Celebrating Asparagus with Joy Road Catering Alfresco Dinner at God’s Mountain Estate
Dana Ewart of Joy Road catering is ringing a dinner bell. She is summoning guests scattered around the garden sipping Blue Mountain Brut to the table. Joy Road Catering, a unique local catering company with an expanding reach is owned and run by the lovely young duo of Dana Ewart and Cameron Smith. Both Dana and Cameron are trained under some of the best chefs in Toronto. After meeting in culinary school, working at top Toronto restaurants and travelling the world, the Okanagan was calling their name and thankfully, they packed their knives and kitchen tools and made the permanent move to Penticton in the southern Okanagan.
Dana and Cameron set up camp on Joy Road and the rest as they say is history. They begun by selling pastries at the Penticton Farmers market, which they continue to do every Saturday during the season. Their beautiful rustic fruit galettes made with local fruits attract people from all around the valley and their stall has become a landmark at the market. As their catering operation developed they focused on local ingredients used at their prime, helping promote sustainable agriculture in the process. Sourcing local ingredients, working with local purveyors of food and wine and showcasing the Okanagan culinary bounty has become their signature style and they call it, aptly, Cuisne de Terroir. Going the extra mile, Dana and Cameron raise their own pigs and chicken and even display the beautiful powder blue newly hatched Aracana eggs form their chickens at their alfresco dinners.
The alfresco dinners at God’s Mountain are a signature offering during the season (from June to October). God’s Mountain Estate is a bed and breakfast situated on the eastern cliffs overlooking Skaha lake near Penticton, within an hour drive south of Kelowna. The Mediterranean style rambling villa with whitewashed exterior houses 14 guest rooms, each with its own unique decor and each opening to the breathtaking view of Skaha lake below. The long dinner table for the alfresco dinners is set in the garden with stunning views of the lake and beyond. It a sight to behold.
The dinner last Sunday featured a menu celebrating local asparagus and I was looking forward to another one of their vegetable-centered dinners. When we arrived we were greeted by no other than Dana herself, apron and all, who offered a glass of Blue Mountain Brut to go with the oysters on half shell passed around by the all female staff. Considering that she was about to serve dinner for a crowd she seemed calm and collected, even after catering three events the day before, including media event at Black Hills Winery, a rotary auction event and an informal beer tasting tailgate served from the back of the Joy Road van to the chefs and owners afterwards.
We were summoned to dinner by the ring of the bell. The table was set in the garden overlooking Skaha lake under the shade of the trees overhead. We settled at the beautifully laid table covered with crisp white linen and sparkling glassware. A small sprig of fresh lavender was carefully set at each place setting over top of the printed menu and covered with an empty water glass turned upside down, a signature touch of Joy Road with seasonal variations (sometimes it’s cherries, berries or other flowers). A few freshly baked round of fougasse with whole olives peeking through were interspersed along the table, each with its own bowl of herb butter, ready for us to break bread together. Garden flowers including lilies and peonies added a touch of colour to the otherwise all white table setting.
As we were served the first course Dana pulled out her lovingly worn Alice Waters book The Art of Simple Food and read a short essay as a dinner prayer. Eat seasonally, shop at farmers markets, plant a garden, cook simply engaging all of your senses, cook together, eat together, remember that food is precious. Learn where your food and wine come from and how they are produced. Seek out a diverse variety of fruits and vegetables from small local producers who take care of the land. Eat seasonally (and heck drink seasonally Dana ad libs). Get to know the people who grow your food. Food should never be taken for granted. Amen
First course is laid in front of us and it is beautiful. Home smoked steelhead with shaved asparagus and lemon salad, sorrel aioli, pickled pink shallots and garden herbs. As fresh and as good as it sounds, tangy, creamy and gently smoky in every bite. To go with this course we are offered two wines: Fairview Cellars 2011 Sauvignon Blanc as well as a 2007 vintage of the same wine offered “for comparison” to Joy Road by Bill Eggert, owner of Fairview Cellars and “one of the legends in the valley” according to Dana. I have heard him referred to as the Okanagan’s renaissance man in relation to his musical and athletic abilities as well as winemaking and vintner skills. The 2011 was bright and crisp with citrus flavours coming through. The 2007 was light and crisp with grassy notes and hint of lime. Both lovely wines that enhanced the food we were enjoying.
We introduce ourselves to our neighbours at the table. A young architect to my right with her graphic designer husband and parents visiting from Ireland. To my left a retired but young French Canadian mountain climbers who are contemplating a move to this area. A couple on their honeymoon cuddling at the end of the table. A young family with a beautiful baby cooing at the other end. That’s what I like about these long table dinners. You get to talk to people whose path you may not otherwise cross.
With two courses, a Brut and a couple of glasses of wine behind us we were served the main course and a third glass of wine was filled. Main course consisted of asparagus roasted in wood oven with aged balsamic and crushed hazelnuts, pork rack cooked over charcoal, brown butter bearnaise sauce with tarragon, baby white and blue potatoes and a beautiful salad from Homestead Organics. In our glasses swooshed a Pentage Hiatus from Pentage winery. A Bordeaux-style blend the Pentage was full bodied red with cherry notes and solid acidity to hold it up. I skipped the pork (vegetarian persuasions) but enjoyed the Pentage with the rich bearnaise and the lovely deep flavoured vegetables.
Dinner came to an end with a light and not too sweet lemon poppy seed cake served with first strawberries of the season and a rhubarb sauce. All my favourite flavours combined on one plate. I skipped the coffee and opted for the tisane made with abundance of fresh mint leaves from their gardens and releasing wonderful mint aroma as it was poured into my cup. Dark chocolate was passed around to culminate the experience.
A beautiful evening comes to an end. Dana and Cameron again created a memorable experience that will linger and become part of our consciousness. Soon we say our goodbyes, exchange contact information with our dinner companions and promise to stay in touch. We will be back at God’s Mountain for another dinner in a couple of weeks, promising to be just as memorable.
I will follow this post immediately with a recipe for asparagus soup with goat cheese creme fraiche that may not be identical to what the Joy Road culinary team prepared, but I know is very good.