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An Okanagan farm-to-table al fresco dining experience

May 21, 2014

I recently attended the 2014 Okanagan Food & Wine Writers Workshop, taking place this year in Kelowna, British Columbia May 9th-11th. The weekend of writing workshops and local food and wine tasting experiences is organized annually by talented writer and book author Jennifer Cockrall-King. She works tirelessly each year to bring together new and experienced writers and industry experts with local wineries and chefs for intensive workshops and mouth-watering celebrations of the best of Okanagan cuisine. I last attended in 2010 and was thrilled to be able to make it back out for this year's workshop.

Our weekend began with a welcome dinner at Rabbit Hollow on Friday evening, and it was such a fantastic (and photo-worthy) spring dining experience that I felt it warranted its own blog post, as I don't want to skimp on all the food pictures.

Our West Kelowna al fresco dinner location was completely surrounded by farms, which contributed to our local feast with their first spring edibles. Joining us were members of the multi-generation, family-run Paynter's Fruit Market, who treated us to a pre-dinner tour of the the family's fields and orchards, then joined us for dinner at Rabbit Hollow just next door hosted by The Chef In Stead Martin LaPrise and his wife Kristen, The Happy Gourmand.

I was excited to discover that part of our dinner would be 'Interactive Pizzas' that we could create ourselves, then baked by Chef Martin in the outdoor wood-fired oven and shared with the group. As I've been coveting a future backyard oven, and dreaming of the day when I can make my own wood-fired pizzas, I could not wait to get my hands on that dough.

The pizza topping selections were pure heaven, many farm-to-table and locally sourced with wild foraged chanterelles, chorizo sausage made by Kelowna's Salted Brick deli (SO good! I plan to stock up next time I'm in town), roasted garlic, capers, proscuitto, local cheeses, heirloom tomatoes... I could have happily tied on an apron and spent the whole evening happily making different pizzas.

The interactive pizza making and sharing was a great way to break the ice for a group just meeting for the first time, and when we were playing with dough, the workshop attendees chatted and got to know each other over wines from 50th Parallel Estate Winery. Do Pinot Gris and Rose pair well with gourmet wood-fired pizza? Oh yes, they do indeed.

While we snacked, sipped and chatted, Chef was busy getting our family-style dinner's main courses on the fire, using a beautiful handmade grill pit (which is now also on my list of future things I want to build in my backyard). First two plump local chickens sizzled away, split spatchcock style - a great way to cook chicken on the BBQ, then followed by Moroccan-spiced lamb chops.

Also onto the grill went fresh seasonal fiddle heads and the first local Okanagan asparagus of the season, to be added to the Israeli couscous salad served with dinner. To be able to taste these ingredients so close to where they grow, freshly picked during their prime season was a true privilege. While the summer and fall will bring impressive harvests to the Okanagan valley, there's something really special about eating the first things to grow in springtime.

When we sat down for our family-style farm to table dinner, I found myself across from the two other Food Bloggers of Canada members who attended the workshop - Michelle, blogger at The Tiffin Box and Colleen, blogger at The Food Blog, and we were happy to discover that all three of us will be picture-taking and food sampling together again this fall when the Food Bloggers of Canada Conference comes west to Vancouver this October.

Our dinner was paired with 50th Parallel's Pinot Noir 2012, a new wine to me with a smooth, fruity flavour which instantly won my heart. I enjoyed hearing wine maker Grant Stanley wax poetic about his struggles and triumphs with one of my personal favourite varieties of BC Wine.

I also tried frog's legs for the first time, and while I wasn't dancing a jig over the flavour (a little bland and chicken-esque tasting to my uneducated 'frog palate'), I was glad to have the chance to finally try and I won't be afraid to give them a go again in the future.

As the sun set over the mountains that surround these Kelowna farms and orchards, Chef brought out our dessert - a strawberry-rhubarb cobbler so very locally made that he could point to the farms as he served us. Berries from Jackalope Farms, fresh rhubarb from their garden... Chef had even gone out that morning and collected fresh eggs for the creme anglaise from chickens next door. The cobbler tasted like Okanagan springtime, a perfect end to a memorable family-style feast.

Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to bring this beautiful farm-to-table dining experience together for us writers who traveled to Kelowna from across Canada. It was a great way to learn more about what grows locally and seasonally, with those ingredients transformed by chefs and wine makers into a Okanagan dining experience that left a last impression about the culinary bounty this part of Canada produces each year.     

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Wonderful post Gwen! It brought back in sharp focus the festive and yummy dinner we had... I loved those pizzas too, and the whole atmosphere that we enjoyed. Hope you make it back out to Kelowna again soon! Salted Brick will be waiting for you.
Cheers!
Catherine

Glad you got to come back and experience the Okanagan again!
Looks like a delicious time you had.

It was so nice to meet you. I hope we can keep in touch. Wasn't this such a lovely dinner and beautiful setting. Great post.

Beautiful write up Gwen! You summed up the whole experience perfectly. It was a wonderful and inspiring weekend. I am looking forward to seeing you and Michelle at FBC Vancouver in the fall.

Gorgeous shots, Gwen! Good on you for photo documenting the whole thing. I still have a recipe to send you…will do soon. : )



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