Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
OLIVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Chris Van Hooydonk strikes me as a man with the spirit of a pioneer. He has built a culinary experience that is singularly unique in British Columbia and done most of the lifting with his own hands.
The kitchen and dining room at Backyard Farm is inside a circa 1926 house that Van Hooydonk renovated after he and his wife purchased the property from the previous owners, an octogenarian couple who had lived in the space for more than 60 years.
Van Hooydonk says he would talk to his neighbour down the hill about his plan to acquire the man’s house and its land, and create Backyard Farm.
“It’s about keeping alive the memory of what he and his family built, too,” Van Hooydonk says about the enterprise. “The reason I’m able to do what I am doing is in part because they put such love into this property.”
To that love, Van Hooydonk has added his vision and expertise as a chef and agriculturist. Backyard Farm has dozens of fruit trees, its own bee hives for making honey, and a chicken coop where a plentiful amount of eggs are laid each day. With the bounty of this land, Van Hooydonk is able to source an abundance of the ingredients he needs for his intimate and fun dinners.
20 Seats and 1 Unforgettable Night in the Okanagan
A long, wood table is the centrepiece for an earthy yet sophisticated dining room that seats 20. At the Chef’s Table, Van Hooydonk treats his guests to a multi-course, wine-paired dinner that is as close to a farm-to-fork fine-dining experience as you’ll find in the province. With those fresh ingredients and an exceptional selection of wines, Van Hooydonk — the former executive chef at nearby Burrowing Owl Estate Winery — is able to use his culinary skills to present a masterful feast, making Backyard Farm among the best and most unique places to dine in the country.
“I couldn’t do this if I worked at a restaurant, turning over 150 or 200 plates a night, working 15 or 16 hours a day. So, if I was going to do it, I had to do it here and in this way,” Van Hooydonk says amid one of the several visits he makes from the kitchen to the table during the evening.
Van Hooydonk is a rebel, too. He soured on some of the practices of the mainstream culinary industry and opted to do his own thing, on his own terms. His driving force is his desire to be close to his daughter, Ainsley, as she grows up — something he couldn’t do if he remained working as a chef at a restaurant or estate.
There are some examples of other establishments in Canada that resemble Backyard Farm. Most notably, Eigensinn Farm in Ontario, where chef Michael Stadtlander occasionally hosts $600-per-person dinner events on his sprawling farm near Georgian Bay, and the Bonavista Social Club, located in Newfoundland’s heartachingly beautiful Bonavista Peninsula and where chef Katie Holmes has created a bakery and restaurant using ingredients sourced from the property’s own yard.
“At the end of the day, I’m doing this because of my family,” Van Hooydonk says. “I want to be there for my daughter and at the same time I want to pursue my passion for cooking. This is the best way to do both.”
MORE ABOUT CHEF’S TABLE BACKYARD FARM
Location: 3692 Fruitvale Way, Oliver, BC (see map below)
Reservations: Backyard Farm accepts reservations for dinners, cooking workshops and more. Soon, a guest room will be available for rent on the property. For details, email Chris Van Hooydonk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rates: Meals are charged on a per-person rate, with a $500 minimum charge for the space. Groups up to 12 guests can also be hosted for an informal cooking demonstration. Workshops last four hours and include a three-course menu for $100 per person plus tax.
More Information on Visiting the Okanagan Valley: See the websites of Destination Osoyoos and Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association when planning your trip.