Brian & Christina Skinner
Chefs and Owners, Frankie We Salute You, Kelowna
Back in 2013, it seemed like Brian Skinner had achieved practically every measure of success a young chef could dream of. A restaurant to call his own: a 48-seat, woodsy ode to modern dining called the Acorn. A line out the door every night at said restaurant. A Gold Medal Plates championship title to hang on the wall you-know-where. And he’d done it all with what, at the time, was a shocking twist: he was (gasp!) vegetarian.
In 2020, even your aunt is calling herself “plant-forward,” but just a few years ago dining in the vegetarian and vegan world was considered synonymous with hippie food. Skinner, with his Michelin-level experience (including a stint at Noma), was revolutionary in his approach to all things veg: cook them so that omnivores will give a damn, too. That meant eschewing Tofurky dogs for more sophisticated fare that elevated humble, too-oft maligned vegetables to gourmet levels—think zucchini tagliatelle with cured mushrooms, or preserved lemon and artichoke paté. And in rolled the praise, the awards, the double-takes from meat lovers over platters of beer-battered haloumi.
Photo by Darren Hull.
The ensuing plant-based-dining revolution in Vancouver owes some serious thanks to Skinner’s pioneering—now, just down the street from Acorn, which Skinner sold in 2014, you’ll find the meat-free Chickpea, Meet on Main, and the Arbor, each one jam-packed every Friday night. But conquering the coast wasn’t the end of his culinary march: this past fall, the Pied Piper of Plant-Based Dining, along with business-savvy wife Christina Skinner, took on a new challenge. The pair moved to the Okanagan and converted an old VW dealership into the hottest, just-so-happens-to-be-vegetarian-est dinner destination in Kelowna.
While the Acorn aimed for high-end West Coast modern fare, the Skinners’ Frankie We Salute You! (an homage to their respective grandfathers, a famous Canadian botanist and an avid gardener, each named Frank) offers clever but unfussy plant-based interpretations on more casual dishes, with the help of local, seasonal ingredients sourced right from Okanagan farm country. The carrot popcorn and chickpea fries are downright addictive; bulgogi-style mushrooms over crispy rice or grilled avocados tossed in Thai cashew dressing with spicy pickled onions are eat-’til-you’re-too-full good. It’s a new city, a new audience of potential skeptics, but it seems the Skinners can’t help but be plant-based pioneers wherever they go: in a minimalist-cool room in an unassuming strip mall, it looks like they’re once again persuading even staunch carnivores to pop in and stay awhile.
Photo by Darren Hull
Q&A with Brian and Christina
What’s been your most memorable meal?
We were lost in Venice and starving, and Christina spotted a very large and proud-looking chef standing outside a pizzeria in a small alley smoking a cigarette. He looked like he knew a thing or two about life, so we decided to eat there. Before we even sat in our seats, he had Prosecco on the table. The pizza was heavenly. Crispy and fresh and unbelievably flavourful. One was zucchini blossom, and the other was wild porcini. It’s amazing how just three simple ingredients can create heaven.
Most underrated ingredient?
Button mushrooms. With a little love, they can be given a new lease on life.
What’s your favourite unusual food and drink pairing?
Corn on the cob with miso butter and chardonnay.
Favourite place to snag a seat in a restaurant?
Near the kitchen. It’s always fun to watch the madness go down!