As I walk past the vineyard, its gnarly pinot noir vines bare this time of year, three taxi vans pull up to the curb. Their doors open almost in unison and a small posse spills out. I quicken my step. This isn’t my first rodeo. I know from experience that the best seats at a Mission Hill culinary workshop go to the first to arrive.
I hurry under the massive stone arches towards the Wine Education Centre, its imposing 24-feet high wooden doors thrown open tonight to welcome me to the Chagall Room. I pause to admire the original tapestry that dominates the space, forgetting just for a moment that I’m in a race to beat the boisterous group on my heels. I’ve seen Chagall’s masterpiece at least a dozen times and yet it still has the power to stop me in my tracks. Kim, the Events Manager, greets me with a smile and good news. My friend Val has already arrived and is saving me a spot. Val is notorious in our circle for being early. Thank goodness for that. She’s snagged the two best seats in the house.
The state-of-the-art culinary theatre, a teaching kitchen that took its design inspiration from the Culinary Institute of America in the Napa valley, is the only facility of its kind in the Okanagan. The room is set up with three rows of linen-clad tables, all facing the kitchen. Foodies fortunate enough to be in the front row have a clear view of the chefs as they cook, while those further from the kitchen can watch the action close up on multi-media screens.
At precisely 6:00 pm, Executive Winery Chef Chris Stewart enters the culinary theatre. In addition to designing the curriculum for Mission Hill’s cooking classes, Chef Stewart oversees the winery’s entire culinary program. For tonight’s workshop, dubbed The Perfect Roast, he tells us he’ll be working in the background making sure things run smoothly while Catering Chef Adam Vaughan will be taking the lead. Originally from Ontario, Chef Vaughan joined the team at Mission Hill Family Estate in 2014.
Later, after class, we gush to Kim about what a natural (and entertaining) teacher Chef Vaughan is. She tells us she wonders if newly hired chefs at Mission Hill have any idea that public speaking will be part of their job description.
I flip through my recipe folder and note that a new instructor isn’t the only change from last year’s workshops. I see we’ll be learning four recipes instead of five. Miffed, I whisper to Val, “prices went up 20% but the number of dishes went down”.
Chef Vaughan walks us through the first recipe, Herb Roasted Chicken on Focaccia, a dish he says “never fails to impress”. It becomes very clear very quickly that this isn’t the fancy sandwich I have in my head.
While mixing water and flour for the focaccia, he tells us that he submerged the bird in a Reisling-fortified brine for 24 hours then left it uncovered in the refrigerator overnight. He adds thyme, rosemary, salt and olive oil to the dough before shaping it on a sheet pan, brushing it with more olive oil, and using his finger to create dimples on its surface. Next, he demonstrates how to break down the chicken, then arranges drums, thighs and breasts on top of the focaccia dough before placing the whole thing in the oven. Instead of collecting in the bottom of the pan, the juices released while the chicken cooks will get soaked up by the focaccia.
Now I understand what makes this recipe so brilliant.
When a black-and-white-clad server places the finished plate before me, I also understand the correlation between the increase in cost and decrease in dishes. Both the food and the glass of 2013 Reserve Riesling its paired with are full restaurant portions. Not tastings.
I panic a little. How am I going to eat three roast dinners plus dessert? How am I going to drink four glasses of wine then drive home?
Judging from the questions directed at Vaughan and the number of people scribbling notes on their copies of the recipes, I’d say about 20 percent plan to try to re-create these dishes at home. The other 80 percent are here for the entertainment. We’re all here for the food and wine pairings.
The second dish is a vegetarian option, Whole Roasted Cauliflower & Romesco Sauce. While Chef bastes the cauliflower with copious amounts of butter, he promises us that “even if you don’t like cauliflower, you’re going to love this.”
For the Romesco sauce, he purées roasted peppers, almonds, garlic, and bread with spices, mint, and vinegar until almost smooth. He jokes that he’s “trademarked” his technique for removing the seeds from the peppers before roasting them.
The kitchen team cuts the cauliflower into wedges and plates it atop the Romesco sauce that’s been thickened with orzo. After tasting it, Val and I agree. You can put lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig. You can put butter and cloves and star anise and fennel seeds on a cauliflower and serve it with a 2012 Reserve Chardonnay. It’s still a cauliflower.
My panic subsides. Make that two courses plus dessert.
After a short break, we move on to the main event, Sunday Roast Beef Dinner. Like the chicken recipe, preparation started the previous day when Chef let the beef strip loin “hang out in the back of the fridge uncovered.” While he shows us how to sear the dry-aged beef in tallow, he tells us about the time he spent working at The George Hotel on the Isle of Wight. In light of this new information, I’m not surprised we’re also learning how to make Yorkshire Pudding. I am, however, surprised when he shares a little trick he learned there: Cover the meat with empty butter wrappers while it rests. I flash back to my childhood when my Mom would use those foil wrappers to grease cake pans.
Speaking of Moms, Val tells me she wishes someone would show her “how to make a proper Yorkshire Pudding in the Okanagan.” I ask her to elaborate. “That isn’t a proper Yorkshire Pudding. It’s a pop-over”, she says. “My Mum used to make Yorkshire Pudding all the time. It should be made in a square pan. The sides puff up but the middle stays dense and gooey.” I never had Yorkshire Pudding growing up so this is all news to me.
When I taste it, I decide Chef’s version, proper or not, is heavenly. The crisp golden brown puffs make a splendid vessel for holding a generous spoon of demi-glacé.
It’s only fitting that we finish this feast with the most British of desserts, Sticky Toffee Pudding. Vaughan forgoes the traditional steamed moist sponge, choosing instead to keep with The Perfect Roast theme, and bakes his cake in a moderately slow oven. He also swaps dried cherries rehydrated in Vidal ice wine for the more mundane chopped dates you see in most recipes. The dense dry texture of the cake is the perfect foil for the decadent sweet caramel sauce, and a satisfying end to the evening.
The Perfect Roast - Culinary Classics Program What: Demonstration style cooking class with Chef Adam Vaughan and Chef Chris Stewart Where: Mission Hill Family Estate, West Kelowna, BC Cost: $99 Mission Hill Winery
Laura Goyer, CCTP
Digital Content Creator
Laura 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.