Known as " the California of Canada "
I honestly don't know where to start with this post. Because if you read it and expect the same experience once you arrive then i can't help but feel like you’ll be disappointed. I ended up lucking into some situations that would of been impossible without connections.
I got the night bus from Vancouver to Kelowna ( 12am - 7:30 am ). My original plan was to go from Vancouver to Halifax via train but as i was looking up connections and time tables i quickly noticed that a train was even more expensive than a plane !! But it was 4 days opposed to 4 hours. As much as i would have loved to train my way across and take in all the scenery i just can't justify double the price and time. Only if i had 3 months to travel across and enjoy the different stops along the way. Not to mention i met the most interesting people via bus these past few weeks! This time i met a Heli Ski Guide and a Salmon Fishing Guide that was busing all the way to ONTARIO that had some rad stories and a older man that was making endless jokes but was also really old school and got riled up over politics and then a weird guy that made really inappropriate bad jokes.. He didn't last long in our circle.
So i arrive via Greyhound in Kelowna freezing cold from the insane AC on the bus and sleep deprived after only 2 or 3 hours of sleep. But it was already 20 degrees out at 7:30 and i found a Starbucks across the road and carried my massive backpack over to wake myself up. An old college from the Merchant Tavern, James Hanna, was working in Kelowna as Chef De Cuisine of Raudz so i was spending my time in the city with him. He picked me up around 8:30 and took me for a small tour and glass of champagne at a vineyard by 9:30am. After i showered off the bus and got changed we headed to Raudz sister restaurant Sunny's for brunch and i got a bowl filled with quinoa, veggies, poached eggs and arugula while James got scrambled eggs on peanut butter and toast which was strange and amazing all at once.
Me being me i decided the best thing for me to do on my first day that was 30 degrees outside was to work at a restaurant for free for 12 hours. Anyone who knows me isn't thrown off by this which is why James offered for me to work at their other restaurant Micro for the day that was slaying Spanish tapas with a twist and cocktails to die for. Not to mention their local beer on tap has a “juicy” IPA, “Back hand of god” stout, Raspberry wheat, Pineapple lager and other delicious options. The kitchen was small, visible to all guests and was a hard working team of two with no dishwasher. It felt like my first job at The Reluctant Chef in the small kitchen just pushing food with all your heart and soul and hoping you don't get in the weeds. From 12 - 12 i felt back in my element and was helping prep in any way they needed and learned new techniques and pairings i would of never thought of.
They have duck fat popcorn with rosemary salt. COMEON. People literally came in and got a take out order of popcorn and left while i was there. That's what everyone wants for a movie night right ?! I think they should be selling it by the bag.
The team there was so vibrant and welcoming that i felt like i've been there for months! Filled with jokes, laughter and knowledge when it came to their alcohol i felt at home. Finishing that evening and giving back the apron was one of the hardest things i had to do this whole trip. I think the both of us know i'll be back there at some point.
Float Planes And Small Mountains
When i said that my experience was out of pure connections and luck i wasn't kidding. I had a friend staying in Kelowna doing Flight school at the time and after reaching out to catch a coffee it turned out he had a flight at 8 am the next morning and invited me to tag along! With a 7:45 am meet time and a massive smile on my face i walked down to the yacht club and met Eoin to experience a float plane for the first time.
Thinking that this would be like a half hour up and down i was still excited. Turns out it was a 2 hour flight block and we went across the Okanagan lake and beyond some stunning valleys. I hardly spoke because i was at a loss for words as i started to develop a kink in my neck from looking down so much!
We landed at 10 am and grabbed a coffee at an Italian coffee shop that had granola bars the size of my face. Wondering where my day would take me i decided to meet James again to get some keys and go on a solo hike in Knox to see if i could build my appetite for dinner at Raudz that night. James met me with his bike for me to use and i was so excited to bike all over Kelowna and pretend that i was a resident like everyone else roaming around the streets on bicycles.
I packed a bag with water and my camera and embarked on what became a 2-3 hour hike under the hot sun. with stunning view all along the lake i felt like i was hiking the coast of the ocean. Sometimes you'd forget that the lake just ends and it doesn't lead into the ocean because i'm so used to living on an island. There was stop point where people were swimming, houses that had to be work 10 million dollars, wild sunflowers and a slight breeze. There was a few options for trails in Knox and i figured id do them all at some point so i just picked a random one and went on my way.
Post hike i met up with Eoin and his roommate Riley in their old 1980’s red pick up truck, put the bike in the back and had a BBQ and ciders on their picnic table. I was officially pregamed and ready for more food at Raudz. I changed into my only nice outfit and realized the button was broke.. Thinking of a quick solution using a safety pin i was quickly faced with the fact it was a Sunday and no one who carried them was opened within walking distance. Settling for paper clips i figured it out and walked to the restaurant with the remaining 149 paperclips in my pocket.
I sat at the bar and ordered a cocktail while i drooled over the menu and weighed the pros and cons of my options, wondering how many i could eat without getting full too quick. It was really hard because i wanted one of everything and it was just me.. I caved and got the beef tartar because i have a soft spot for it. It came out with a classic style dressing, crostini and garnish that was art. The bartender asked me if i was done when i had 2 crostini left and some beef and i just looked at him dead straight and said “ don't you dare take that “. I get way too serious when it comes to beef tartar. I was just simply trying to savour my last few bites before it was gone forever. Next followed a Crab Cappuccino that was so delicious and rich in flavour i just wanted to soak a whole baguette in it. With its bisque style broth , pieces of crab and a thick foam finish my palate was dancing. The following dish was their white fish of the day in a bouillabaisse with cherry tomatoes, Parisian potatoes and a crostini dressed with pesto and micro greens. I was so full but i managed to make room for the elegant dish in front of me. A good Bouillabaisse is hard to come by with the correct balance in the broth but Raudz nailed it.
I rolled myself out of there but with a smile on my face and the question of what i could of eaten if i had someone there to help me out.
A day spent tasting wine
If you're spending time in the Okanagan valley you need to dedicate at least one day to just touring wineries. I would recommend a solid week of it buts thats just me. There's literally hundreds.
As we started our adventure for the day we drove past a place called The Parlour which always had a lineup for its famous ice cream that wrapped around the corner. What made it so special ? well theres only one way to find out. So we parked the car and figured theres no better way to start the day than with an ice cream. They had the option of one scoop or two - which meant one flavour or 2. obviously i was going for the 2 because if you just try one flavour then you're wasting your time. ( in Italy i averaged 3 scoops at a time because well.. gelato ). So you'd assume its 2 scoops with one scoop of each flavour right? Wrong.I picked whisky hazelnut and pistachio.
Before i knew it i had 4 scoops of ice cream on a homemade waffle cone and my jaw was on the floor. It was in a cone and we were driving for another 20 minutes so its not like i could only eat half because it was 30 degrees out and melting like a snowman on a hot day so what do you do !? You eat it all. In record time. and let your inner child jump with glee as you cover your face in sweet milky greatness.
First we arrived at Mission Hill Family Estate Winery and were greeted by beautiful gates and the great Oculous. You can choose between a few tasting that average from $10-$15 for 4 wines and some higher end wines for their own price. We started with a lineup of 3 Chardonnays that you'd almost say were from completely different families side by side. The first bursted with acidy and almost suited a Pinot Grigio more, the second had more oak and soared with aromas of sponge toffee and caramel. The third was lightly aged in french oak and carried a sense of elegance. We followed the whites with their Syrah and Cabernet Franc. The Syrah was one of the best reds i've ever had. Notes of black liquorice and cinnamon filled my nose and its slight spice and full body wrapped itself around my tongue. We finished it all up with a taste of the Oculus that was valued at $150 a bottle and left me debating a membership for their Estate even though i didn't leave there. The Winery itself carried enough pride to leave you feeling honoured to have tasted their experience.
Next we went to Quails Gate Winery where their wines matched perfectly with a summers day and a patio in the sun. We started with their most popular white - Pinot Grigio that burst with citrus and floral notes. Followed with a chardonnay that carried more oak then those at Mission Hill and a Rosé that as too acidic for me but had the dryness that satisfied those cravings in the summer heat. This tasting was $5 which was just amazing.
Our next stop was my favourite. Im actually drinking their Pinot Gris as we speak. The Hatch. We were served by a real wine enthusiast from Ontario that was pouring passion into her tastings. We actually came here because they carried orange wine and ive never had one! Little did we know that this was the tip of the iceberg. When you wonder what the company is about you get answers - " ‘the hatch’ is a tasting emporium, an emporium the likes not seen before here in The Okanagan. But on a meta-level, ‘the hatch’ is the culmination of dreams had by a group of eccentric grapeophiles who have lived and learned the way of the vine for countless years. On a direct level, ‘the hatch’ is an inviting, warm, rustic and entertaining ‘shack from the future’ that invites anyone to come by, try some wine or to just enjoy their lives for however long they can spare to spend with us." Tell me how you don't fall in love with a place like this. We started with their Pinot Gris that leave the skin on for part of their fermentation. The aromas from the wine are apricots and marmalade with a palate of unripe peaches and acidity that tingles your tastebuds if drank at room temperature. Followed by the orange wine which seemed like the bottle consisted of orange peel, kumquats and honey. This wine has the nose of a sweet wine but was actually light and refreshing on the palate. Next was their Rosé and Dynasty White that filled the room with oak like the perfect chardonnay. As you're looking at their beautiful art work and wondering this whole concept came from they provide you with more answers "Directly, ‘the hatch’ is a beautiful location with one of the most ridiculous views of the region that has ever been seen. On the Meta, ‘the hatch’ is the absolute culmination of the wants and dreams of a select, rare and bizarre cadre of people who are unconcerned about the convention and now have a chance to show the world exactly what real wine, real hospitality and real people are all about. ‘the hatch’ is the direct confluence of all our favourite arts; the liquid arts, the visual arts and the living arts; finally together and together forever."
Next we went to Terrafina which was an hour an a half away. It was another sister restaurant of Raudz so i figured if i already went to 3 i might as well do all 4 ! They had their own winery called Hester Creek and a restaurant ran by a lot of talented cooks. On the way we grabbed a bag of sweet chilli heat chips and tried some sparkling wine at a small vineyard in Peach Town - Its a real place i swear. We arrived at Terrafina around 5 and ordered their famous Caesar ( i know a Caesar at a winery.. im sorry but it was delicious ) and they have a build your own charcuterie board section so we went overboard on that obviously. We ordered their sausage of the day, smoked salmon pâté, prosciutto, tapenade , cracker bread, potato pâté, grilled artichokes and pickled veg. And of course a glass of white wine. Next came a Risotto with walnuts then the Carbonera and steak which were bursting with flavour and not to mention the beautiful view. It was all clued up with a chocolate tasting that sums up my addiction with a silk chocolate truffle, a square of dreams a chocolate macaroon with plum filling.