Put simply, I tell stories with food.
For me, this food thing just kind of, sort of happened – I don’t have kitchen papers, but I do have this marketing background, so I’ve been telling stories for a while. Without getting too deep, as a family-run business you do whatever it takes to keep those doors open, and so I started cooking out of necessity, then I fell in love with food and what it’s supposed to represent. But our food system, the way we look at it, how we value it, how we consume it and how we waste it has changed. When we close our eyes, we’ve lost our sense of place, sense of time and taste of place.
After 6 years of #restaurantlife, I decided to close the doors of our farm-to-table Indian restaurant – swapping the hours, pay and stress to literally eat the world for 7.5 months. I wanted to put the value back into food and to remind people why we cook and eat in the first place. Whilst I was adventuring, I decided to ask random people if they’d share a food memory with me – it could have been a smell, a taste, an ingredient or a Granny, it was completely up to them. Writing about how food connects us, this was my way to show that we’re not so different after all. It was those stories shaped what I do now.
Once I came back, Canada suddenly became home. I had to figure out how to create my own little path in food and drink without working in or owning a restaurant again. This time, I wanted to make it count, making food work for me. Enter: The Paisley Notebook and edible adventures – a little pop up dinner series by a little person (note: the little person is me).
Let me rewind a tad: I live in a place that’s known as Napa North, Canada’s Culinary Paradise or a four-season playground. We have trees, a booming wine industry, lush orchards, waterfalls, craft beer and cider, amazing produce, more booze, bike trails, lakes, sun, snow and magically we are so close to our food source. It may be a place where you have to make things happen for you, but given the amount of amazing young entrepreneurs choosing to make this home, things are possible here. I want to show how the Okanagan is not only a beautiful place but a delicious place, too.
When I started SOURCED, it was one big social experiment. The idea is to make people think and plant a seed. Every farm dinner is based on a different story about sustainability and supporting local, sharing insights into how hard small business really is. The series follows the seasons; getting people to play with the food and connecting the dots of what’s in season, when, as I serve up a surprise menu every single time.
‘SOURCED’ is all about putting the trust back into your ingredients, the people growing/raising them and the person cooking for you – every ingredient literally passes through my hands and my hands only. So, I take my guests on an ever-changing moveable feast across the Okanagan directly to their food source; turning even locals into tourists in our own back yard; getting them travelling for good, clean and fair food.
Every farmer is different, so every dinner is different and each dinner is inspired by the beautiful imperfections that go hand-in-hand with supporting local (and not the consistencies that the restaurant industry strives for). I pick my produce, I visit the farms, I have the only set of hands on each of the ingredients, I know every ingredient of every dish and it’s all made from scratch.
Serving up restaurant quality food in unexpected places, there is no running water or power in my world. But that just means you need to tackle things a little more creatively. I cook real food using my camp stove and hefty cast iron pan. Things definitely go wrong with pop up life, but then you just figure it out.
In such a fast-moving world, it’s kind of my superhero power to stop time. We my guests share a meal around a communal table watching random strangers transform into friends (alcohol helps). The best thing is when you take a moment to stop and look around my table and you realize that I don’t have a demographic, it’s a very value based group and simply just people! That is what food is supposed to do. And I’m proud that my orchestrated feast is a without the privilege or price tag usually associated with magical experiences.
This is more than money. My project has a bigger purpose to make people fall in love with the magic of a long table dinner. The hope was to connect the dots about our food and supply chain; for my guests to feel comfortable about asking questions; to give practical examples and ideas to use food ‘waste’ or ways to make it less expensive; for people to return to the market and just say hi to the host farmer, even if they’re not buying anything; to give our farmers a voice. We make a little difference every single time we pop up – it may only be a little one, but we made things a bit better than they were. I am thanked and hugged at the end of my dinners and when paying guests offer to help stack chairs and clean up by the end of things, that’s quite something. This is everything that the restaurant industry couldn’t give me.
Supporting local is not what I do, but who I am. This project is my story about the Okanagan and I may have been born and raised in England, but I’ve grown in the Okanagan and I’m proud to do what I do, how I do it, leaving a piece of me on every plate. Building community one pop up dinner at a time, I’ve also raised over $47k for local charities since 2017. Like I said, it’s all about making it count this time.
In my opinion, our food scene is the purest reflection of the Okanagan – grown, raised and consumed here. That’s a pretty special thing to have and hold onto it. Despite being so small, sometimes the underdogs do win – in November 2018 I was fortunate enough to win the ‘Culinary Tourism Experience’ category at the Canadian Tourism Award and you were there every step of the way. I can only do what I do, how I do it with your help and I feel really fortunate that so many of you have been along for the ride. Maybe looking at the world differently isn’t too bad after all.
To all the delicious things to come – the best bit is that I’m just getting started.