Food Artisans of the Okanagan: Your guide to the best locally crafted fare

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Entries in culinary geography (8)


Cook It Raw lands in Alberta: Edmonton, Calgary, Lac La Biche, Kananaskis

Was it only a two weeks ago? I got a phone call confirming a rumour that Cook It Raw founder, Alessandro Porcelli, was flying into Edmonton and that the local chefs and avant-garde thinkers of the international culinary world-alike would be focussing on Alberta in 2015.

It was a lot to grasp, my schedule was already über-packed, but this was a big deal. Edmonton and Calgary chefs were going weak at the knees. It was a big opportunity for Alberta's largely underappreciated chefs, our still-forming sense of culinary energy, and our various culinary communities to be presented with a watershed opportunity. I hoped knew we were up to the challenge. 

I dashed off to meet Alessandro and Ute Werner of Cook It Raw at Tres Carnales Taqueria for lunch that Monday (May 4). I had NO IDEA they had both just arrived from Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, the night before. I guess it was a soft culinary landing. Daniel Braun, one of Tres Carnales owners, immediately recongnized Alessandro, when he strode through the door. Daniel gave me a why didn't you tell me THEY were coming? look and then proceeded to treat us to a feast of flautas, totopos, salsas, and tacos. At lunch, hours into their trip, Alessandro and Ute unleashed their boundless energy on my brain. It was unforgettable.


We have Mr. #CookitRaw himself Alessandro Porcelli visiting us for some delicious Mexican eats

A photo posted by Tres Carnales Taquería (@trescarnales) on May 4, 2015 at 2:17pm PDT


I'll be unpacking my notes in blog form over the next few weeks. For now, I'm heading up to Lac La Biche  where 14 Alberta chefs and culinary activists have been building an earth oven, catching Northern pike from the shore, chopping wood, spit-roasting pigs, and talking about what the present and future of Alberta's culinary potential is. #rawAlberta is the hashtag du jour.

Read Liane Faulder's excellent article in today's Edmonton Journal on Cook It Raw in Alberta 2015.

Here's a small taste on Instagram.@cookitraw (and then follow all the other accounts posting amazing photos about #rawalberta or #cookitraw).



 From the press release from the Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance, who have been working on this culinary happening for a while now:




Cook It Raw – the annual, international gathering of culinary luminaries that explores possibilities of cuisine – has partnered with the Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance to announce its eighth edition, unrolling from May through September in Alberta, Canada for 2015. The first gathering will be held in Lac La Biche, Alberta from May 19th to 21st and will feature 14 of the region’s most innovative chefs. Conceptualized and directed by Alessandro Porcelli, this year’s program will focus on the discovery and collaborative shaping of the culinary identity of Alberta – a corner of the world with a burgeoning gastronomic scene, ready for global exposure.

Shaping of a Culinary Frontier #rawAlberta #CookItRaw

Twitter: @cookitraw          Instagram: @cookitraw
Facebook: /CookItRaw     Tumblr: cookitraw

Confirmed chef participants are: Brayden Kozak (Three Boars. Edmonton), Shane Chartrand (Sage Restaurant/River Cree, Enoch), Blair Lebsack (Rge Rd, Edmonton), Cam Dobranski (Brasserie Kensington, Calgary), Darren MacLean (downtownfood, Calgary), John MacNeil (Black Pig Bistro, Calgary), Connie DeSousa (Charcut Roast House, Calgary), Paul Rogalski (Rouge, Calgary), Scott Pohorelic (SAIT, Calgary), Duncan Ly (Yellow Door Bistro, Calgary), Liana Robberecht (Petroleum Club, Calgary), Andrew Winfield (River Café, Calgary), Justin Leboe (Model Milk, Calgary) and Eden Hrabec (Crazyweed, Canmore).


Mexico's Ruta del Vino, Ensenada / Guadalupe Valley, Baja California North

 Last November, Mike and I did our second road-trip from Alberta to Mexico. Along the way, we had a fantastic mini-adventure in Ensenada and the Guadalupe Valley. Marcello Di Cintio had tipped me off about a San Diego chef, Jay Porter, who blogs about the food and wine across the Mexican border in TJ and Ensenada. We were planning to stop for a couple of days in Ensenada, even though we were heading even further south, to Southern Baja. (It is a long drive.) Anyway, Jay gave me lists and lists of wineries and restaurants, only a few of which were open in mid-November -- which we discovered was off-season for many restaurants and wineries. Nevermind. What we did experience was incredible. We're already planning a return trip.

Here's an article I wrote for City Palate Calgary, for the May / June 2013 "Wine Issue". I've slightly re-edited it and have added in a bunch of my own photos.


A Mexican Wine Adventure

My husband Mike and I might have been delirious, what with over 3000-kilometres of highway driving, and two border crossings under our belt in just five days. There was also the adrenaline rush of navigating through Tijuana earlier that morning. (For the record, this infamous Mexican border city that inspires concerned looks from friends and strangers now feels safer and is definitely hipper than many parts of California.) On the highway south of Tijuana, the humidity of the Pacific air was softening the lines on our faces as we cranked up the radio and blared polka-like Norteño music from our truck’s speakers. Driving to Mexico in November in search of vitamin D, fish tacos and The Baja Wine Route, in particular, was starting to make a whole lot of sense.

I had picked up on some rumblings along the foodie grapevines that Mexican wine had been improving dramatically in the past several years. As it happened, Mexico’s largest and oldest winery region, the fertile Guadalupe Valley, was less than 20 minutes inland from the port city of Ensenada, in Northern Baja California. And the helpful visitor information agent in Ensenada was more than happy to provide us with a maps and winery and dining recommendations. We learned that the Guadalupe Valley —home to 50-some wineries and restaurants along a 24-kilometer loop —was the heart of Baja’s Ruta del Vino. Along with the wine culture, there was a farm-to-table food movement sweeping over the area thanks to a few revolutionary chefs pushing the idea of a North Baja cuisine.

Following our new, free maps, we turned off Highway 1 and drove up into rolling hills of ochre-red soil strewn with large white granite boulders among cacti along Highway 3. As we crested a hill about 15 minutes into the drive, tidy square farms of green field vegetables interspersed with silver-green olive groves sprawled out in front of us. Vineyards, somewhat less uniformly, crept up the hillsides. Had I not been driving, I would have clapped in sheer glee at the gastronomic potential beyond the windshield.

We’d aimed high for lodgings for our first two nights in Mexico. I’d seen photos of the brand new Hotel Endémico on hipster, designy Websites that gushed about its off-the-beaten-path luxury. As we approached, we saw the strangely wonderful private casitas that were cantilevered out over granite-bolder-studded hills, newly planted vineyards and the Guadalupe Valley beyond.

Before we got too cozy at Hotel Endémico, we needed sustenance. Calgarian travel and food writer Marcello Di Cintio had suggested I contact Jay Porter, San Diego chef and blogging evangelist about the North Baja’s food and wine scene. Porter told me he’d just been to the Guadalupe Valley tweaking his restaurant’s house olive oil, made by Rancho Cortés, a farmstead cheesery and olive oil producer. Porter rattled off dozens of Baja wineries he liked, plus a long list of places to eat. For his money, Porter liked Corazon de Tierra, which had also just been named by Travel + Leisure magazine, Mexico edition, as the best restaurant in the nation.

“This place is supposed to be good?,” Mike asked more than once as we followed handpainted signs down dusty backroads for two kilometres in search of Corazon de Tierra.

Good? It was great. Restorative and transcendant. I won’t recount the set five-course, because it changes daily. And with the chefs bouncing out of the kitchen between each course to run into the garden, it’s not just seasonal, but changes hourly depending on the supply of arugula, chard, carrots, tomatoes, or peppers. Let’s just say that Corazon de Tierra had me at the first bite of soy-ginger-garlic-dressed mahi-mahi ceviche garnished with fresh mint, and the first sip of Chasselas del Mogor, a minerally white. Mogor Badán, as it turns out, is the winery a few kilometres down the highway. This pioneering winery only produces only one white from 35-year old chasselas vines and one red blend from 85-year-old cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot vines. Halfway through the courses, I switched to a rich, plummy tempranillo for the seared yellowtail tuna and the grilled ribeye courses. Vena Cava was made a few hundred steps away, at the restaurant’s own winery.

We left Corazon de Tierra rejuvenated. As the sun set over the valley, we settled into our boxy casita as plotting another day of food and drink.

Exterior of Corazon de Tierra Interior Corazon de Tierra Produce picked from the garden, soon to be our meal One of six courses, pan-seared yellowtail w/ charred eggplant pureePerfect grilled Sonoran ribeye and fresh garden veg with rounds of pickled watermelon (pink rounds on the steak)

Looking out over Guadalupe Valley from Hotel EndemicoThe private casitas at Hotel EndemicoThe balcony at our casita, Hotel Endemico Baja sky reflects off the infinity pool at Hotel Endemico


































































































After a breakfast around Hotel Endémico’s pool, we drove to Mogor Badán, hoping we could charm our way into the tasting room. I was desperate to try their red, but the winery was shut tight, except for a busy market garden doing brisk business from the winery’s on-site vegetable patch. Nearby Barón Balché, a winery with a reputation for big reds was also closed. In fact, we tried a half-dozen wineries only to realize that wine-touring mid-week in November is not ideal. Most wineries in the Baja Wine Route are small. Some have no tasting room, others are open limited hours on weekends, or by appointment only. But god bless the big wineries. L.A. Cetto is one of Mexico’s largest producers, and in keeping, they have a good tour, generous hours of operation, and a well-stocked tasting room and store. With an everything-under-the-sun selection, the Don Luis Reserve Concordia (a sixty-forty cabernet sauvignon-shiraz blend) was surprisingly well-made, especially at its $18 pricetag.

Rather than attempting to repeat the soaring experience of Corazon de Tierra, we opted instead for, Ultramarino, an oyster and tapas bar in downtown Ensenada on the advice of our helpful tourism-office guy again. Full disclosure, I strayed from the mission at hand, tempted by the buzz surrounding Baja’s craft beer scene. I happily nursed a pint of Cupacá Obscura, a dark, rich beer that went down very smoothly with Ultramarino’s ethereal tempura Baja oysters and smoky marlin tacos.

One of Santo Tomas' outbuildingsWinter vines at Santo Tomas winery Laura Zamora, winemaker, Santo Tomas, at the onsite wineshop and tasting roomThe next day, we knew we’d better keep making our way south, but figured we could squeeze in one more stop. This time, I called ahead and made an appointment at Santo Tomás, 30 minutes south of Ensenada and the oldest winery in the Baja, founded in 1888. Laura Zamora, Mexico’s first female winemaker, had been at the helm of this major Mexican winery since 2003, and had recently had some good showings at major European wine shows. She made time for a personalized tour through the vineyards in her pickup – some 16 different varietals from cabernet sauvignon and barbera (one of her personal favorites) to more obscure ones like French colombard and “Mission” grape, a European clone of Listan Prieto that has been thriving in the Baja hundreds of years after it died out in its native Spain.

The vines were anywhere between 25 and 75 years old. Hundred-year-old olive trees formed the windrows. In the tourist-friendly tasting room and wine shop, Zamora and I discussed everything from the winery’s efforts to educated Mexicans about food and wine pairings to the winery’s custom olive oil collection.

Yes, of course, we strongly considered ditching our plans of getting further south in the Baja. We’d barely scratched at the food and wine scene here. But the fishing and beaches of the South Baja beckoned. Given the hundreds of kilometres of driving in front of Mike and I that day, wasn’t about to taste my way through Santo Tomás’ cellar. I did one better. I loaded our truck down with full bottles – a silky barbera, a fruit-bomb of a merlot, a raisiny off-dry white made from 100 percent Mission grapes, and a solera-style dry sherry. Research, friends. It is called research.

Just another Baja beach, heading south of Ensenada

Resource Guide for Baja Wine Route

 Hotel Endémico, Tecate-Ensenada Highway 3 at km 75, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California; from Canada, toll-free 1-800-337-4685; from Mexico 1-800-123-3454.

 Corazón de Tierra Carretera Tecate-Ensenada, Highway 3 at Km 88; 011-52-646-156-8030. (Follow the road signs to Villa del Valle inn.) Open daily.

 Vena Cava, in-house winery at Villa del Valle Inn & Corazon de Tierra restaurant; Tecate-Ensenada, Highway 3 at km 88; 011-52-1-646-156-8007. Open year-round 11 am to 5 pm.

 Mogor Badán winery; Tecate-Ensenada Highway 3 at km 86.5; 011-52-1-646-177-1484. By appointment only.

Barón Balché, El Porvenir, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California.; 011-52-1-646-155-2141. Open to the public daily 10 am to 4 pm daily.

 L.A. Cetto, Carretera Highway 3 Tecate-Ensenada at km 73.5 km, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California; 011-52-1-646-155-2179. Open daily 9:30 am to 3:30 pm.

 Ultramarino Oyster Bar, Avenida Ruiz (bewteen Primera and Virgilio Uribe), Ensenada, Baja California.

(no phone, no website)

 Santo Tomás winery, Highway 1 south of Ensenada at km 47.5; 011-52-1-646-151-9333. Open daily 10 am to 5 pm.

 Two more websites that are highly useful:

Baja California Secretary of Tourism’s Wine Route page:

 San Diego chef Jay Porter’s Blog “My Biased Guide to Mexican Wine Country” from January 3, 2012:




Wine Bloggers Conference: Penticton, BC June 6 - 8, 2013

Wine Bloggers Conference

I'm taking a break from my usual food writing to attend my first Wine Bloggers Conference. It's an easy decision, as it's in Penticton, so right here in the Okanagan Valley. With over 200 wine bloggers registered, I'm looking forward to meeting wine people from around the world, and welcoming them to the amazing Okanagan Valley (a beautiful wine+food producing region of Western Canada).

I'll be tweeting and Facebooking (maybe even Google+ after I learn what that's all about) for the next three days. Then I'll post some of the conference highlights here in the weeks that follow.

Follow the hashtag #WBC13 on Twitter, and follow my @OKFWWWorkshop twitter feed, as well as the official conference twitter account @winebloggerscon.


View south from Naramata Bench to Penticton, home of the #WNC13



Slow Food Canada Conference, April 25 to 28, Osoyoos, BC, Canada

There are so many good things happening in the Okanagan Valley this spring and summer. Let's start here:

Click image to enlargeI have been a Slow Food member for over a decade. It's very exciting to see how so many great food and wine people are coming together to make this an unforgettable conference. Please note, you don't have to be a Slow Food member to participate in the events above. You just need to be interested in the story behind the best ingredients, best chefs and cooks, and best wine in the country. See you there!

On April 25th to 28th The Annual Slow Food Canada National Meeting is being held in Osoyoos British Columbia at Watermark Beach Resort. This is the first time it is being held in British Columbia, and the first time in a small agriculture community.

This is a gathering of food communities from across Canada with a commitment to good, clean, fair food. The meetings and conference will include: Our Lieutenant Governor for British Columbia, our First Nations, workshops on Food Sovereignty, Food Security, Procurement, Agriculture in the classroom, Sustainable Seafood, Farm and Winery Tours, Slow Fish, Profiling Flavours of the Thompson Okanagan, the events for all three days will be about farming – our land – our people.

I have attached a document which profiles the sequence of events for your information. The Market on the Saturday is certain to be a wonderful opportunity for our local artisans, farmers and community to connect. The evening dinners on Friday and Saturday are fundraising dinners, with more than 20 Executive Chefs from our region showcasing our local producers and their Culinary  excellence. Our regional Wineries are partnering hand in hand with our Chef’s showcasing the complimentary flavours of our winemakers brilliance.

We have options for locals to participate as well as individuals to register and participate in the entire program. Please go to to register – or if you are able to participate only in one or both of the dinners, and markets – please email Special slow food sleepover rates are available for participants at Watermark Beach Resort.

Follow Slow Food Thompson-Okanagan on Facebook.


What about Local Seeds?

You know where your meat comes from, but what about your seeds? I watched this video by Paolo Arrigo of Franchi Seeds of Italy / UK and it inspired this post.

This is the time of year when we gardeners go a bit squirrely. Thankfully, the seed catalogues arrive and we thumb through the full-colour pages and dream of having bumper harvests of Calabrese broccoli or Romanesco, another broccoli that produces those gorgeous fractual florets. But where do these seeds come from? And how do I know what varieties of lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, and such will grow easily, ripen and taste the best in my own garden in Western Canada?

I've been thinking about seeds a whole lot in the past year. Seven or eight years ago, I bought some green shiso seeds (Perilla frutescens, variety crispa) and grew beautiful bright green bushes of the floral Japanese herb that belongs to the mint family. I didn't save seeds and have been unable to buy the seeds ever since. Everywhere I asked, no one could give me an answer as to why this seed was impossible for me to find. When an answer was offered, I suspected it was a guess. I was told it wasn't a 'good seller' but really no one knew why I couldn't buy green shiso anymore. I just couldn't.

A couple of years ago, a chef friend had some red shiso growing in his rooftop garden his hotel in downtown Toronto. One of the plants had bolted and I asked if I could nick some of the seeds. At least I'd have red shiso, but it wasn't the same. The red leaves are tougher, furrier, and have a muskier aroma. It is no substitute for the crunchy, light, clean mint-basil perfume of the green.

This may not be the best example of what happens when a seed variety does a vanishing act, but imagine this happening on a massive scale. Many seed companies, producers of those drooly catalogues, don't actually produce their own seed, but buy from other sources. As the concentration happens, the selection withers. And some varieties just don't make the cut in a mass-market scenario. The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 75% of crop biodiversity has been lost in the global food supply due to globalization and concentration of seeds under the commercial control of a handful of companies. (See The Economist, March 10, 2012, Agricultural Biodiversity: Banking Against Doomsday.)

It's all economics. Seed companies in countries and continents on the other side of the globe are simply not going to be interested in preserving local varieties of carrots, peas, tomatoes, etc. that have been developed to survive in places like Edmonton, Winnipeg, Yellowknife, or Kelowna. There is no money in it on such a local scale. Unfortunately, this means that often food grown locally will be a homogenous, standardized, product. Sigh.

What to do? I encourage you to buy seeds from the catalogues, but hopefully you can find local seed producers as close to your garden as possible. There are a number of great seed producers who are keeping the variety in our food supply alive but definitely need us to buy their seeds to keep their businesses viable. Seeds of Diversity has a fairly good up-to-date list of local seed producers here in Canada. I'm partial to a Kelowna seed producer, Jon Alcock, of Sunshine Farm. In the US, a good place to start is the Seed Savers Exchange catalogue and website. In the Eurozone (inlcuding UK), Franchi Seeds - a generational seed company from Italy - seems to be a good choice. But also in the UK, you can tap into the Heritage Seed Library and become a "seed guardian."

And after you've marked up your seed catalogues, the seed exchanges will begin in February. Go to the Seedy Saturday or Seedy Sunday exchanges in your community and buy seeds. They're cheap. I have packets of seeds that I bought just for fun. One day I'll plant them. Seeds are amazing structures. Kept in a dark, coolish location, you can store them for a few years until you're ready to watch them sprout.

Here's a listing of Canadian seed swap events from coast to coast via Seeds of Diversity.