Anita Stewart’s Canada File: RauDZ Regional Table, Kelowna, British Columbia
By Anita Stewart
So many people, be they media or marketers, try to define what culinary tourism means…the term “a sense of place” is overused. Meanwhile there are chefs and home cooks who are so far ahead of any definition that they will never really fit into a particular box. Corraling and defining a spirit like that of Rod Butters would have set Canadian cuisine back decades. And thankfully no one has ever been successful.
A bit of a renegade, what Chef Rod Butters has chronicled over the years—and what his diners have so generously responded to—are menus that reflect our community and profoundly regional culture… on a plate. His recipes demonstrate an utter commitment to the food of the Okanagan Valley, both cultivated and foraged. They also tell a story of a unique culinary calling.
To contextualize Rod’s career within Canadian cuisine demands that we remember the times in which he was growing and working, between the late 1970s and the 1990s. It’s only through this lens that we can see just how impressive his contribution has been. While thousands of chefs are now on the local food bandwagon, only a few were present when the wheels were affixed—and Rod Butters was one of them. These were the decades in our culinary history when the more exotic the ingredient was and the further it had travelled from some obscure corner of the planet, the more it was valued.
While Rod was learning to execute a host of delicious preparations at Toronto’s splendid Scaramouche (see Canada File August) a restaurant that it still on the forefront of dining excellence in that city, the notion of local procurement was just beginning to take shape in British Columbia. When Rod arrived in B.C. just after Expo ‘86, Vancouver was becoming a force on the national stage, yet food was still largely from away. On the cover of The Official Cookbook of Expo 86, author Susan Mendelson honoured the city’s great restaurateurs (of whom there were many), but nary a local supplier was mentioned. The word “gourmet” was being bandied about, yet Vancouver Island salt, Salt Spring Island mussels, and Cortes Island cultured oysters were nonexistent. And B.C. spot prawns, now prized by chefs across North America, were safely flitting about in their watery homes in the Strait of Georgia. The concept of authentic Pacific Northwest cuisine was just then being explored and pondered.
So envisage the utter bravado and daring of this young man, to imagine a locally sourced menu into being at a brand new, oceanside resort in a tiny village isolated by dense rainforest on one side and pounding surf on the other. Landing in Tofino as he did, with his creativity and chutzpah completely intact, he proceeded to put the Pointe Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn on Canada’s culinary map. With the support of the inordinately proud owners, the McDiarmid family, the Wick was awarded membership in Relais & Châteaux within a year of its inception—a feat that had never occurred prior to that time and, to my knowledge, has not happened since.
And it was this curiosity and chutzpah that spurred Rod and business partner Audrey Surrao on to Kelowna where they have built the backbone of a new era of dining in a city surrounded by mountains and vineyards.
Their great friend and another Pacific Northwest icon, Chef Bernard Casavant soon followed, and as a result, the city has blossomed into the culinary heart of one of the most dynamic gastronomic regions in North America.
Theirs is no secret formula to RauDZ success, they simply celebrate the seasons with a hyper-local menu and a 100% BC wine list! They also coined the moniker “Liquid Chef” for their bartender because the cocktails, like the food, are created with the valley’s harvest. Cherries, peaches, rhubarb, raspberries, even lavender…they’ll all find their way onto RauDZ’s cocktail menu.
You may want to dine on Peace Country lamb from the northern extemities of the Province or linguine of wild boar or the daily Codfather’s (their fishmongers) selection but someone should make sure to try the handmade Parmesan gnocchi, the baked fish and chips in a chickpea flour batter or, my favourite, the oat-crusted Arctic char.
And whenever you go, make sure that to allow enough time to visit as many of the valley’s wineries as you possibly can. The best guide? RauDZ wine list!
Rod and Audrey have four restaurants, the original being RauDZ. The others, Micro-bites, Sunny’s Modern Diner (named after Rod’s golden sidekick) and Terrafina Winery are in or near Kelowna. For details check here. http://www.raudz.com/
Anita Stewart is the Food Laureate for the University of Guelph and founder of Food Day Canada. She holds a graduate degree in Gastronomy from Le Cordon Bleu/University of Adelaide and is a Member of the Order of Canada. She lives in Ontario.