Lovers of global cuisine take note: The round-the-world foodie train is leaving the station each Friday at Pointe 49 Kitchen & Bar restaurant, and you don't even need a passport.
With Jared Sissons taking over as General Manager of Walnut Beach Resort in mid-May this year, one of his first key tasks was to hire a new executive chef.
Luckily for the resort and local/visiting fans of world cuisine, Sissons was able to find Tunisian-borne Bilel Lasmar in of all places ... wait for it ... Newfoundland!
"The hotel is certainly making a different turn and we're trying to establish the restaurant is more of a destination restaurant," explains Sissons.
Hiring an executive chef of Lasmar's experience which includes working in hotel restaurants in Tunisia (where he notes there are over 90 hotels in the capital Tunis), and Dubai before he ended up on "The Rock" in St. Johns.
He adds that the chef has a varied palette from working in different places around the world and having worked under a number of experienced international chefs.
"With his experience in different cultures and different ethnic foods, that's what led us to our whole mindset of trying different foods and giving people in Osoyoos and visitors a different culinary experience than they’ve normally had here," he adds.
This globe-trotting four course culinary experience - Explore the World - runs every Friday at the Pointe 49 restaurant and began last week with Greece. Tonight features Ukrainian and Polish followed by Morocco next Friday, and then Jamaica, France, Tunisia, Mexico and finally Italy on successive Fridays.
Lasmar is excited about presenting these global dishes. "I believe people have seen the same menus everywhere. If you look at the pubs, they have wings night and another two or three places will also have it," he says, noting there is a lot of fried food around.
"I like to do fresh food and when you pay for your meal it's worth it. We should be offering something that you cannot make at home," he says.
When asked which culinary destination he's most excited about, the chef barely misses a beat saying: "Tunisian, French and Italian!"
Tunisian is perhaps no surprise due to his roots, and as Lasmar points out in terms of geography, Italy is spitting distance away and France of course left its culinary mark on the country after 75 years of colonialism. "To be honest," acknowledges Lasmar, "they have very good food."
He is naturally proud of his Tunisia culture and says he would love for people to get to know the uniqueness of Tunisian food. Because the country is on the Mediterranean Sea in close proximity to Italy, France, Spain and of course Arab culture, its cuisine has been variously influenced throughout history.
We use fresh ingredients and we have the same signature as French and Italian but we have our own unique taste with it, so some dishes are a little bit spicy,” he says.
For Sissons, who is of Ukrainian and Polish heritage, he's excited about tonight's Ukraine and Poland focus. "We don't have a lot of Ukrainian or Polish restaurants, particularly in British Columbia.
"It's not food we would normally think about," he says, adding there are some very interesting culinary aspects in that region." He also highlights its nice comfort food for the cooler autumn weather right now.
Tonight’s menu features mini crispy potato pancakes, salatka jarzynowa (Polish salad) or borscht, and cabbage rolls or chicken Kiev for the main and mixed berry perogies for dessert.
He’s also looking forward to French night but highlights each week is a winner in a sort of “something for everyone” kind of scenario. "He's going to give everyone an interesting experience," Sissons says of his executive chef.
"A lot of people haven't had experiences with those types of restaurants in Osoyoos in particular, so hopefully we will start to create a following and excitement about what we're doing and I think it's going to be good for the town and good for tourism in general," Sissons says.
Both Lasamar and Sissons are keen on seeing what the reaction is from diners as the popular items will likely make it to the fall and winter menus.
"Menus are always ever-changing and you're looking for things that people enjoy," explains Sissons. "If a menu becomes stagnant it becomes boring and the chefs would find the menu boring too."
He adds that the availability of farm fresh foods in the Okanagan, including the orchards and vineyards all present a unique opportunity for the new chef. "He's got a plethora of fresh produce to use and things like that," Sissons says.
Depending on the success of this year’s event it will likely return next year, "and maybe a few other countries that we haven't travelled to this year. Get your passport ready," he laughs.
Aside from questions around food, there is one burning question that needs to be answered. Why on earth did the chef spend almost nine years in Newfoundland? Easily explained, it turns out. He met a woman, got married and has two young children who are still in St. John's and one day soon Osoyoos he hopes.
He says it was quite a shock moving from Dubai where it was +45-50 °C to St. John's which was -20 °C. "Oh my God I got sick," he says of his arrival to Newfoundland. "I fell on the ice, I learned my lessons," he laughs.
The other challenge was language. "My English wasn't perfect," he says, adding it was tough to understand the Newfoundlanders. "That was my first time and they talk very fast, oh my God," he laughs again.
"The weather is amazing here," he says, clearly happy to be in the South Okanagan which is a "big difference from Newfoundland," he wryly observes.
Pointe 49 Kitchen & Bar is located at Walnut Beach Resort, 4200 Lakeshore Drive, Osoyoos, tel: 250-495-5400.