“When you were a kid, fun was when you piled in the car with your family and a few friends and went to the ice cream shop for a cone. Now, fun is when you pile into the car with a few friends and your significant other and head out for an afternoon of wine tastings at the local boutique wineries,” says Jeremy Luypen, Executive Chef at Passa Tempo restaurant at Spirit Ridge. He’s speaking from a perspective of a certain amount of privilege, but not necessarily the silver spoon variety. Rather, the privilege comes from choosing to live in a region wealthy with grape vines and dotted with boutique wineries, and knowing how to make full use of the bounty he finds within his reach.
The Okanagan is a valley whose bounty and beauty stare you in the face, but which many can be blind to, or make themselves blind to. Again, it comes down to a matter of perspective. “Every winery in the valley makes at least two or three good wines. At least two or three. The thing to do is to figure out, by going to the wineries’ tasting rooms or getting together with friends for tastings, which ones you like,” advises Luypen. “Wine tastings are fun,” he adds, “It’s a chance for you and your girlfriend to go out without going to a nightclub.”
Wine Tastings With Friends
During the winter he and his friends have been “growing their wine community,” he explains. What they do is hold wine tastings twice a month on Sundays. They invite about 15-20 people who each show up with a bottle of wine and then they do blind tastings. “We tried 20 Chardonnays one night. We had 10 new world, 10 old world. All different price points. It’s fun to watch a $25 bottle of Chardonnay win over something that’s more expensive simply because people like it,” he says. They did one similarly with champagne where his friends brought bottles ranging in price points from $375 on down to $27. “The $27 bottle of bubbly from South Africa won,” he recounted, impressed by the surprise outcome.
Wine tastings are a favorite topic of this accomplished chef who is currently getting additional certification as a sommelier. He says he’s fond of explaining to his Mom that, “Drinking wine is part of my job description” and also adds that Valley resident Ingo Grady, the wine educator at Mission Hill, is “One of the smartest people I know when it comes to wine.”
Jeremy has a couple of simple, basic pointers when it comes to food and wine pairings. He advises that when you serve a complex meal, couple it with simple wine. When you have complex wine, serve a simple meal. “Out of every meal and every glass of wine, there’s always only ever going to be one that’s going to be the star. Either the wine or the food,” he explains.
Okanagan Culinary Culture
The years this Okanagan College Culinary Arts graduate spent in Calgary at the Chicago Chophouse taught him a few tricks, as much in people management skills as in cooking. “I’ve read at least as many books on psychology and philosophy as I have cookbooks,” explains Luypen who also currently teaches courses at Okanagan College. He attributes the loyalty he inspires in his kitchen team to people skills. “Show them a lot of respect, take an interest in their lives and their families, and they’ll reward you with hard work,” says Luypen, who recalls a young man he once hired when he ran the Hotel El Dorado’s dining room in Kelowna who cleaned hundreds of mussels every night for two months for the 490-seat restaurant. “After two months we promoted him, knowing that whatever I asked him to do in the kitchen, he’d do.”
Luypen also speaks fondly about the culture that has sprung up among the Chefs in the Okanagan Valley. “Chefs in the Valley are becoming so much fun,” says Luypen, “We’re making guest appearances in each other’s restaurants, doing Iron Chef cook-offs and teaming up for Wine Dinners.” During the years that Luypen was at Calgary’s Chicago Chophouse, Ned Bell was across the way at the Vintage Chophouse. A friendly rivalry between the two Executive Chefs continues today, when both once again find themselves working in the same culinary community.
“We’ll do wine dinners, for example, where all the ingredients are the same and the wine pairings are the same, and then it’s up to the chefs to put their distinguishing touch on the dishes. Lobster, for example, people often think there’s only one way to prepare a lobster. But in fact there are more options than just boiling it, especially depending on what wine you are asked to pair it with,” explains Luypen. This is where a chef can really show his artistic as well as culinary skills and that extra talent, that je ne sais quois, that comes with the most intuitive of culinary masters.
Luypen is the last to take the profession too seriously, however. “Chef jackets look like a straight jacket for a reason,” he’ll tell you with a laugh. And then in the next moment, in all somberness, will tell you that the hardest part of the job is “telling your kid you can’t be at his hockey games,” because of the brutal hours that go along with being a Head Chef.
Five weeks into his Passa Tempo gig, and Luypen is already very happy with his move. The restaurant’s capacity has much fewer seatings than his previous job at the Hotel Eldorado.
Kettle Valley And Gewurz Slushes
Take, for example, when you get him onto the topic of the Naramata Bench. He’s got lots of favorites out in this exquisite little area that fronts the Lake (wine! afterall!) but don’t even get him started on Kettle Valley Winery and their Gewurz slushes. “One day my friends and I had had a long day of wine tasting where we’d started at 11 and gone until 5, stopping only for lunch. Our last stop on the Naramata Bench was Kettle Valley which is at the very end. Basically it’s this lady who sells her wine out of her garage. She offered us the absolute best Gewurz slushes – it was something like 35 degrees out that afternoon and she just blended us all up these fantastic Gewurztraminer slushes and we sat around her plastic picnic table and drank down those ice cold slushes. It was absolutely the best!”
That’s what he loves most about his valley, he says. It’s that you can go from the imposing magnificence of a Mission Hill, even the tasteful elegance of a Quail’s Gate and then on over to the humbleness of a Kettle Valley at the end of the Naramata Bench – and all experiences will be equally as exquisitely memorable – gratifying in their own way.
Another area on his favorites page is the section of North Okanagan where there’s a triumvirate of Gray Monk, Arrowleaf Cellars and Ex Nihilo. “They have put together the ultimate wedding package,” he says “You can literally walk between each of the wineries. Start off at Arrowleaf where their plantation perch and rolling green hills overlook Okanagan Lake, making it a perfect setting for a wedding; then walk over to Ex Nihilo Vineyards for some wine tasting and tapas and top it off at Gray Monk estates, also a walkable only few hundred yards away, with an excellent dinner,” he says, explaining that Ex Nihilo is affiliated with the Rolling Stone winery out of Napa and has built out a “beautiful tasting room.”
Sounds to us like there’s summers – and seasons – of fun to be had with Okanagan Food And Wine. PassaTempoRestaurant.
“Rod Butters is the consummate Canadian-born, Canadian-trained, Canadian chef, the kind that will eventually- and not all that far down the road – create what we’ll come to call Canadian cuisine.” - Jurgen Gothe, Food and Arts Critic
The Okanagan Valley is bursting with culinary talent.
Just nibbling on the local cuisine reveals this as self-evident. And because the valley is fast becoming known as the nation’s breadbasket, it’s easy to indulge in locally sourced and fresh, seasonal ingredients.