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

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Entries in travel (19)


Guest Post: Jennifer Bitz' Slow Food 2014 Experience in Italy

My first post on my Slow Food Italy experience illicited a great response from another Slow Food attendee from the Thompson-Okanagan convivium. I asked Jennifer Bitz if I could post her reply as a guest post, and she agreed. We're hoping to create a document of these experiences for the attendees in 2016 - ourselves and others. Thanks Jennifer B for this. Great tips at the end.

by Jennifer Bitz, copyright retained by author, posted with permission

Thanks for your post, Jennifer.  I read it a few days ago now, and have been meaning to put some thoughts to paper ever since. 

Like you, I was challenged with navigating through both events.  My main goal was to learn.  I was excited when I received information on the conferences in my inbox . . . and then I opened them.  I was instantly overwhelmed. 

I knew the topic areas were right up my alley, Slow Fish, Indigenous Terra Madre and Biodiversity.  As an applied anthropologist it couldn’t be more perfect.  I did not however appreciate that this would mean three independent conferences going on at once!  Not to mention the workshop opportunities, the booth events and the organized dinners.  I closed my email. 

A few days later, I transferred the files to my IPad in anticipation of reviewing them on the plane ride over.  Which I did, in full admiration of the beehive that must be organizing the myriad of opportunities ahead, but also in fear of how to manage my time effectively.  In response to what I suspect was visible panic, I received great advice from my travel partner, Ingrid, who has lots of experience at attending this event. 

It was simple – do not expect to see it all, things will be missed, and other things will land in your lap and will be the best ever, just let it go and be in the moment. That helped a great deal.  And I remind myself of that whenever I consider just what happened over those five days.

Once I saw first hand the enormity of the event, I was not surprised to come out the funnel at the other end grappling with articulating what I learned.  While there, I found myself wide eyed, always looking for that opportunity to hear from the most compelling, to talk to the most interesting, to eat the best food and drink the finest wine.  I got all that.  And it wasn’t difficult, I didn’t have far to look, but it was intense.  And time for reflection was limited or non-existent before moving onto the next thing.

It did not help that over six nights; I got about as many hours of sleep.  Part of that resulted from being a delegate (which will relate nicely to your next post), and part of it was jet lag, and I wonder if the anticipation of being there was also playing havoc with my normally healthy sleep pattern.

One thing I do know, the experience of being in the same place as over 220,000 people from over 160 countries was mind-blowing and deserves pause to appreciate what that means. There were people from the most urban to the most rural, people from some of the highest income countries to people from some of the lowest, producers and consumers, mosaics of culture and wisdom at every turn. 

Although I live a fairly urban lifestyle, I have had the good fortune of fantastic opportunities where I have been in very remote areas and among people who look at me like I dropped from the sky given the colour of my skin, my clothes, my speech, my custom.  In these places others are the experts, and although I am (or at least try to be) a full participant, ultimately I rely on them for navigating, for getting done what needs to be done, for survival.  At Terra Madre, all of us dropped from the sky.  We were all put into this created, somewhat unnatural, temporary environment together.  The organizers provided arrows and tickets to move forward, but essentially we were each responsible for our own navigation – our own results – our own experience.  Yet, we were not alone. We were all on a similar playing field; we all bring different experience, yet we all share in the core goals and values articulated within the Slow Food mantra.  That is powerful. 

If there is one more thing to add to the already overwhelming list of options at Terra Madre, it might be a way to hone in on the cross-cultural experience.  Possibly introducing a facilitated arena for small groups of around 10 people from around the world to come together to work through a series of questions on topics of interest.  This would give voice to many people who respond well to smaller groups, and it would also have some fabulous results to help solve some individual or group challenges, and help the participants to ground their learning with a more diverse group of people than the mates they happen to be traveling with, or the individual they meet on the bus —which is hugely valuable too, don’t get me wrong, but it is not quite the same as a loosely facilitated discussion with a group you might never run into at such a large event.

So did I learn anything?  Yes, although I am still working on articulation.  Would I go again?  Yes. 

Practically, and given the beauty of hindsight how might I navigate differently?  A few ways:

  1. I would not land on the same day as the opening ceremony, I would ideally get sleep on my side and jet lag dealt with the day before the event starts
  2. I didn’t go to any tastings, there was enough going on as it was, but I think I would pick one early next time on a topic unique and interesting to me (by the time I looked at the list of tastings, there was not much left to choose from)
  3. I might look into ways to volunteer for the event itself, I find that brings one into the inner world of an event and grounds the experience more

My Beginner’s Guide to Slow Food’s Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre  

My Slow Food pin custom-made by Edmonton silversmith Terry Juzak

The earliest I could leave Canada was 8 am, October 22, and my goal was to be seated in the Sala Azzurra (Blue Room) inside the Lingotto Fiere convention centre in Turin, Italy, listening to an international panel discuss seed sovereignty and seed saving at Slow Food’s biennial Terra Madre and the Salone del Gusto, at noon on October 23.

My trip would take 18 hours of travel time from here to there – that’s 13 hours of being wedged into an airplane seat. I packed only carry-on luggage as I needed to be both efficient and lucky to make my Edmonton-Toronto, Toronto-Frankfurt, and Frankfurt-Turin connections. I was both.

I had done my best to make a schedule of talks I wanted to see, of the Slow Food Canada meeting on Saturday, and the one Taste Workshop on Sunday evening, Mexican Chilies with Zurrita, I had managed to book for my husband and myself. Otherwise, I was hoping to go from booth to booth finding and interviewing seed savers from around the world. It wasn’t much, but it was the best attempt at a “plan” that I could make past “In the Beginning It was a Seed” in order to make the most of my five days in at Slow Food’s Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre.[1] Let’s call them SdG/TM for short. (If you don’t know what these two terms mean, I'll be publishing a “The Lay of the Slow Food Land” posting soon.)

I arrived on time at 10 am, figured out the bus from the airport and took the metro to the Lingotto Fiere. My pre-purchased “Print @ Home” general admission 5-day entrance pass worked and I bypassed hundreds of people snaking along ticket purchase line. I picked my way through the trade show halls to the back corner of Pad 3 where the Sala Azzurra was located. I handed over my passport in exchange for a translation headset. Miraculously, I was seated and ready to take in the seed panel discussion at 12 pm.

So far, so good. But as the size and scope of the space and the activities of the SdG/TM/Taste Workshops began to sink in that day, I had the sinking feeling in my gut that I was woefully unprepared for the rest of the SdG/TM experience, or rather adventure. I was missing a lot, unaware of a lot, unable to navigate the enormous volume of options. I often felt both frenzied and paralyzed within moments of each other.

It was a common refrain I heard from other first-timers too. So I’m writing this now, while it’s fresh and before the glow of nostalgia edges out the many times I muttered to myself (and to a few other first-timers going through similar waves of emotion), “Would have been nice to know about THIS, wouldn’t it?”

This series is meant to be a sort of White Paper to hopefully be of help to other first-timers. And maybe as a reminder to myself for the 2016 event. I have a feeling I’ll go again, with hard-earned experience of how to squeeze even more out of this unique experience.

Next Post: To Delegate or Not To Delegate, That Was The Question.


[1] From what I understand, Terra Madre and the Salone del Gusto used to be two separate events, held at different times. They are now held in unison, under one roof and entrance to the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre is now under one ticket. Taste Workshops, which were by far my favourite activity at the event, was totally unknown to me. Also there are “Dinner Dates” which were specific dinners around Turin that you could have signed up for on the program. I have heard that these are incredible too. Again, many were sold-out early.


"Encounters with Iceland" at Mission Hill Family Estate Winery, Kelowna, BC

"Encounters with Iceland" sculpture exhibit, Mission Hill Family Estate Winery, Kelowna, BC (image provided by Mission Hill Family Estates)

On Saturday, June 21, I was among the guests at Mission Hill's official opening of its new sculpture exhibit, "Encounters With Iceland." I hadn't been to Mission Hill in a while. Keeping up with all the new boutique wineries, distilleries, cideries, meaderies and eateries in the Okanagan Valley seems to be a losing battle, frankly, so I'm not prone to repeat visits to places I've already been several times over. But I'm grateful that I was on the guest-list.

Grateful? Yes, actually, which is funny because as I said, it's been a busy 2014 already. Launches! Openings! Special Events! And other Must-Attend happenings had me a little road-weary by the first day of summer. Pathetic, but true. And in true journalistic fashion, I was verging on becoming jaded, the writer's equivalent of being a snivelling whiner.

Mission Hill, however, knows how to create an occasion, and with the invite-only cachet -- a small gathering of journalists and Mission Hill Family Estate Wine Club members, plus a few other friends of the winery, I suspect -- plus it was a major international sculpture exhibition opening right here, in the valley. Furthermore, the sculptor of the 42 pieces, Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir, would be in attendance from Reykavik, Iceland. Iceland seems to be punching well above its weight class drawing half of Western Canada to its geysers and Nordic-chic cultural coolness these days. Why would I not go?

(Read the rest over at my Okanagan Food & Wine Writers Workshop blog.)


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:




Urban Honey from The Fairmont Royal York Hotel, Toronto

Toronto downtown, view from my roomI'm back in Toronto at the moment. I'll be on Global TV morning news around 7:30 a.m. EST, then I've got some meetings around town. I also hope to visit a couple of urban agriculture projects that I wrote about in the book.

One of the first interviews I did for my book, in fact, was my friend David Garcelon, executive chef at the Fairmont Royal York and pioneer rooftop beekeeper. David's honeybee hives were the first in the Fairmont chain, which now has hives at several of its properties. (And David is now the Director of Culinary at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC. And yes, there are bees on the rooftop there now too.) Here's my post about David's bees from the Foodgirl blog archives from 2010.

The bees at the Fairmont Royal York are on the 14th storey rooftop and they forage on the rooftop herb garden and well beyond.

Upon check-in, I received a lovely little gift of a jar of the Sept 2011 Royal York honey. It's very dark, like buckwheat honey. I haven't tasted it yet, but will when I get it back home safe and sound.

Harvested Sept 2011 from the hives on the rooftop of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, Toronto, Ontario