Chef Jeff Van Geest says cooking is about learning and building on a body of knowledge
Jeff Van Geest has a loosely formed mission statement for his approach to cooking for his clientele, but he says it’s all in his head. Not that he’s ad-libbing. His menus at Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Winery in Oliver are well thought out using local, seasonal ingredients and, like many chefs, he interprets a lot from other cultures.
Has family contributed to your interest in food?
JVG: My family weren’t chefs although we were good cooks. My one grandfather was a gardener-for-hire with a small kitchen garden at home and my other grandfather had an orchard and strawberry farm. Both on the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario.
How did you land in the Okanagan?
JVG: I moved to BC because of a recession in Ontario in the early ’90s and I couldn’t get a job cooking. I took the culinary course at Vancouver Community College and worked my way up. I worked with Bernard Casavant and learned a lot from him, but it was at Bishop’s in Kitsilano where I really sharpened my talents. Every step of the way I learned something new and important.
After 20 years in Vancouver, my wife Melanie and I started looking around for someplace to raise a family. We tried different places like the Kootenays and Gulf Islands before coming to the Okanagan. While working at Burrowing Owl I was introduced to Manny Ferreira and invited to become the executive chef for his new restaurant at Tinhorn Creek.
What region affects your style?
JVG: When I first started visiting the Okanagan the dry rolling hills reminded me of the Mediterranean region—around the south of Spain and Morocco. It was the landscape that really made me want to introduce this cuisine to the region. Our wood-fired pizza oven got me making Neapolitan-style pizzas right from the start and it seemed to me that this was an authentic approach to food.
Any there any Mediterranean regional foods you don’t prepare?
JVG: Definitely no French. It’s not that I don’t like it, but there are other interesting cuisines out there to explore.
JVG: We make our own sausages and smoked meats. I produce a lot of our own charcuterie like mortadella. Right now I have a prosciutto (smoked ham) that’s been hanging for nearly a year and is just about ready. (Charcuteries are meat products like pâté, terrines, pressed meats and brined meats that take their taste from the preservation process. They are usually associated with pork, but can be any meat.)
Do you use any special equipment?
JVG: No, other than the pizza oven, but if I recommended anything, it would be a good cast iron pan—a frying pan. It has to be well-seasoned and you should clean it by gently rubbing the cooking surface then oiling it with warm oil before putting it away. Never, never use soap on it.
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