Food and wine zen in the Okanagan Valley
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Our zen hits its zenith when we sip the 2013 Perpetua Chardonnay following a hearty spoonful of the Ocean Wise seafood chowder.
My wife, Kerry, and I are experiencing the East Coast Cuisine class at Mission Hill Winery in West Kelowna, B.C. and, as expected, the food-and-wine pairings are inspired. We expect no less from Mission Hill, the Okanagan's showpiece of wine, food and architecture.
It's the kind of place that hosts royalty, which Mission Hill did when Will and Kate visited B.C. back in September.
Mission Hill Winery proprietor Anthony von Mandl showed royals, Will and Kate around when they visited in September.
But back to class.
Each course on the Thursday night we attend elicits ohs and ahs from the 40 foodies in the two-and-a-half-hour session.
The battered-cod tacos bring out the best in the 2015 Reserve Pinot Gris; the steamed mussels and pancetta are sublime with the 2015 Reserve Reisling; the Crosswinds Syrah is the perfect foil for the braised-beef poutine; and desert is divine when it's butter tarts with 2014 Reserve Riesling icewine.
Notice how it's called a culinary class, not a cooking class.
Food and wine lovers sit theatre-style at long tables facing the winery's state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen to watch chefs prepare and cook the food. All the while, cameras from all angles, including the overhead beauty shot of dish preparation and plating, project the live action on giant monitors.
The food is served to you, with the accompanying wine, of course, so you don't have to chop, dice, whisk, slave over a hot stove or get your hands dirty in any way, shape or form.
All you have to do is observe technique, glean information, eat, drink, chat and be blissful.
Naturally, you go home sated with all the recipes in hand.
"We think we've hit the perfect balance of education and entertainment," said chef Patrick Gayler, who led the East Coast Cuisine class. "Of course, that balance is only made better with five courses of food and wine."
Besides leading culinary classes, Gayler oversees the team of chefs at the classes and at Mission Hill's Terrace Restaurant, which has been recognized by Travel+Leisure magazine as one of the top five winery restaurants in the world.
Originally from Edmonton, Gayler innovated at the Inn at Laurel Point in Victoria, Catch Restaurant and Oyster Bar in Calgary and the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton before joining Mission Hill in 2014.
Chef Patrick Gayler serves the star pairing of the evening, the 2013 Perpetua Chardonnay with Ocean Wise seafood chowder, at the East Coast Cuisine class at Mission Hill Winery in West Kelowna, B.C.
Spice up the work week menu
Our appetite for the East Coast Cuisine class was whetted by our introduction to Mission Hill's culinary program – Cooking for the Work Week.
Weekday meals can be drab with busy families falling back on the same unimaginative staples for ease and expediency.
But, not when Mission Hill gets involved.
The Work Week edition demonstrated how pad Thai, aloo gobhi and frittata with mushroom and spinach can be whipped up quickly, tastefully and elegantly.
Uncork the wine on a weeknight to make it special too.
As such, the pad Thai was matched to Reserve Riesling, the aloo gobhi with Reserve Chardonnay and the frittata with Reserve Merlot.
Even the vanilla crepes dessert was easy and weekday special served with Reserve Late-Harvest Vidal.
It was only a few years ago that Mission Hill started out tentatively with eight offerings in its inaugural season of culinary classes.
This season the count is 60, everything from Traditional Italian, Eastern European and Discover Thailand to Mexican Fiesta, Greek Dynasty and South American Fusion.
Classes tend to sell out, so book quickly if you want to catch any of the season's final offerings, which range from Wild China, Mystic India and Healthy Eating to California Cuisine and Spring Beauty.