Sunshine Farm Earth to Table Dinner
You know when something is special. Last year we attended a tomato festival at Sunshine Farm and I was completely taken by the people, the place, the idea. The Alcocks are special. Their background includes restaurants, fishery and farming and with this last venture they incorporated all that they believe in, including good food, mostly heirloom varieties, grown on their farm with integrity and sustainability.
Sunshine farm was established by the Alcocks (Jon and Sher) back in 1987. At some point they made the change from farming animals to growing certified organic rare heirloom vegetables and herbs. They also branched into organic and heritage seeds and have been selling them online worldwide ever since. “We started saving seeds out of necessity” says Jon, “to grow heirloom vegetables”.
The Alcocks run an fully organic farm. They maintain 3 compost piles and even their kitchen is equipped with a garburator sink dedicated solely to vegetables waste that they collect and add to the compost pile. They grow and sell tomatoes, heirloom variety carrots (yellow, purple, red and rainbow variety), small heirloom potatoes and other vegetables at the farmers market and to local chefs and restaurants. Often restaurant menus in Kelowna reflect what the Alcocks have ready that week.
When I heard that they are hosting a long table dinner on the farm I quickly bought a ticket (limited to about 16) and could hardly wait for the date to arrive. It turned out to be a perfectly sunny and warm (hot?) day. My friends Val and Laura and I drove to the farm early evening and were greeted by Jon who directed us to the table. The long wooden table (gorgeous) made of wood from the farm was set under cover in the field in front of their house. The table can sit up to 20 but tonight they limited attendance to 16. Each place setting had an individual menu rolled up scroll-like and tied with a thin rope and a tag with your first initial hanging from it. A sprig of fragrant fresh California rosemary was attached releasing its aroma as you unrolled the menu.
It was a hot evening and the Alcocks had installed patio misters around the outdoor dining area that helped cooled things down considerably. White umbrellas provided extra protection from the sun as it was setting lower on the horizon. Soon came Alcock’s son-in-law Michael (I told you it is a family operation) and offered us cooling popsicles: ruby red creations made by his wife, chef Mona Johannson, daughter of Sher and Jon. The popsicles were refreshing, a little savoury, not too sweet, made with mint, raspberries and did I hear chocolate? Not sure. A perfect refreshing and hydrating start for an evening we were anticipating with excitement.
The remaining guests soon streamed in and we settled at the long table ready for dinner.
The amuse bouche arrived on small white appetizer spoons in the form of a mascarpone filled tortellini floating on a bed of fresh and bright green pea puree. The creamy tortellini and velvety puree made a delicious soft bite that awakened our palate in anticipation of things to come. We were hoping that Jon had fired up their amazing wood burning oven and will offer a sampling of his famous pizza. We were not disappointed. First course consisted of wood fired flatbread topped with fava bean puree, heritage potatoes, rosemary and pecorino. The flour for the flatbread was ground in their kitchen from marquis wheat and the sourdough fermented by ambient yeast. Other than the cheese, everything came from the farm.
We were invited to bring our own wine to the event (we didn’t, too hot), and Mona prepared a fizzy and refreshing drink made with lemon verbena and a special variety of plums. Between this drink and the chilled water we had all we needed that evening. A few of the people did bring bottles of red and white wine and enjoyed that with their meal.
The next course was served on long wooden boards made by Jon apparently just this week, also of wood from the farm (when are they opening a store? I would love a board like that). The dish was quite spectacular: Mona prepared a terrine of carrots and local goat cheese and served it alongside a salad of freshly picked spring greens, roasted baby beets and honey walnuts tossed in a sweet and tangy farm apricot vinaigrette. Again, everything but the cheese is from the farm. The terrine was beautiful with a lovely texture a layers of flavours. The fresh greens, sweet and tangy, crisp walnuts and perfectly cooked baby beets was as perfect use of farm fresh produce letting their flavour speak for themselves.
The main course Mona prepared farm raised organic chickens (their own) with honey apricot glaze served on top of farm salsify puree. Jon brought the chickens out before carving them, they were cooked in a large cast iron skillet and looked quite gorgeous, golden and crisp. Alongside the chicken they served fire roasted heritage potatoes cooked in the wood burning oven, a colourful melange of purple, brown and gold with sea salt and herbs scattered on top. One additional item on the plate were the Egyptian walking onions. I have never had or seen these before but apparently they are spring onions that grow in clusters on top (instead of flowers) and bulbs on the bottom. They bend down under pressure and “walk” away from the original root, rerooting themselves at a distance, hence the name “walking onions”. My cluster had 3 round heads of onion on a long stem. There wasn’t a graceful way of eating them so I held them with my fingers and enjoyed the juicy, roasted sweet flavours. I wasn’t about to fight with the onions and can always wash my hands. The food was real, flavourful, beautiful and sophisticated in a non-interventionist sort of way. You knew what you were eating, which is not always the case even at top restaurants. Just my kind of food.
For dessert we were served a buttermilk shortcake biscuit with sour cherry ice cream and dark chocolate ganache. It was cool and refreshing and just sweet enough to be a wonderful ending to a lovely meal. A success all around.
We lingered for a while talking, taking pictures and visiting with the Alcocks, Johannsons and other guests. Sher Alcock overheard us wondering about the kitchen and invited the three of us foodies for a quick tour of their fabulous kitchen. It was a large, comfortable working kitchen that reflected their interests, travels, generosity of spirit and of course their love of cooking. A beautiful collection of stone and wood mortars was on display (they do use them) and some serious pots and pans hanging from a pot rack. A large black cast iron pot was sitting on the counter full of beans from the farm covered with layers of colourful tomatoes and bacon. Sher said the it was going into the wood burning oven where it will cook overnight among the cooling ambers and will be ready for their Sunday breakfast the following day. We forgot to ask what time breakfast was served, or we would have been there for that.
The entire evening was a rare treat, a vegetable focused meal with everything grown on the farm from seeds. I get all excited picking up an herb from my patio and using it in my food and here they cook an entire meal for all these people and everything but the dairy came from the farm. The Alcocks certainly walk their talk and are quite an inspiration. They also hold private functions at their farm, I am already thinking.