I was speaking with a food writer friend of mine today when she remarked with enthusiasm that Kelowna has really become a 4 season’s destination for wine and food experiences. In my mind, I scrolled through the high level of activity over these first two months of 2014, including Wine & Dine, the Canadian Culinary Championships, Okanagan Spirits’ Gin Olympics, the opening of a brand new restaurant just this week (a new neighbor for the downtown distillery), and a brand new culinary event for Kelowna to take place on March 1: Devour Kelowna. Add to this, the availability of wine tastings at wineries that remain open over the winter months along our 5 Kelowna Wine Trails, and I found myself nodding in agreement with my writer-friend. There really isn’t a season anymore when there simply isn’t anything to do from the perspective of gastronomy. And outdoor enthusiasts will laugh and say, welcome to our 4-season’s playground!
Last weekend, I had front row seats to all the intensity and anticipation of the Canadian Culinary Championships (for the details of Tourism Kelowna’s role, check out our Tourism Kelowna News Centre). It was an incredible 3 days. Kelowna can be very proud that this is the home of this culinary competition – the only stand-alone national chef’s competition this country has, other than made-for-television competitions. I was very interested in the way the competing chefs used resourcefulness to get information on Kelowna’s food suppliers – information that is crucial when you are competing against other top chefs and are working with a budget of $550 to buy ingredients for your small plates to feed 425 people. (And when going over budget docks points from your competition score.)
Granted, some of the teams had a Kelowna connection, and were already familiar with the lay of the land. The Regina team’s sous-chef, Chef James Hanna, worked at RauDZ Regional Table for 7 years, and Calgary’s Chef Duncan Ly also apprenticed with Chef Rod Butters. But it was actually the Saskatoon team that was the first to arrive at RauDZ Regional Table the night the Chefs were presented with their Mystery Wine, to go over the flavor profiles and form ingredient strategy. This story by Joanne Sasvari in the Vancouver Sun deftly describes the mood in the restaurant that night.
The next morning, I was taking Ms. Sasvari and other out-of-town media to some of our food suppliers – places I thought were likely to see activity from the Canadian Culinary Championships teams. Illichmann’s Meats & Delicatessen on Gordon was relatively peaceful when we arrived, with just the steady hum of regular customers placing orders. But the butchers in the back confirmed that they’d already been visited by a team or 2 in the early morning; back-door access. Codfather’s was also a busy place when our small group arrived to speak with Jon Crofts. This sought-after seafood store had already seen 5 teams come through. It was, after all, a white mystery wine, much to the delight of Jon and his team.
Kelowna has a great deal to offer the competing chefs and the Canadian Culinary Championships competition. It was fantastic to see the chefs make their way around Kelowna and seek out our specialty food stores and suppliers. It is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, as they say, between this prestigious chefs’ competition and our fair city.