Original article written for The Vancouver Sun.
Peripatetic. It’s a word my friend uses to describe me, and my insatiable thirst for travel. I take it as a compliment and assume he intended it as such, although I’ve never confirmed and the conclusion suits me just fine.
In a previous life as a designer, I was so firmly planted at a desk that daydreams of exploration bubbled on the back burner, concentrating with each passing year.
After deciding to move to Paris for pastry school, I immersed myself in pursuing my palate and caught a severe case of wanderlust. Since, my appetite for discovery has only grown with my girth, and I continue to satisfy my hunger through travel.
Many years and dishes later, I join a magical long table dinner by Joy Road Catering in the heart of the Okanagan Valley, perched atop the aptly named God’s Mountain. At dusk, the summer sun refracts on glasses sitting neatly at each setting, adorning the white tablecloths under a canopy of trees.
A small group of strangers with a familiar love of food mingle over a glass of rosé from a winery down the road, Joie. As if planting me deeper into the soil of the moment, the winemaker Heidi Noble, pours her creation into my glass and introduces herself as I bite into a concentrated and almost briny bit of pissaladière; all of it, a perfect pairing.
A dinner bell rings and it’s time to eat. Dana Ewart, the chef and partner of Joy Road, reads a quote from American chef Alice Waters about the integrity of local eating, which could seem trite in some cases, but incredibly genuine coming from those who embody this ideal with the proper balance of humility and leadership.
As the sky turns to shades of pinks and violets, twinkling lights emerge from the trees and we break bread, feasting on dishes of shucked peas, still green and lively, tarts with local mushrooms, shortbread with fresh lavender and mint tea grown from neighbouring gardens. After the evening ends, I retire to my roofless room, take a bath under the stars and sleep with airy gauze barely separating me, and the warm evening air.
A few days later, I was given directions to visit Ewart and partner Cameron Smith, at “the second house to the left on Joy Road.” It’s there that I understood the integrity and passion required to live “locally,” a simple, trendy concept to the best of us “foodies.”
Joy Road Catering is about terroir, a word that has no equivalent in the English language. Its essence is a convergence of a place, its soil, its climate, a culture and their highest ideals, most often translated into the one language we all speak, food. In the Okanagan, it smells of plums and meaty sage, of bleached sun reflecting off sandy stone, passionate farmers and winemakers verging on virtuous, and tree fruits so plump, their juices ease out as they ripen.
Above all, Ewart and Smith believe in going back to the land. They spent years apprenticing and working under some of Canada’s most significant chefs at restaurants such as Toqué, Le Passe Partout and Avalon Restaurant.
They would spend weekends foraging for lobster mushrooms and chanterelles in rural woods and collecting wild blueberries, ramps and nettles for the kitchen. And like the bravest of us, they dared to ask the question, “Who do we want to become?” and naturally following, “What kind of food do we want to create?”
They decided on food that was honest and so their life took a turn, building a kitchen in 2005 in a home and in a community, in the second house to the left on Joy Road. With their pigs, affectionately named Notorious P. I. G and Orwell, rabbits and a crew of devoted apprentices eager to learn the art of cooking mindfully, their intent to respect terroir created a culture of terroir itself.
They reminded me that terroir is at the core of why I love food and travel: it’s more than just the food itself. It’s the people behind it, and the stories behind the people, and the flavours woven within the stories. I’ve been inspired by the depth in each dish I’ve tasted and by the hands that have shared them. And so I share with you the first of many flavours to come as the Wandering Gourmand.
In honour of terroir, these recipes gifted to me by Joy Road Catering have been chosen to be seasonal and local.
Ripe Peaches with Prosciutto
During the months of July and August, Okanagan peaches are at their peak. Sweet, tangy, juicy, and a twist on the usual melon, they pair perfectly with the salty prosciutto and aromatic basil.
6 ripe Okanagan Peaches (freestone)
36 leaves of purple or green basil
12 slices of aged local prosciutto, thinly sliced (Oyama Sausage)
Cut each peach into 6 slices. Cut prosciutto slices into three long strips. Top each peach slice with a basil leaf and wrap with a ribbon of prosciutto. Keep in the refrigerator and serve cool or at room temperature as an appetizer.
Roast Chicken with Sage Pesto
The Okanagan Valley grows plentiful with sage and when mixed with B.C. hazelnuts in this variation of a classic pesto inspired by Zuni Café, it takes on an earthiness fitting its terroir. Try pairing this versatile pesto on barbecued fish, as a spread in a pork sandwich or even as a topping for hot fingerling potatoes.
For the Pesto:
1/2 cup (125 mL) Okanagan sage leaves, firmly packed
1 cup (250 mL) olive oil
2 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup (250 mL) hazelnut flour
1 tsp (5 mL) fine sea salt, or to taste
2/3 cup (160 mL) Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, finely grated
Chop the sage leaves coarsely. Gently heat sage with olive oil in a pan until warmed but not cooked. Pound garlic and salt in a mortar and pestle until it becomes a paste. Add the warm sage and oil to the garlic mixture and pound until smooth. Mix in hazelnut flour and cheese. Keep in refrigerator and serve cool or at room temperature.
Makes 2 cups
For the Chicken Brine:
16 cups (4 L) water
2/3 cup (160 mL) salt
1 cup (250 mL) brown sugar
1 head of garlic, cut in half
10 peppercorns, whole
2 bay leaves
1 bunch of thyme
3-4 lbs (1.4-1.8 kg) whole chicken (see note)
Dissolve salt and sugar in the water, in a large container. Add the remainder of the ingredients and the whole chicken. Let the chicken soak in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours.
For the Roast Chicken:
3 large shallots, cut in half or quarters
5 cloves of garlic, whole
1 ½ lbs (680g) small potatoes
½ cup (125 mL) olive oil
2 lemons, sliced in quarters
1 large bunch of sage
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp pepper
Preheat oven to 450 F (230 C).
Remove the chicken from the brine 1-2 hours before roasting, rinse and dry very well with paper towels. Salt and pepper the inside cavity of the chicken and stuff with lemon and sage.
Place shallots, potatoes and garlic in a shallow roasting pan and rest the chicken on top. Drizzle olive oil over the bird and vegetables.
Top with salt and pepper and place in the hot oven.
Roast for 15 minutes and turn down the temperature to 350 F (175 C) and roast for an additional 20 minute per pound, or until the juices of the chicken run clear. Set aside to rest for 15 minutes and serve hot with the pesto.
Note: Maple Hill Farms has very good, local, free-run, non-medicated chickens
Santa Rosa Plum Tart
This tart is so simple to make and any summer B.C. fruit that you have on hand can be substituted. It’s a staple at Joy Road Catering’s farmers market stall, where locals come to buy their beautiful bread and sweets.
1 large or 6-8 individual tart shells, blind baked and cooled
1 ½ cups (375 mL) ripe Santa Rosa plums
1/4 cup (125 mL) butter
Juice of one lemon
2 large eggs
¾ cup (180 mL) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp (7.5 mL) plum brandy
½ tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
1/8 tsp (0.5 mL) fine sea salt
3 tbsp (45 mL) all purpose flour, sifted
2 tbsp (30 mL) heavy cream
¼ cup (60 mL) icing sugar
Preheat oven to 375 F
Brown the butter in a small saucepan, swirling frequently, until it begins to foam and has a toasted colour and scent. Take off the heat as it reaches a medium to dark golden colour and mix in lemon juice. Cool to room temperature.
Whisk eggs and sugar in a medium bowl until it lightens in colour and thickens in texture. Whisk in brandy or liqueur, vanilla, salt, cream and flour. Slowly pour the brown butter into the batter, in a thin stream while whisking, until fully incorporated.
Pour batter into tart shell(s). Scatter fruit within the tart and bake for 40-50 minutes for a large tart, 20-25 minutes for individual tarts or until the edges are golden brown. Allow to cool to room temperature, dust with icing sugar and serve.
Makes 1 large tart or 6-8 individual tarts
Images by Jackie Kai Ellis, Ellen Ho and Chris Mason Stearns