All the Right Moves: The Vancouver Effect

The Okanagan.

Napa North, Canada’s Culinary Paradise, our four-season playground, or just a fucking awesome place where even locals can feel like tourists. We have lakes, sun, trees, wine, bike trails, beer trails, a national award winning pop up dinner series (I had to), amazing produce, more booze, and the Valley is so bloody beautiful that you catch yourself staring. It is a place where you kind of have to make things happen for you, but given the super amazing young entrepreneurs choosing to make this home, things are possible here!

Whilst locals are feeling the effects of the ‘sunshine tax’ (rising house prices, lack of affordable housing and below average industry wages), there’s been quite the migration of Vancouverites because of its affordability.

Culinarily speaking, FUCK YEAH!

I mean…I’m very excited about this because this is how the Okanagan can and will step it up. So, meet some former Vancouver-based Chefs choosing to make the Okanagan home.

Victor Laderoute and Kevin Bojda | QB Gelato | Kelowna

Victor and Kevin gave up their corporate day-to-days to attend…wait for it…Gelato University (that’s a real life place) in Italy, before setting up shop in K-Town. Besides being two good humans, QB Gelato is all about flavour – think local ingredients, done right, with a delicate balance that’s quite magical.

“We chose the Okanagan specifically because of the availability of local ingredients – fresh milk from D Dutchmen Dairy in Sicamous, herbs and vegetables from Farmer Jordan at Unearthed Fine Veggies & Herbs, cherries from Dendy Orchards in East Kelowna, cheese from Tanto Latte in Salmon Arm, berries from a variety of farms including Haskap’s from Honeyberry Acres. Wine and cider from The View Winery and Ward’s Cidery, Summerhill Pyramid Winery, Bella Wines, BNA. Then there’s raw ingredients, like nuts, spices and chocolate from Real Raw Food on the Naramata Bench – a family business sourcing whole foods that have been grown organically, sustainability and prepared without hurting their viability. With each season we discover, and are introduced to, new local suppliers. We are proud to be a part of the growing food culture in this area. The passion of the producer’s shine through in our desserts, gelato and soups.”

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Chef Brian Skinner | Frankie, We Salute You | Kelowna (opening April, 2019)

With his West Coast roots, Brian has been visiting the Okanagan since he was a baby, so his recent move to his ‘home away from home’ isn’t unexpected (especially given his plant-based focus). Having eaten at The Acorn in Vancouver and briefly meeting during his 2013 Gold Medal Plates battle, I’m looking forward to a truly plant-focused restaurant. Expect real vegetables, seasonal produce, lots of textures and flavours and plant-based dishes that aren’t only deep fried. Did I mention The Acorn was once pitched as the 9th ‘Best New Restaurant’ by EnRoute Magazine in 2013, too?

“Setting up a restaurant in the Okanagan has always been a dream of mine, as it’s the fruit and veggie capital of the universe. Seeing that veggies are my jam, I’m swooning. Being surrounded by people working the land is also refreshing and inspiring. There’s a special bond between farmers and chefs. And I’m pumped to forge more of those relationships in my new Okanagan home.”

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Chef Neil Taylor | Home Block at CedarCreek Winery | Kelowna (opening late spring, 2019)

Ok, I’m not going to favour Neil because he’s English. I will, however, draw attention to his poor taste in football (soccer) teams (I’m trying not to judge you). There’s only really one way to settle this..Scotch Egg off – what do you think, Chef?

After jumping over the pond to Vancouver, Neil was the opening Chef for Cibo Trattoria and Uva Wine Bar, which won ‘Best New Restaurant in Canada’ by enRoute magazine. He then went on to open his first restaurant, españa (been there too and it’s delicious) – serving up top notch Spanish tapas it was listed in the ‘top 20 Best New Restaurants in Canada’, boom! Now, he’s the Executive Chef at Home Block at CedarCreek Winery, so we can expect some Spanish and Italian flavours with beautiful Okanagan produce.

“My decision to come out to Cedar Creek and the Okanagan was a pretty easy one, to be honest. Even though it meant leaving my own restaurant, españa, as soon as I saw the site at Cedar Creek and the new restaurant, which wasn’t even named at the time, I was blown away by the site and the potential it has. Being in such a picturesque part of the Okanagan, with the natural way I like to cook and having such great access to local product, it just felt like the perfect fit!”

“Having developed great relationships with suppliers since coming to Canada, I’ve noticed that although there are many great produce suppliers in Vancouver and its surrounding areas, the pinnacle of produce, summer season especially, comes from the Okanagan and the interior of B.C. I think the more talent that comes to the Okanagan from cities like Vancouver can only make the fairly limited food scene stronger, both in terms of the types of establishments that open up, the training and passing of knowledge to staff. For me the Okanagan has a great growing season for produce that’s needs hot, dry, intense heat, just like the Mediterranean has, so tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, chills, peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries….I could go on! All definitely taste way better than when they are grown in cooler, wetter climates like Vancouver.”

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Chef Chris Whittaker | Quaaout Lodge & Spa | Chase 

When a top BC Hall of Fame and Western Living’s ‘Foodie of the Year’ Chef is also known as the ‘humble champion’ of local cuisine and sustainability, it’s definitely a good sign. Chris was the mastermind behind Forage and Timber restaurants in Vancity – instilling his waste-nothing, nose-to-tail, support all things local philosophy to his staff and guests alike.

“The move was less about me as a Chef, but more as myself being a present father. Although now, I am so inspired by everything that is at my doorstep. It is a dream place to be as a Chef.”

“I think the biggest thing for me was to step back from my role in Vancouver and really roll up my sleeves to start really cooking and focusing on the craft again. We have our own green house and 1/4 acre garden plot on property, which has always been a dream for me as a Chef. I am hyper focused on making the connections with the region’s purveyors and focusing on the new challenges of this terroir.”

“The Shuswap/Okanagan offers that opportunity. It is busy, don’t get me wrong but the winter has offered a time to re-set, really focus on stocking our pantry and plan for the coming year. The region offers that work life balance that I think is increasingly important in our industry. Too often we fall into what we traditionally ‘should’ be doing as Chefs, wiping all consideration for friends and family aside and focusing solely on work. I am not afraid to say that I work way less and I’m freer. I’m loving our life out here and am a better Chef for it. I have the time to mentor and teach my brigade and foster a new generation of regionally focused Chefs. Change is scary and probably one of the most stressful things in a persons life, but time with my wife, Marianne and son, Eivin is totally worth the crazy journey we went on to be here.”

“I think the potential [of the Okanagan] is largely untouched. As more people, not just Chefs, move from unaffordable regions of the country, our region will become super sustainable from a business standpoint, year-round and we will be able to draw more and more talent as they can afford to live and who knows, even afford a house and be able to raise a family!”

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Photo Credit: Kayla Mann

I honestly believe that the Okanagan’s produce and the people behind it is our secret weapon. Maybe the Okanagan can finally crack Air Canada/enRoute Magazine’s Top 100 Restaurants list or better yet, Canada’s Best 100 Restaurants!

Let the eating begin. Cheers to all the delicious things!

(Dear Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, you’re welcome too – our home is your home)

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