Today is Flashback Thursday: flashing back to July (gawd, has it been that long?) and the special event was the Similkameen BBQ King competition. For non-Canadians, the Similkameen Valley is a gorgeous part of Southern BC. The river is perfect. The mountains are perfect. The grassy plains are perfect. And, as you can see from the above picture, they are all over the Hipster fashion trend.
I was once on a Greyhound going through the valley; also on the bus was a French Canadian fruit picker and his girlfriend. The girlfriend was from BC and had talked him into coming with her to Keremeos, “the” town in the valley, to pick fruit in the summertime. He was deeply skeptical about this decision, but deeply in love, so he had said yes and there he was on the bus, the scent of Montreal still wafting off of him (it smells like cigarettes and beer), trundling through the Similkameen valley as the sun rose. The mountain caught the light, the huge K (the legacy of a landslide) glowed pink, the valley glimmered green and silver with mist, and the bus stopped, let them off, and he fell to his knees and kissed her hand for inviting him to a place as beautiful as that valley.
So that’s the Similkameen.
Forgive my crappy iPhone pictures, but I did what I could without my trusty photographer Cathy Browne.
The setting? The Grist Mill and Gardens in Keremeos, an historic grist mill, ie where the farmers brought their wheat to be ground into flour. It’s in the hands of my old friend Chris Mathieson, the only person I know with both a degree in Philosophy and skills as a blacksmith, so he’s perfect for this gig. That’s him, along with his wife Kyla, in the top picture. His first words when he saw me there, hundreds of miles from my normal dank cavern in Vancouver? “What are YOU doing here?” A warm welcome indeed, if not heated.
The challenge itself was Chopped-style: in other words, the competitors were given a set basket of ingredients from particular suppliers, and told to do what they could with them on the barbeque.
The ingredients were all local; the valley, along with the nearby Okanagan valley, is famous for its produce, and is now beginning to wrap its head around the very un-Canadian action of tooting its own horn. This event was an exercise in horn-tooting, and featured local wines along side the BBQ creations. Full disclosure: I got a media pass for the event, but only after contacting the organizers and asking if I could pay by Paypal, because I would have come up just for the day, all five hours each way on the 80-seat limousine. And lemme tell ya, it would have been worth it.
There were some very professional plates and some outstanding tastes. I’d come primed for ribs (BBQ, right?) but the chicken as a black box ingredient meant that chefs had to think outside that very box, and some of the solutions were very creative indeed. Chicken sliders, sure, but chicken sliders with a skewer of chicken bacon to garnish? That’s a different level, a level not generally found down gravel roads.
I don’t even like risotto, but the risotto was so good I went back for thirds. People were whispering, “Have you had the risotto? Have the risotto! They may run out. Psst, have you had the risotto?…”. And the basil ice cream was velvety, perfectly sweetened, and paired perfectly with the pound cake. Some of the wine pairings were more successful than others, but the main discovery for me was Forbidden Fruit Winery, whose fruit wines are sophisticated, layered, and miles away from Boone’s Farm.
- Chris Van Hooydonk from Artisan Culinary Concepts
- Karl Schorb from the Branding Iron
- Derek Uhlemann from Covert Farms
- Ross Derrick from the Delta Grand Okanagan
- Greg Fuchs from Gregor’s Gourmet
- Natasha Schooten from Terrafina Restaurant
- Justin Paakkunainen from Walnut Beach Resort
- Jonas Stadtlander from Watermark Beach Resort
- Marianne Abraham from Whitewater Cooks
And the winner was Karl Schorb from the Branding Iron. From the remarkable number of “Congratulations, Karl” blog and Facebook posts from his competitors, it’s clear that he’s a key figure in the tight-knit Okanagan and Similkameen gourmet community. Here’s the winning plate:
My notes (after perhaps six tasting-size pours of local wine) “Truly yummy.” Yes, I am a master of subtlety when it comes to reviews. Now take a look at the competition (and forgive my iPhone shots through the window of the shuttle bus from Penticton, because what choice do you have, really?).