in her honey shop, and took the time to show us a hive and how the bees separate duties and responsibilities in their bee society. They are such clever little beings!

She explained to us that worker bees are the ones who make the honey, and in their lifetime they will produce one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey. Talk about having a new appreciation for the value of the honey! Did you know that a Queen Bee is made by bees who add “Royal Jelly” to a cell in their hive, which then becomes the birthplace of the new Queen? I’m telling you, the things Helen taught me opened my eyes, big time.

Helen also told us all about the health benefits of honey, and its’ humectants qualities which make it a perfect natural beauty product ingredient.

Then Helen suited up in her white bee outfit and took us to the hives so that we could see the bees in action. She pulled out frame after frame with the ease and comfort of someone selecting books from a library. The bees didn’t mind one bit, and Helen explained how she manages hives, keeps them clean and comfortable, and ensures they have a steady supply of water. These are happy bees for sure!

This is a super interesting farm visit that I can highly recommend. Not only can you find delicious local honey (good for allergy sufferers) and bee products, but it’s one of those experiences that can shift your world view and deepen your understanding of the world around you.

Helen also sells her honey at the Kelowna Farmers’ and Crafters’ Market in Kelowna.

Heli-Wine Tours provides the Wow-Factor

Beauty beyond words: heli-wine tours over Kelowna.

Valhalla Helicopters can land, by special arrangement, at several wineries in the Kelowna region. This provides passengers a site to behold. You not only see a winery or two, but get a glimpse of the winery and wine trails from on high and a birds-eye view of the beautiful valleys below.

Many Kelowna-area wineries have linked up with Valhalla Helicopters.

St. Hubertus Estate Winery on the Lakeshore Wine Route is owned and operated by Andy and Leo Gebert, two Swiss brothers. A self-professed helicopter nut, Andy even has several helicopter models in his office. A stop at St. Hubertus would include tastings of their delicious and unusual varietals – like Chasselas (a classic Swiss grape), Chambourcin, and their new blend called Goddess.

Ex Nihilo Vineyards located on the Lake Country’s Scenic Sip wine trail, and a relative newcomer to the winery offerings in the area, are proud of their elegant whites and big reds, as well as their Sympathy for the Devil Icewine which has been endorsed by the Rolling Stones.

Mission Hill Family Estate on the Westside Wine Trail is no stranger to guests arriving by helicopter. With a permanent helipad above their cellar, the experience of landing at Mission Hill Family Estate could only classify as serious “Wow”.

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