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Cooking up Something New in British Columbia

Check out this story from Tourism BC. Scroll down for Okanagan highlights on our very own Wild Apple Restaurant & Lounge and RauDz Regional Table Restaurant.

Rich with fertile fields and bountiful waters, British Columbia has more than its fair share of great ingredients. Luckily, it also has more than its fair share of people finding innovative ways to prepare them. That wasn’t always the case. Even a quarter-century ago, most restaurants could offer little more than fish ‘n’ chips, burgers or, for an exotic night out, Chinese-Canadian chop suey or baked pasta.

Then, almost overnight, something wonderful happened. Great cooks and restaurateurs arrived from England, Japan, China, France, Italy and across North America. What they discovered was an abundance of terrific local produce and a populace starving for someone to do something with it.

Among them was the soft-spoken John Bishop, a consummate gentleman and most unlikely revolutionary. Born in Wales and trained as a chef in Britain, he arrived in Vancouver in 1973 and started cooking with the city’s famous Italian culinary entrepreneur Umberto Menghi. In 1985, he opened his own restaurant, and Vancouver cuisine has never been the same.

In this cosy little converted house in Kitsilano, Bishop’s Restaurant introduced British Columbians to such unsung local delicacies as spot prawns and pine mushrooms, and began a lifelong celebration of local farmers, local artists and local winemakers. And, perhaps most importantly, he passed that passion for great local ingredients on to countless other cooks, including his current executive chef, the talented Andrea Carlson.

Carlson has a unique palate that can put together the unlikeliest of ingredients to create culinary magic — bacon-wrapped pheasant breast with a sour cherry and Brussels sprout sauté, for instance — almost as if she is creating new flavours entirely. She is also a passionate gardener who believes that eating local starts, quite literally, at home.

Now that idea of finding culinary treasure in our own backyards is influencing a whole new generation of young restaurateurs.

They’re discovering local ingredients, true, but they’re also discovering — and re-discovering — local traditions. In fact, many of them are learning that the most exciting new cuisine might just be the one they grew up with.

At Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie, owner Tannis Ling is exploring not only her family’s Taiwanese heritage, but Vancouver’s historic Chinatown, a once-neglected neighbourhood that is experiencing a remarkable renaissance. In a quirky old Keefer Street building, she and Chef Joel Watanabe have introduced a fresh approach to favourites like the “Dan Dan Revolution” spicy noodle dish or the succulent steamed buns filled with braised short ribs. It’s traditional comfort food, but it is also deliciously new and modern Chinese fare.

Of course, Vancouver isn’t the only place in British Columbia where chefs and restaurateurs are cooking up something new.

On the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Sooke Harbour House has come to define a uniquely regional style of cooking the same way the Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse defined California cuisine in the 1970s.

Sinclair and Frederique Philip bought the white inn overlooking the Whiffen Spit in 1979, planning to recreate the rustically authentic lifestyle of her home in France. They were obsessively local and organic long before it was fashionable, and soon were serving such local exotica as foraged wild mushrooms and sea asparagus, as well as free-range Berkshire pork, tender shellfish and organic greens from their own gardens, all prepared simply, but with flair and handfuls of edible flowers. The accolades poured in.

Not content to rest on his laurels, Sinclair Philip became active in the Slow Food movement: he co-founded the Vancouver Island Slow Food convivium, and in 2003, he became president of Slow Food Canada, and began his work as a Canadian representative on the International Slow Food Board.

Along the way, he also inspired some talented cooks, including Edward Tuson, who manned the stoves at Sooke Harbour House for 12 years before opening his own place in 2009 with his wife, Gemma. The EdGe, also in Sooke, serves casual, handmade fare such as charcuterie, pasta and salad. What makes it new and fresh, even revolutionary, is the way Tuson combines backcountry simplicity with exceptional local ingredients and serious culinary talent.

This passion for innovative local cuisine goes right across British Columbia from the islands to the mountains. It is, for instance, the same sort of approach that proprietors Paul and Julia Archambault take at the All Seasons Café in the beautiful West Kootenays town of Nelson.

Since it opened its doors in 1995, the quirkily elegant All Seasons Café has provided just what this cultured mountain town didn’t realize it had been craving all along: terrific, mostly local ingredients prepared with the light but creative hand of Chef Byron Bingeman. It’s well worth venturing down the discreet alley to find this heritage home and sample whatever he’s conjured up lately. Perhaps it’s a fragrant honey-and-coffee duck breast, the orange-glazed halibut or simply the daily pâté, so perfect with the restaurant’s wide selection of Okanagan Valley wines.

The Okanagan, too, is seeing something of a culinary revolution. For decades, the valley was a family holiday destination known more for its “peaches and beaches” than its gourmet fare. Then some of Western Canada’s greatest chefs discovered the valley’s remarkable produce and laidback lifestyle. They decided it was high time British Columbia had a real wine-country cuisine.

That’s just what Chef Bernard Casavant set out to create at the Wild Apple Restaurant & Lounge in the Manteo Resort. Casavant, formerly of the Chateau Whistler, Bocuse d’Or and Sonora Room at Burrowing Owl Winery, has plundered the best of the province’s orchards, streams and fields for delectable dishes like roasted carrot brie soup, star-anise-infused salmon and a roast duck breast crusted with a Mountain Berry tea marinade.

And one can’t reference revolutionary cuisine in BC without looking to innovator Rodney Butters. He had already achieved numerous career firsts, including opening the legendary Wickaninnish Inn on Vancouver Island in 1996, when he and his business partner, Audrey Surrao, moved to Kelowna to open the luxurious Fresco Restaurant a decade ago. Then, in 2009, they transformed Fresco into RauDZ Regional Table Restaurant.

At RauDZ, you will find the kind of menu items you might have found on a casual dinner menu 25 years ago. But each has been elevated with quality organic ingredients and housemade condiments to create something utterly modern: baked fish and chips in chickpea batter, for instance, wild boar rigatoni, grilled salmon “BLT” or grass-fed beef burgers with “real” relish.

So old, and yet so very new. It’s just what innovative British Columbian cuisine is all about. –Joanne Sasvari

For more information on these and other BC producers, visit www.HelloBC.com/foodandwine.

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