Getting together with people who share one of your passions is bound to be fun. When the group is dubbed with a nickname in the planning phase, you just know it’s going to be an especially good day! So it was with Chicks Who Wine when four women who love food and wine met for a mini Okanagan Food and Wine Writers’ Workshop reunion.
Jennifer Cockrall-King, workshop originator and coordinator (Foodgirl.ca), who lives part-time in Naramata and Edmonton, had brought together attendees living in the Edmonton area for a dinner and thought it’d be fun to do something similar with the folks living in the Okanagan. Thus, she suggested the idea to food bloggers Val Harrison, Kelowna (More Than Burnt Toast) and Judi Frizzle Stowell, Peachland (The Last Wonton), and freelance writer Roslyne Buchanan, Penticton (Roz’s small fry blog) and the inspiration grew wings. I can’t recall for sure but I think it was Val who gave us the name Chicks Who Wine. (Oops, make that Judi who named us!)
As the rendezvous unfolded, we decided to meet at one of the wine cottages at Peachland’s Camp Okanagan at high noon, June 23, before the valley’s tourist season hit peak. Jenn and Val hadn’t toured the facility yet and were anxious to have a look at it as a potential venue for Okanagan activities. Kindly, Jenn offered to be the designated driver because she planned to have only the equivalent of a couple glasses of wine over the day.
We arrived to find Judi and Val already settled on to the cozy patio of the wine cottage. After a brief tour, Jenn presented a lovely bottle of Blue Mountain Brut, a lovely crisp sparkling wine estate-bottled in Okanagan Falls, to toast the occasion. Judi had prepared a delectable amuse-bouche of prosciutto, goat cheese and walnut drizzled with Big Island Bees Pure Hawaiian Honey Macadamia Nut Blossom flavour and topped with a luscious blackberry.
With that delightful introduction to the afternoon, Jenn drove us to Mission Hill Estate Winery at West Kelowna for lunch at the Terrace Restaurant.
We perused the menu, listened attentively to our server’s suggestions and confirmed our selections when Executive Winery Chef Matthew Batey, CCC (Certified Chef de Cuisine) arrived tableside to greet old friend Jenn. After introductions and Chef Matt’s endorsement of our entree selections, he offered us a behind the scenes tour of the gardens and kitchen following our lunch. The anticipation of that rare view might have distracted foodies such as us if the meal hadn’t been so outstanding! (Sorry, Anthony Bourdain, you may have disdain for the word foodie, its meaning and our fascination with cuisine personalities on and off the Food Network. Without us, your audience would be highly limited and not nearly so lucrative for you! Luckily for you, we find your irreverence amusing.)
Judi and I chose the Maple Brined Sezmu Beef Flat Iron & Pommes Purée with pilgrim’s rainbow chard, mountain berry ‘T” jus, $25 and the wine pairing recommendation of the Mission Hill 2004 Select Lot Collection Syrah, $14. Val opted for the Corn Fed Chicken & Aged Cheddar Biscuit with forest mushroom ragoût, ramp purée, $24 and wine pairing Mission Hill 2009 Five Vineyards Rosé, $8 while Jenn had the same Rosé with Handmade Pappardelle & Red Rock Crab with toasted walnuts, sweet garlic sauce, $24.
Val and Jenn’s meals were expertly prepared and happily devoured by them and I enjoyed my sample that each of them offered, still, the Sezmu Beef was a stunner. I had heard about this wine-fed Angus beef raised in the Okanagan which was winning taste tests over my beloved Alberta AAA beef so I was anxious to give it a go. My God, I think they’ve got something! Clichés aside, the well-marbled beef melted in my mouth. Apparently, its bucolic diet, idyllic lifestyle and stress free handling ensures that the Sezmu Beef reaches a tenderness not found in other less pampered beef. Couple such quality ingredients with the craft in Chef Matt’s kitchen, there was not a morsel left on my plate.
While the desserts were tempting, Judi hinted of a treat awaiting us back at Camp Okanagan and we were anxious to get on our tour. We settled the tab and we were led to Chef Matt. He led us into the gardens where produce is organized by the wine variety it complements such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling. Taking that philosophy of co-dependence into consideration, Chef Matt showed us a synergistic grouping. The ground crop of squash shelters the other plants and holds in moisture, the corn provides the support for the scarlet runner bean as it climbs up the stalk and the beans return nitrogen to the soil. He noted that “the three sisters” technique assists the plants with optimal conditions while offering high nutrition and was passed to early pioneers from Native Americans. It is not just the plants that proclaim abundance within this terraced garden, there is also a sculpture that shouts out to virility.
Chef Batey is a native of Victoria, BC and was inspired by his dad’s cooking at home. The Instructors’ Gold Medal in the Culinary Arts Program, Malaspina University College, was the first of many honours he would achieve. As a member of the Culinary Team Alberta, he won an individual gold in the 2002 competition Luxembourg where his team captured the Culinary World Cup. He began as Terrace Restaurant Chef in 2007 and excelled in that role for two years before his appointment at Executive Winery Chef. For more on Chef Batey, check out his biography on the Mission Hill Estate Winery site.
Next we had the opportunity to tour through the main kitchen, a wonderful buzz of activity. There on the counters, in jars of preserved asparagus and other produce, we saw tangible evidence of how Mission Hill strives to remain true throughout the year to providing cuisine sourced locally. We learned about the amazing oven that is fired up early each morning and items are baked from those requiring the highest heat to those needing the least as it is slowly cooled down again by end of day. In proximity to the oven we spotted Pastry Chef Rebekah Pearse of Food Network fame.
Chef Matt shared where the Chef’s Table is hosted. It begins with a guided winery tour and a tasting of three select wines and is followed by a seven-course wine-paired dinner with a view of the chefs and kitchen crew in action. With our palates still relishing the memory of our Terrace lunch, we quickly added this intimate experience for 6 to 14 guests to our bucket list of things for Chicks Who Wine to do before we die!
Alas, our time at Mission Hill passed too quickly. We are forever beholding to Jenn for her connection to the talented and accommodating Chef Matt, who took time out from his schedule which is normally busy and was compounded that day due to final stages in an interviewing process. Chef Matt, thank-you! You taught us so much and left us hungry for more. Mission Hill’s gorgeous setting is a place to linger and we will certainly return again and again. No wonder so many couples choose this location as part of their wedding or engagement venue. In fact, the day we visited there was some kind of a ladies’ graduation or stag happening. I know my husband would have enjoyed taking in this additional scenery!
We headed back to Camp Okanagan and the lovely wine cottage where Judi had a fine Summerhill Pyramid Winery Cipes Brut chilling. Jenn had done such a good job of popping the Blue Mountain sparkling, we enlisted her again for the Cipes pouring! This Riesling-based sparkling wine was the perfect accompaniment to the decadent selection of desserts that Judi had picked up for us to share from Peachland’s Bliss Bakery.
It was tough to pull ourselves away from Camp Okanagan and the Paradise Valley forests. Truly, it is the kind of place where you could linger long to enjoy great friends and cuisine. The cottages provide a lovely site for “glamping” and if you have a recreational vehicle, the RV sites are larger than you generally find in tourist locations.
The inaugural event for Chicks Who Wine is now a cherished memory and ideas are already formulating about what we’ll do next!