Under sprawling pear trees and Lake Country skies, chef Aman Dosanj brings a band of intrepid diners right to the source of it all.
Like a slow strobe light, the setting sun streams through the canopy of the Okanagan pear orchard tonight, pouring bright beams over three dozen dinner guests. Harry Dosanj, one of the Valley’s most innovative bartenders, has made a Plumdog Millionaire cocktail, which combines homemade chai spice with port, Assam tea, plums from 10 rows over and seven-year-old rum. It’s delicious, and it’s igniting conversations that might just turn strangers into friends. “How did you two meet?” I ask a guest and his tablemate. “Actually, I don’t know him from Adam,” he says. “Actually,” the other fellow responds, “I am Adam.”
We are gathered in a tidy orchard row, under pear trees planted 80 years ago, and over a long table finely set with silver and wineglasses and pretty bouquets. Here, at Claremont Ranch Organics, located in Lake Country, a half hour north of Kelowna, we are about to eat a decidedly local, thrifty take on superb Valley produce with a splash of the coastal fishery added to the mix.Aman Dosanj is Harry’s sister, and she is the main reason we’re here. The Dosanjs are Southampton-raised and -accented, gifted soccer players and, with their parents, they ran the family’s popular Poppadoms restaurant until two years ago. Since then, Aman has been travelling the world, observing and cooking as she goes, and visiting food banks and food waste organizations, drilling down into her mantra of “Serve just enough—don’t waste it.” She quotes statistics about the alarming mountains of food waste churned out in Canada every day that create unnecessary landfills, some $31 billion in food waste last year alone. (Around 873 pounds of food is tossed per year, per person.) Tonight she is presenting an iteration of her Sourced series that dwells on the local produce at hand, simply prepared and with as little waste as possible. Over the next two hours, beginning with a starter of deliciously piquant heirloom tomato water, she will lead us through four spicy courses, interspersed with her equally spicy British commentary. “If I f**k up, you will see it,” she says. “Farm to table” has become a hackneyed phrase. Local culinary pioneer Rod Butters, in his lovely cookbook titled The Okanagan Table: The Art of Everyday Home Cooking, might have put it best: “Of course it is,” he says, “and has been forever in the Okanagan—at first out of necessity, now out of choice.” You only need add that there is nothing quite as lovely as eating dinner where it was grown, cosseted by old fruit trees. The second course, prepared in the adjacent century-old farmhouse, is her take on Indian street food, “Indo-Okanagan,” she calls it: puffed rice with cucumbers and tomatoes, and Okanagan Vinegar Works verjus and a crunch of zesty toasted hazelnuts. It is a textural pleasure of “useful things that farmers wouldn’t normally be able to sell,” she says. “So I am tapping into my inner Grandma,” she adds, “because she would never throw anything away.” Aman has disappeared back into the farmhouse to prepare the main course. The conversation is flowing in the fading light: the dinner guests are playing the three degrees of separation game common to Valley folk, and Harry’s pours of Tantalus riesling and BNA wheat beer speed the connectivity. Claremont Ranch Organics is owned by Molly and Matt Thurston. They met at the University of Guelph, where they both studied agriculture. Molly convinced Matt to follow her back to the Okanagan, and in 2011 they bought the historic orchard and its charming clapboard farmhouse shaded by giant trees. “The house was built in 1912 by a Mr. Brown,” Molly says. “He made his fortune in the copra that was used for making rope, and this became his retreat.” Molly is now the horticulturist for BC Tree Fruits and Matt is the general manager for Grower’s Supply Co. The orchard is a bucolic place to raise their two young sons and for them to indulge their passion for growing tree fruits. It can be a sudden shock to drive past a long-loved, now disappeared orchard that has been slashed to make room for vineyards. A drink later, elfin Aman with the salty vocabulary pops back into the orchard. The main course is set down: a bed of brown rice supports a perfectly underdone slab of sablefish, its slightly smoky flavour offset by a Bengali mustard and yogurt sauce accompanied by lightly braised Swiss chard and dollar-sized slices of crisp white turnip. What might sound ungainly is a triumph of complexity over complication.
Dessert is more simple and a fitting coda. Pears from the orchard have been poached in saffron and cinnamon, and served with fresh mint. By turns the dish is earthy and refreshing, and the colour of the sky just an hour ago. There will be nothing left for the compost.
June 17, Crooked Sky Farm, Enderby A foodie road trip to meet organic farmer Aaron Patterson.
July 1, Roche Wines, Naramata Aman is celebrating 10 years in Canada with her “immigrant’s guide to Canada Day” event of French-inspired Indian food.
July 28, Caldwell Heritage Farm, Kelowna This dinner (secret table location TBA) is back at the farm where Sourced started.
August 4, Green Croft Gardens, Grindrod A celebration of a menu inspired by all-Canadian ingredients.
For more info on Sourced dinners, contact Aman Dosanj at email@example.com