29 September 2010

A Beginning at the Okanagan Food and Wine Writers Workshop at Gods Mountain

Pouring local wines
Have you ever had a life changing moment where you are so overwhelmed on many different levels of emotion that it is hard to put it down in words? I have experienced this only rarely in my lifetime when discovering the tiny island of Kea in Greece through the eyes of Aglaia and Costas of Keartisanal, climbing up pinnacles of rocks to ancient monasteries in the Meteora region in Greece, driving along the Cinque de Terre in Italy at 18, when attending the Foodbuzz Festival in San Francisco; and the list will continue. I experienced this same emotion when attending the Okanagan Food and Wine Writers Workshop in Penticton a few weeks ago organized by our innovative and fearless leader Jennifer Cockrall-King. Jennifer is a foodie extraordinaire who lives part time on the Naramata Bench with many prestigious writing gigs and awards under her belt (if I list them all I am sure she would be blushing) as well as a book in the works. She led us through many learning experiences throughout the 3.5 days of the workshop with energy to spare. She did everything in her power to gather the most creative and knowledgeable speakers...and thrown in for good measure passionate locals and memorable meals.

Whenever I have sat down to write about the days I spent south of here in Penticton in the beautiful Okanagan Valley I was overwhelmed by where to begin. It may also have something to do with the fact that this humble blogger was surrounded by professional and talented writers throughout the weekend. How do you convey the joy, laughter, learning opportunities, new life-time friendships, jaw-dropping food and wines and all the other experiences all rolled into one post. I have decided that its simply not possible. So I begin here with our first night under a blanket of stars, surrounded by twinkling lights and warm smiles.

For those of you who don't know, Penticton is just north of Canada's only desert (being part of the Sonoran desert that travels from Canada and into Mexico). Surrounded by more than 80 wineries and bordered by two lakes, our home away from home is the largest city in the South Okanagan region, an interior British Columbia region often dubbed the Napa Valley of the North. As it happens our hotel was the home of the Vancouver Cancucks for the weekend, a fact that made L'il Burnt Toast very envious:D

After settling into our rooms we headed on our first adventure of a life time to one of the sold out Cuisine du Terroir dinners at God's Mountain in Penticton. "Close your eyes and envision one long communal table, laid out under the stars, on a secluded bluff overlooking one of the oldest Riesling vineyards in the Valley and the shimmering Skaha Lake. In the background, a rambling, whitewashed bed and breakfast full of nooks, crannies, roofless rooms and stuffed armadillos that could be taken straight out of my photo album of a timeless trip to Santorini."

These unique multi-coursed dinners unite curious diners, local epicureans and culinary tourists alike. On the table, coronation grape fougasse soon to be followed by warm fresh Carmelis goat cheese with apple and grainy Dijon slaw and scallops with Red Haven peach, torpedo onion and cilantro chutney as starters to our exceptional menu. Our taste buds danced across the table as we savoured a salad of butter bottom pear and shaved cured ham, local nuts and bitter greens infused with a Port Vinaigrette. This was followed by platters served family style groaning with the edible bounty of the region. Our plates were piled high with "du pios lentils with chioga beets" and topped off with duck confit that literally fell off your fork, with a side of "chantrelle mushrooms, roasted onions and freshly shucked corn" (I asked for seconds). Another platter came around with a "gratin of zucchini and heirloom tomatoes". And for dessert (since this is a food blog and it is all about food), "fall berries and elephant heart plums baked with vanilla bean and canella custard". Sigh....

Overlooking Lake Okanagan
Before the term grassroots, local cuisine or the 100-Mile Diet reached our lips this concept described folks like Cam Smith and Dana Ewart, people who have adopted this philosophy from the ground up. For this couple, it meant leaving their high-profile culinary posts at restaurants like Montreal’s Toqué and Toronto’s Jamie Kennedy and Scaramouche to get back to the land, here in the Okanagan Valley with their Cuisine du Terroir dinners. Cameron and Dana say, "The most direct translation of this concept is “food of the earth”. Terroir is a French term used to describe the unique flavour imparted to food or drink by a region’s specific climate, soil, weather and growing conditions.We chose “Cuisine du Terroir” as our concept for Joy Road Catering because to us it means food with a strong sense of place."

Sourcing and showcasing the bounty of the Okanagan is a way of life for Cameron Smith and Dana Ewart, chefs and owners of Joy Road Catering as they host these ethereal mountain top outdoor dining experiences that begin in May and run through till Thanksgiving. In speaking with the young couple their passion is contagious and you understand the devotion the pair have to fresh food and local ingredients. Cam says,  “The immediacy of the cooking experience here is unparalleled. I go to the farmers’ market that morning and it’s on your plate that evening.”

Long Table Dinner at God's Mountain

 The evening included a local wine reception and a carefully chosen, local wine pairing with each course. Our guest speaker was Rhys Pender of Wine Plus and sponsored by the British Columbia Wine Institute. He took us through Wine Tasting 101 where we learned some rudimentary skills on wine and pairing it with food which is a natural progression to great meals. In 2010 Rhys became the 4th Master of Wine (MW) in Canada. Rhys is increasingly becoming recognised as one of Canada's leading experts in the wine business and is regularly sought after to write, judge and consult to the industry.

Nothing is more intimate, or more effective at breaking down  barriers, than sharing a meal together family style. When you have like-minded people from two countries breaking bread at the same table magic happens!!!!!!

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips


  1. What a great feast and place to dine!



  2. I love your post! It was so very interesting. What a wonderful experience for you. Who knows you may be writing for FW soon!

  3. How lucky you were to have an experience like this. What a beautiful location!

  4. Fantastic review of our wonderful shared experience at God's Mountain. Thanks Val!!

  5. Wow, now I am blushing. The Okanagan is truly extraordinary...and it is a easy to share it with foodies and writers. You are much more of an expert than I am in food blogging and this is where the attention is these days, so it was a true advantage to have your input as we discussed and learned. Thanks for your participation. And now we have a little Okanagan food / wine writers group going, which is a lasting effect of the workshop. Jennifer

  6. Val, I have only scanned this article since I realize that I want to savor every word. I shall be back to it--with a glass of wine.


  7. What an extraordinary experience that you were able to be part of. I agree, words are difficult to describe those special moments! And what beautiful place for this to take place!

  8. How very fortunate for you to be experiencing such a workshop in great company.
    I'm soooo envious right now ;o)

    Val...enjoy every precious moment.

    Ciao for now,

  9. I can understand why you had difficulty documenting your experience...it's definitely of a very high level. I'm happy you had the opportunity and chose to share it with your readers.

  10. Sounds like an absolutely fabulous experience.

  11. What a beautiful post about such a beautiful experience. I'm so glad you shared it with us, Val.

  12. This is definitely on my to-do list next summer. I am envious of your experience here.

  13. What a remarkable experience, in such a beautiful setting. How could it not be life-altering?!

  14. I closed my eyes and joined you, Val. What a lovely event! Cuisine du Terroir is a fairly recent moniker for a way of eating that makes so much sense!
    Thanks for taking us along...

  15. What a beautiful space! Enjoy the experience.

  16. I can see why this would be a life changing experience, this looks like an amazing event.

  17. THis is a gorgeous magical spot. I think I need to go right now. Why is everyone at exciting places lately except me?

  18. So, if you want to go again next year, I am there. Retirement is definitely in the wind. A beautiful write up. I hung onto each word because I so wanted to be there. Foodie Sue (Susan Robbins or Robinson) from Edmonton was there, too - as was Liane Faulder whom I also know personally. Wonderful learning partners! I know Jennifer personally through her Slow Food Membership in Edmonton and meeting at meetings, etc... but only know Sue through Cyberspace. What a fantastic evening this must have been. It sounds like the closest to paradise one can get.
    I am waiting to hear more.

  19. What a lovely and thorough! blog post. I always want to go to beautiful events like that, but never end up making the time.

  20. WOW!Spectacular, wish I was there.
    We have a beauful country.

  21. Wow that's a lovely post - what a fantastic time you had.
    LOVE the idea of 'scallops with Red Haven peach' too.

  22. Val, I would SO rather be enjoying that beautiful place with you than where I am! :)
    xoxo Pattie

  23. Sounds very rewarding, and what a beautiful location.

  24. these events really are very inspirational - food and wine combined with beautiful scenery is always the best way to savour taste

    those autumn reds are to die for - in crete, the trees are mainly evergreens, so the foliage doesnt mark the season as well as it does where you are

  25. What an incredible time you had. The details of the food got me drooling. It sounds like a very special place and time.


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