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Les Dames d'Escoffier Dinner in the Vineyard

Spierhead Winery 
August 12 at 6:00 o'clock in the evening found dozens of restaurants, vineyards, gardens, and cooking schools, from Vancouver Island to the Okanagan valley each generously donating one table for a dinner party all across the province of British Columbia. I imagined all of these venues toasting, sipping, and dining concurrently all across the province. We were more than ready for another culinary adventure despite the sky breaking loose for a very brief thunder and lightning show. We were greeted with warm, inviting smiles and happily cocooned ourselves indoors at a beautifully set table in the tasting room for this annual fund raising event from Les Dames d'Escoffiers. Our chosen venue of the dozens offered here in Kelowna was Spierhead Winery in East Kelowna co-owned by our host Dame Marina Knutson. She teamed up with Dame Audrey Surrao of RauDZ Regional Table for a spectacular "picnic" dinner created by one of their talented chefs (Top Chef Canada alumni) Evelynn Takoff. 

The main goal of Les Dames d'Escoffier organization is to raise funds for their scholarship programs  which support women in the culinary industry to learn, advance, and gain expertise in their field. These woman get a much needed boost of support to reach their goals and hone their skills.

The namesake of Les Dames d'Escoffier Auguste Escoffier was the most innovative French chef in history whose philosophy and accomplishments serve as both an exemplary model and inspiration.  He was a chef, restaurateur and culinary writer who popularised and modernised traditional French cooking methods. No other figure has done more to contribute to the history of culinary arts and raise the stature of cooking as a highly respected career path.

The most famous member of the organisation that comes to mind was the one and only Julia Child.   Julia Child said in 2004, "Since its incorporation 25 years ago, Les Dames d’Escoffier has followed its mission to elevate the profession through mentoring its members and helping worthy students succeed in their culinary careers. I am proud to be a member."

Although I am not fortunate enough to be a member myself I wanted to offer my support in some small way, and what better way than to experience a "picnic" by one of the premier farm-to-table restaurants in town with a never-ending sea of glasses of wine from Spierhead Winery paired expertly with each course.

Spierhead Winery
Our hosts RauDZ Regional Table and micro bar • bites is co-owned by Dame Audrey Surrao whom I heard has been hosting a dinner for at least 3 years. At their restaurant RauDZ Regional Table the philosophy is simple. ’Support local, buy local, eat and drink local."They are an integral part of our farm-to-table movement here in the Okanagan Valley. What you will find at their restaurants are pure, simple flavours with a fun presentation. They shone like the brightest star at the dinner last night!

The setting
Those lucky enough to live in the valley eat well to the point where we take it for granted. But while home cooks have long turned out amazing dishes for appreciative guests, the idea of a formal Okanagan cuisine is blossoming as we come into our own. But the idea is still relatively new. Based on the local produce harvested and their ability to pair beautifully with the region’s wines, the Okanagan’s version of wine country Okanagan Cuisine is simple, fresh and relatively free of garnishes and sauces. 

Of course we cannot forget our second star the wines by SpierHead Winery and Vineyard which is situated along Spiers Road on the benches just a stones throw from the city in south east Kelowna. It is  part of the Fab Five Wine Trail. Surrounded by mountains with sweeping views down to the lake we peered through long-established vineyards and orchards.  It was the ideal setting for our special evening provided by our hosts. 
Fun Presentations

The owners created SpierHead Winery in just a few short years and are already turning heads with their polished, elegant wines. The winery’s focus is on wine produced from a combination of sustainably farmed, estate-grown grapes. Fruit ripened to perfection is sourced from their own vineyard as well as in Summerland further south. The grapes are hand-harvested, sorted at the winery, and fermented in small lots by winemaker Bill Pierson.
From their website, "The winery building has been built into a north-facing slope, allowing for a completely underground barrel cellar. The focused portfolio currently includes Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir Rosé, along with a Pinot Noir and two Bordeaux-style red blends, Pursuit and Vanguard. Reds are aged in 100% French oak, featuring a curated mix of the very best barrels from France, including Dargaud and Jaegle, Francois Freres, and Taransaud, among others."

Prawn Cocktail with Avocado Mousse and Jalapeño Gazpacho. Can you see the goldfish!!!

For tonight's dinner the scene was set with a gorgeous long wooden table  topped with a sea of sparkling crystal soon to be filled with premium Spierhead wines. There were strains of soothing  music in the background. White plates and silverware were set, table decorations arranged from flowers to candles. Our senses were heightened and as I've said before we were more than ready for a highly anticipated evening. Candles flickered and nature created the backdrop, a kaleidoscope show of colour in the fading light competing for the centre of attention with the menu. It turned out to be a beautiful evening with gentle breezes and a magical ambience.

Our evening began with warm smiles and a glass of Spierhead Winery Rose which is quite dry overall with tart berry notes and a fresh finish. First on the menu was an amuse bouche of Compressed Watermelon with Gin Cocktail Pipette. I am sure I had two!!!

This was followed by a fun presentation where we were served a Prawn Cocktail with Avocado Mousse and Jalapeño Gazpacho. But what's that? Each bowl had it's own resident goldfish!!! How fun is that!!! I assure you that no goldfish were harmed in the making of this dish.  I felt this was paired expertly with a stunning Pinot Gris with its aromatically intense pear and tropical fruit aromas.

Clockwise - Compressed Watermelon with Gin Cocktail Pipette; Heirloom Tomatoes with Quark Cheese and Grilled Cornbread; Ballantine of Fraser Valley Rabbit with Local Potatoes, Beans, Summer Squash ands Corn Aioli; Okanagan Fruit Tart with Lavender Sorbet and Almond Crunch Soil

Next a kaleidoscope of colour and flavour with platters groaning with local ingredients with a mixture of Heirloom Tomatoes with Quark Cheese and Grilled Cornbread, and Fraser Valley Rabbit Ballontine with local heritage potatoes, beans, summer squash, and corn aioli. We were fortunate enough to try their coveted 2013 Pinot Noir aged in French oak which has been sold out for a while. This is an elegantly crafted cool-climate red striking the right balance between jammy berries and crisp acidity with tones of earth and spice. It paired beautifully with the rabbit.

And for dessert…an Okanagan Fruit Tart with Charred Yogurt, Lavender Sorbet and Almond Crunch Soil.  Did I mention that this years campaign with Les Dames d'Escoffier was “Celebrating Our Roots” in recognition of this year being the International Year of Soils. The tart was simply sublime with its gluten free pastry.

There were other wines such as their Chardonnay and Riesling, there were stories swapped, there was teasing, and goldfish tragedy all rolled into one exceptional evening. Good company and wonderful food made this event a must for next year. Now that it is on your radar I am sure you will take the pilgrimage and support our local aspiring chefs. I  will not miss it next year!!

Clockwise: New patio at Spierhead Winery; Dames Marina Knutson pouring; Dames Audrey Surrao, Chef Evelynn Takoff, guest, Dames Marina Knutson

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison.

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Les Dames d'Escoffier Dinner in the Vineyard


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