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.
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.
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.
The multi-course menu skillfully paired intricate flavours with Hester Creek award-winning wines.
Seared Vancouver Island Sable Fish
Prawn and crab bisque
Local Pea shoots
2011 Pinot Gris
Caramelized onion and Gruyère tart
Beef Tenderloin Braciole
Poplar Grove Tiger Blue and Roasted Garlic Butter
Warm baby potato salad
2010 reserve Cabernet Franc
Lavender crème brûlée
2012 Late Harvest Pinot Blanc
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.