Story by Jody Robbins
Vacay.ca Family Travel Columnist
OSOYOOS, BRITISH COLUMBIA — It’s one of those glorious late summer afternoons when canopied trees heave open and unleash oodles of cherries upon you. But at this particular orchard, it doesn’t just rain cherries. As we weave our way through Chef’s Table Backyard Farm, the latest activity in the local-food movement in the lush Okanagan Valley, a steady stream of fruit pounds the ground and occasionally our heads.
This is one of those farm-to-table experiences that actually is. Owned and operated by chef Chris Van Hooydonk, guests are encouraged to become as involved in the culinary process as they want. For some it’s having a tour of the property and foraging with the chef. For others it’s about being pampered with a multi-course, wine-paired menu catered to their specifications. Whichever way you decide to go, you’ll have a direct hand in your meal and will be able to witness culinary tourism at its finest. “Farm to table is about to living. For us, it’s a lifestyle, not marketing,” says Mikkel Day, the chef’s wife and business partner.
Fine Dining That’s a Match for Okanagan’s Wine
Set snuggly on two acres laced with organic fruit trees, lavender bushes and beehives, Chef’s Table resides within a modest bungalow that was once a farmer’s home. Driving past the sun-drenched farms along the golden mile of the Osoyoos valley, it’s easy to miss this culinary gem. There’s no signage or even a name on the door. Yet, this is one of those destination dining experiences that deserves to be searched out.
While the exterior of the house retains the same humble character as its owners, once inside everything changes. Gone are any reminders of the previous occupants. Inside it’s all light, bright and modern. Floor-to-ceiling windows rim an expansive harvest table and photos taken by Day dot the walls. They are framed with attractive up-cycled French doors.
Van Hooydonk placed the flooring himself, framing and sanding the ceiling beams by hand — all within five months. In the same spirit as his grassroots approach to cooking, Van Hooydonk bartered cooking glasses with local tradesmen to get the property up and running by summer. All barriers are removed in this intimate setting, allowing guests to interact with the chef as easily as your dining companions. “It’s the company that makes the meal. I’m interested in the role food plays in that relationship,” says Van Hooydonk.
Chef’s Experience Led to New Osoyoos Initative
After earning his chef cred at the the Harvest Dining Room in Kelowna and Four Seasons Boston, Van Hooydonk honed his relationship with local-food producers and wine makers while serving as the chef at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery’s restaurant. It’s these sustainable producers who share the chef’s passion for food that take center stage during the multi-course experience.
Our meal begins with deboned pheasant, wrapped in duck prosciutto, topped with duck confit, opal basil, fresh peaches and red amaranth micro greens. Just how good is Van Hooydonk’s duck confit? Rumour has it, this is why Day married him.
We spread this savoury appetizer on gluten-free rice crackers that Van Hooydonk developed himself. Frustrated with the quality of store-bought gluten-free crackers, his version made from forbidden rice and quinoa doesn’t interfere with the flavour of the region’s robust wine.
Next up are vibrant yellow, orange and purple heirloom tomatoes layered over goat’s-milk feta with pale ribbons of cucumber pasta. It is the essence of summer on a plate, made even more perfect when paired with Arnesis by Moon Curser Osoyoos East Bench, the only producer of this varietal in British Columbia.
Then comes more Fraser Valley duck confit cured with cinnamon and star anise. The moist, braised duck contrasts beautifully with its crisp, golden skin, its richness tempered by earthy lentils de Puy and a truffled beet-root purée.
Each dish is almost too pretty to eat. It is a symphony of colours and flavours that celebrate what has most recently been harvested. After setting our forks down for the last time, our entire table spontaneously bursts into applause.
Backyard Farm Comes Front and Centre
Meal can be served reception or family style and dietary concerns are a priority to ensure each and every diner enjoys the same quality of experience. Though the only way to dine at Chef’s Table Backyard Farm is through a private booking, it’s approachable for anyone interested in the culture of food and wine.
Chef’s Table could expand from hosting 20 guests (currently licensed for up to 50 seats), but that’s not part of the plan. “You lose that touch,” Van Hooydonk says. “When guests leave I want them to leave with a part of me. I want to interact, so that after our time together we’ve both been touched. If I can help people create a memory, I’ve done my job.”
MORE ABOUT CHEF’S TABLE BACKYARD FARM
Location: 3692 Fruitvale Way, Oliver, BC (see map below)
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.