Cooking Classes at Hester Creek

Seared Vancouver Island Sable Fish Prawn and crab bisque |
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On a Friday afternoon in early May, my friend Val and I set out on a 111-km drive along Lake Okanagan’s winding shore; our destination – Hester Creek Estate Winery, in Oliver, B.C. I remember the sun was shining warmly that day and our spirits were almost as high as our expectations. We were on our way to what we hoped would be a unique and memorable cooking class with Chef Roger Gillespie. We arrived a little early so we took to the terrace, wine glasses in hand. While we waited, we couldn’t help but admire the rows of tangled vines; their young grapes nearly translucent under the sun’s slanted rays. Hester Creek’s 70-acre vineyard on the South Okanagan’s Golden Mile Bench boasts some of the oldest vinifera vines in BC, dating back to 1968.

Sipping wine at Hester Creek |

The Tuscan-style kitchen is tucked away in a back corner of the tasting room; a lovely building finished with intricate stone and ironwork that exudes old-world charm.

The wine tasting room at Hester Creek |

We were 2  of only 14 guests seated at a granite island in the kitchen where we watched as Chef Roger Gillespie prepared each course before us.

Cooking classes at Hester Creek

Chef Roger Gillespie at Hester Creek |

The multi-course menu skillfully paired intricate flavours with Hester Creek award-winning wines.

First course
Seared Vancouver Island Sable Fish
Prawn and crab bisque
Local Pea shoots
Lemon oil
2011 Pinot Gris

Seared Vancouver Island Sable Fish Prawn and crab bisque |

Second course
Caramelized onion and Gruyère tart
Harkers arugula
2012 Trebbiano

Caramelized onion and gruyere tart |

Third course
Beef Tenderloin Braciole
Poplar Grove Tiger Blue and Roasted Garlic Butter
Warm baby potato salad
Local asparagus
2010 reserve Cabernet Franc


Lavender crème brûlée
2012 Late Harvest Pinot Blanc

Lavender crème Brulé |

Since the class was 40 minutes late getting started, it was almost midnight by the time we left. As we drove home through the dark, we talked at length about what makes a cooking class (or any culinary experience) a satisfying one. We agreed that it depends on how closely the reality of the experience matches the expectations of it, and as I mentioned at the top of this post, ours were very high. Why? Well, one of the key influencers on expectations is cost – the higher the price tag, the higher the expectation – and cooking classes at Hester Creek are the most expensive in the Okanagan.

As a cooking class, this one was a let down. There wasn’t a lot of teaching going on. Several of the recipes were missing from the recipe booklet and the chef didn’t walk through the ones that were provided. He also didn’t spend a lot of time demonstrating technique. It felt more like a dinner at a Japanese steak house than a cooking class.

As a dinner party or culinary event, however, it was top-notch. The setting was intimate, wine pours were generous, and guests were clearly having a good time, talking among themselves, only quieting down when it was time to taste the next dish.  The food was also very good although there were some minor flaws in execution (under-cooked potatoes, warm soup served in cold bowls). Stand-out dishes included the crème brûlée made with half as many egg yolks as most, resulting in a custard that was light and luscious – and the beef tenderloin braciole. It was incredible. When I served it at a dinner party a few months later, my guests were very impressed.

If you’re expecting to improve your culinary skills, then a cooking class at Hester Creek may not be your best bet, but if you are looking for an entertaining night out with fabulous wines and delicious food (and don’t mind the price tag) check out Hester Creek’s schedule for upcoming classes.

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Laura Goyer is a world traveler and culinary travel professional, on a mission to help busy prime-time women find the best local food when they travel.


6 thoughts on “Cooking Classes at Hester Creek

  1. Dina says:

    Laura, that’s what I love about your site, you provide an honest report and evaluation of culinary experiences, not just a gushing and meaningless love fest, which is easy to do. Thanks for posting.

  2. bellini says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with your accessment Laura. I have been to so many cooking classes the world over that my expectations are very high. I have had disappointments where the food does not match the price tag and some that have exceeded my expectations. The more I pay for the class the more I expect to learn. I also expect recipes so that I can share what I have been taught with friends.

    • Laura Leigh Goyer says:

      Thanks Val! Being able to recreate the dishes at home afterwards, trying out new skills and recipes, is half the fun for me. I would have considered this event much more successful if it were billed as a food and wine pairing or even an interactive dinner, instead of a cooking class.

  3. Murissa says:

    Everything looks good but yes a cooking class may have been the wrong title! I haven’t been to Oliver is so long I feel a bit ashamed to say. Maybe this September long weekend I’ll explore a few southern winery favourites!
    Great post Laura!

    • Laura Leigh Goyer says:

      Thanks Murissa. These classes are very popular – a lot of the remaining dates in 2014 are sold out. It may be that we were there on an ‘off’ night – or maybe we’re just too picky. I’d like to go again sometime to find out, but I’m reluctant to pay the registration fee. There are so many great events here in the summer and fall that it’s hard to choose.

      Speaking of Oliver, I also took a class at Tinhorn Creek in May (Secrets of the Miradoro Kitchen with Chef Jeff Van Geest – $40) that I’d recommend without hesitation. I want to write about it, but most of my photos didn’t turn out.

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