Summerdine with Les Dames Escoffier
How would you like to attend a dinner prepared by your city’s best chefs, paired with award winning local wines and served in the most beautiful and unique settings this summer? Look no further.
On Wednesday this week culinary professionals, amateurs and food enthusiasts gathered across British Columbia at 30 different venues concurrently for the most anticipated culinary event of the year. The aptly named Summerdine is Canada’s largest concurrent dinner fund raiser organized to support education and outreach for women in the culinary, beverage and hospitality fields.
Dozens of restaurants, vineyards, cooking schools and farms donated their products, time and expertise, each sponsoring one table and providing the food and wine for the event. The concurrent dinners took place across the lower mainland, Victoria and the Okanagan Valley. The prestigious venue list included VJ’s, Farmer’s Apprentice, Burdock and Siena in Vancouver, Fairmont Empress, Brasserie l’Ecole and The Mark in Victoria and here in the Okanagan a long illustrious list included Local Lounge and Grill, Bonfire Restaurant, Terrafina at Hester Creek Winery, The Terrace at Mission Hill, Waterfront wines, Pilgrim and Pearl and RauDZ Regional Table at Spierhead Winery.
Who is responsible for this much anticipated culinary experience? The BC chapter of an all women organization called Les Dames Escoffier.
Les Dames d’Escoffier is a global philanthropic society of professional women in the culinary, wine and hospitality fields operating through 29 individual chapters in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Curiously, this women only organization is named after a man, a French Chef and culinary legend Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935). Escoffier revolutionized the art and craft of cooking by simplifying the way classic cuisine was practiced yet preserving and respecting its principles. He is credited by Les Dames with single handedly bringing the culinary art into the modern era and through his philosophy and accomplishments serving as model and inspiration to culinary professionals today.
The aim of Les Dames is to provide mentorship and support to women in the culinary and hospitality fields. In their own words “Our purpose is promote understanding and appreciation of of food, wine, hospitality, nutrition, food technology, the arts of the table and other fields as they relate to these disciplines; to promote improvement in supply, preparation and service in these areas and to promote the education and advancement of, and to supply advice and assistance to, women in careers related to food, wine, hospitality, nutrition, food technology, the arts of the table and other fields as they relate to these disciplines.”
Are you ready to fill up an application to become a member and be titled a Dame? not so fast. This is an exclusive, by invitation only organization whose invited members have not only achieved success in their profession but also contribute significantly to their communities and distinguished themselves in one of these fields. Les Dames members that we know and respect in the Okanagan include Jennifer Schell, Alison Love, Audrey Surrao and Cassandra Anderton whose work and contribution to the local culinary community have impacted, informed and benefited us in many ways.
Left to right: Dame Audrey Surrao and Chef Evelynn Takoff, Spierhead winery,
Summerdine dinner at Spierhead, Marina Knutson of Spierhead Winery
Needless to say we wanted to participate in one of the concurrent dinners offered here in Kelowna and we picked Spierhead Winery as our chosen venue. SpierHead Winery is situated on Spiers Road on the benchlands in South East Kelowna. Part of the Fab Five Wine Trail, Spierhead received recognition since opening in 2010: it was named ‘Best New Winery’ at the 2012 BC Wine Awards and in 2012 Wine Access magazine named the winery’s 2010 Pinot Noir as Canada’s best. Providing the dinner was a local favourite, RauDZ Regional Table, whose co-owner Dame Audrey Surrao serves on the board of director of Le Dames. The chef for the evening was the Top chef and Chopped celebrity Evelynn Takoff, chef at Micro Bites under the umbrella of RauDZ and one of my favourite chefs in Kelowna.
Pinot noir grapes at spierhead Winery Compressed watermelon with Gin pipettes
LWe arrived early evening at the beautifully landscaped winery and were greeted warmly by Audrey Surrao of RauDZ and Marina Knutson of Spierhead. Earlier plans to dine outdoors had to be scrapped in favour of dining indoors because of rain and thunderstorm that hit directly over the patio area where the table was set for dinner. Everything was moved inside into the cozy tasting room and we dined among shelves lined with bottles of wine and views of the lovely courtyard.
The 6 of us were handed a glass of Spierhead rose and Marina offered us a tour through the vineyard. The Rose, made from 100% pinot noir grapes was crisp and refreshing and fun to sip while walking among the vines. Spierhead focus is on wine produced from a combination of sustainably farmed, estate-grown grapes, and fruit sourced from throughout the Okanagan. The grapes are hand-harvested, sorted at the winery and fermented in small lots by winemaker Bill Pierson. They currently produces three white wines: Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay and three reds: Pinot Noir and two Bordeaux-style blends: Pursuit and Vanguard. The winery has a beautiful licensed picnic area and visitors are welcome to bring picnic fare, buy a bottle of wine and enjoy the ambience and gorgeous views, not to mention the fabulous wines. Glasses will be provided by Spierhead.
Back at the tasting room after the vineyard tour we were offered perfect cubes of compressed watermelon (how do they do that?) with a Gin cocktail pipette (you squeeze it to get the Gin and watermelon together in one fell swoop, very refreshing, a little savoury, a little sweet.
Soon we settled at the elongated wooden table beautifully laid with a profusion of wine glasses and flowers. First course featured a prawn cocktail with avocado mousse and jalapeno gazpacho served in glass bowl perched over another glass bowl in which a goldfish was swimming laps. The little guy must have been bewildered with all the activities overhead. Dinner was served family style and we piled our plates with a melange of ripe heirloom tomatoes with quark cheese and grilled cornbread, Fraser Valley rabbit ballontine and crispy fried rabbit. There was plenty of offering for the vegetable lovers among us – local purple potatoes, green beans, summer squash and corn with corn aioli. Dessert came in the form of Okanagan fruit tart with charred yogurt, apricot lavender sorbet and almond crunch. There were even gift bags at the end of the enchanted evening containing hand made dark chocolate truffles with Okanagan peaches. RauDZ, Audrey Surrao and Evelyn Takoff certainly outdid themselves with this menu.
Spierhead wines were also spectacular and expertly paired with the menu. Rose, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and one of the Spierhead Bordeaux blends were poured into our glasses with each course as Marina reviewed the wines flavour profile and explained how they were made. The Riesling was clean and crisp with apple and citrus highlights. The Pinot Gris was aromatic with pineapple and mango on the palate and citrus on the nose. The Chardonnay was more aromatic than you’d expect from a chardonnay yet it was buttery with a little oak, honey and vanilla on the palate. The Pinot Noir Cuvee which they are very proud of is no longer available to purchase (too bad) and was a lovely expression of this finicky, hard to master grape.
The food, the wine, the hospitality, the conversation and the setting all contributed to a special and intimate evening that makes one appreciate living in the Okanagan where the foods we eat grow nearby and a host of talented, dedicated chefs and winemakers work hard to brings us the best the valley has to offer.
Just as important was the fact that by attending the event we helped raise funds for an organization whose aim is to distribute these funds to deserving women who desire to begin or continue training in the culinary, beverage and hospitality fields. Since this is the BC Chapter of the Dames, you would have to be a BC resident to apply for a scholarship and you may want to check out Les Dames website for scholarship information and application.
Keep this event in mind for Summerdine dinner next year. I highly recommend the experience. Hope to see you there.