What do I find beautiful?
The crackling crust of a freshly baked sourdough. The velvety smoothness of a lemon curd tart. The competing salty sweet flavours of burned caramel. The sheen of perfectly tempered chocolate. The warmth of a luscious peach, plucked straight from the tree. In the world of professional kitchens, there can be a lot of chaos and noise, but somehow it never seems to overshadow the beauty. I’m looking through my photos from the summer, and I’m struck with equal parts of hunger and nostalgia.
Quince sorbet (with quince pate des fruits), pear sorbet (with vanilla-poached pears from our onsite orchard), and rhubarb sorbet (also grown onsite).
Now that the snow is lightly falling outside, and my fruit crisper is filled with Cara Cara oranges shipped from who-knows-how-far, I am in mourning for the experiences and flavours of the summer. Walking to the garden with a large bowl, soon to be filled with fresh cherries from our own tree. Picking edible flower garnishes in the sunshine. The meditative action of rolling boule after boule of sourdough.We made some gorgeous, edible works of art over the course of six months, and I miss it. Local blue cheese ice cream with quince sticky toffee pudding? Rhubarb poached in icewine? Oh, yes please.
Valrhona Guanaja Bombe: chocolate mousse filled with an Oculus cherry gelee. Served with toasted thyme marshmallows, Oculus cherries, and cassis foam. This was the sole chocolate dessert that we served all summer long, only because it paired beautifully with our big Bordeaux blends. Everything else was designed to be paired with icewine.
The thing that made our work so delicious, is that the food was beautiful, yes, but it was simple. We didn’t build towers of precariously balanced garnishes, and we used very little that wasn’t local, and even less that wasn’t fresh. We made what all food should be. We had organic flour milled just for us; we had an onsite gardener growing beautiful herbs and produce that we picked as needed; and of course, unlimited access to first rate wines and icewines to use in our dishes.
We also had the most stunning, technologically advanced kitchen I’ve ever seen, let enough been lucky enough to work at every day (HD cameras! Copper! Multiple induction cooktops! Paco Jets! Hearth oven! And a computerized convection oven that I still dream about.) I was spoiled. I knew it at the time, and now that I’ve been away for a few months, I recognize it even more. I had a management team of incredibly talented chefs to learn from. Both the Executive Winery Chef, Matthew Batey (Certified Chef du Cuisine) and our seasonal Pastry Chef, Rebekah Pearse (who was a competitor on the first season of Top Chef Canada, which aired during the summer while we worked together!) were ranked in Western Living Magazine’s Top 40 Foodies Under 40. Talk about talent to work with every day. I’d be lying if I said at the beginning that I wasn’t extremely nervous to work with either of them….but luckily, I think I did okay and lived to tell the tale.
French lemon tart (bruleed), served with raspberry sorbet and raspberry pearls.
During our orientation, Chef sent us out to one of our suppliers, a local family owned farm, to help out for a day. While planting blueberry bushes, weeding thorny tayberry vines, and popping young onions into the tilled soil, the soil-hands-mouth connection was confirmed. Food doesn’t arrive in clamshell containers on a refrigerated delivery truck. It doesn’t come from a factory. Flavour doesn’t come from a package. Real food, authentic food, flavourful food….it comes from nature. It’s tended with love and skill, and is harvested at just the right time. I left Mission Hill with a dog-eared notebook packed with recipes and hints, but most importantly, I left with a real appreciation for the idea of ‘eating local’ – it’s so much more than just a buzzword. When you pick the fruit with your own hands, or when you meet the forager who actually traipsed through the forest to supply your mushrooms, you respect that. It made me cook more carefully, forced me to waste less, and was a constant exercise in how showcase those spectacular natural flavours – do as little as possible to alter what nature has already done so perfectly. I thought I knew this before, but it wasn’t until coming to the Okanagan, Mother Nature’s garden, where I first saw just how beautiful food can be.
Triple-bruleed vanilla bean brulee, with preserved Rainier cherries and a sable cookie. Throughout the summer, flavours changed to include lavender, walnut, sweet corn, Tiger blue, autumn spice, pumpkin and I’m sure there are others I am forgetting.
The bread. Ohhh the bread. We made sourdough baguettes every day, and they were used for both lunch and dinner bread service. Sometimes we used flax, sometimes we used a local seven grain blend, and sometimes we used barley and beer. But always, every day, we used a sourdough starter that we tended to three times daily. Our baby, “B”, rewarded us with the most incredible, flavourful bread every day. I still have dreams about this bread.