Backyard Farm: Book Fast for Slow Food
By Roslyne Buchanan.
While Backyard Farm is “hidden in plain sight” on a quiet rural road parallel to Highway 97 on the south side of Oliver, BC, it’s one of the Okanagan’s worst kept secrets. Word has spread so quickly about its divine farm-to-table dining experience, you have to be fast to book in peak season.
By reservation only for groups from 10 to 20, Backyard Farm can not be defined as purely a restaurant. That’s exactly the intention of owners, Chef Chris Van Hooydonk and his wife Mikkel. Chris debuted on my radar as Executive Chef at The Sonora Room, Burrowing Owl Estate Winery. But given his apprenticeship at The Harvest Golf Club, Kelowna, my husband Mark and I may have first tasted his cuisine in 2000.
Chris spent time at Whistler, becoming Sous Chef, Ciao Thyme Bistro, under Chef Bernard Casavant – another Okanagan culinary icon. Motivated to be immersed in epicureanism, Chris moved to Boston, Massachusetts, and was fully schooled in the corporate culinary world when hired by The Four Seasons Hotel. Trained on all stations in fine dining, he finished his stint there in one of the kitchen brigade’s lead roles as Saucier.
Fast forward to The Sonora Room where he gained dining fans plus strong ties with local producers. He and Mikkel purchased a hobby orchard with about 45 fruit trees and discovered an affinity for farm lifestyle mentored by elderly neighbours on an adjacent farm. Drawing on lessons from his parents as a young boy of the importance of family and family-inspired meals, his vision to leave the winery restaurant took shape. He built a commercial kitchen in the lower level of the farmhouse and launched Artisan Culinary Concepts in 2013 offering catering and private culinary workshops.
Within a month, his mentoring neigbours’ property was for sale. Mikkel and Chris purchased it with the help of family. It added another 60 heritage fruit trees, a circa 1924 farmhouse and fast-tracked their vision. Except electrical and plumbing, Chris renovated it himself with help from a friend. Backyard Farm took form.
Form followed function as the farmhouse was gutted creating an open commercial kitchen a few steps up from an inviting wood-toned dining area accented by culinary paraphernalia, a fireplace and big windows. Guests can peer out to the orchard and gardens to the origin of much of what’s on their plates or view the kitchen to see the meal in preparation. It’s culinary theatre where the actors have truly embraced the slow food lifestyle, no two performances are the same and nothing is wasted.
Mark and I were familiar with the wonderful creations coming out of that kitchen. We’d visited, tasted the preserves, eaten fresh heritage peaches and attended events catered by the Backyard Farm team. However, we hadn’t experienced the Chef’s Table. When our friend Jennifer Martison contacted us needing another couple to make up a group, we jumped at the chance.
Chris worked closed with Jennifer to develop the menu and wine pairings after she’d gathered information on food concerns or allergies in the group. We arrived on a snowy evening to a warm room glowing in soft light and were greeted with a lovely glass of Emotivo Prosecco. After brief introductions, the group intermingled like longtime friends as curtains were raised on the menu. Context on each presentation was provided by Chris or Jack VanDyke who recently joined Kyle Campbell as Chris’s second apprentice. While I won’t recite the full dialogue, I’ll share asides from it.
Handcrafted Whole Wheat “Plum” Sourdough, Himrod Grape Ciabatta, and Roasted Garlic Hummus.
Aside: We learned the sourdough starter was created by Italian plums allowed to ferment and called Delilah.
Pan Roasted Pickerel, Organic Wild Rice “Blini”, Ocean Wise Prawn-Heritage Squash Bisque, Blood Orange, Melted Leek.
Aside: Fish sourced from sustainable fishmonger, Codfather’s Seafood, Kelowna, citrus to balance and prawn bisque to complement the pickerel. Sauce thickened through pureed squash rather than a flour roué.
Pairing: Nk’Mip Cellars Qwam Qwmt Chardonnay 2016.
Contraband Beets, Endive, Grilled Pear, Arugula, Yarrow Meadows “Duck Ham”, Celeriac, Charred Scallion “Crema”, Black Currant Vinegar.
Aside: Once harvested the organic beets were stored in sand giving a fresh effect as if pulling from the ground. Secretly brought in from the VanDyke Farm of Oroville, Washington. “Duck Ham” created by thinly slicing smoked duck breast that was slowly roasted.
Pairing: Tantalus Vineyards Pinot Noir 2016.
Act Three: Main
14-Day Cache Creek Beef Chuck, Pine Nut Romesco, Potato and Mushroom “Tatin”, Heirloom Tomato Jam, Italian Plum Jus.
Aside: Brined two weeks and smoked 14 hours, the chuck flat maintained marbling and texture. Foraged mushrooms and potato layered and accented by Heirloom Tomato Flavour.
Pairing: Laughing Stock Vineyards Portfolio 2016.
60% Chocolate and Hazelnut Praline Mousse, Pistachio Financier, Beetroot Caramel, Wolf Tree Coffee Meringue, Spiced Pumpkin Mascarpone.
Aside: Inspired by friend Simon chocolatier to experiment. Rich pistachio cake and inside mousse organic cherries hand pitted by Mikkel (Chris romantically upgraded her single pitter to a five pitter.)
Pairing: Le Vieux Pin Syrah Cuvee Classique 2015.
An exceptional culinary odyssey with inspired wine pairings not to be missed. In revisioning careers to put family first, embrace a sustainable food forest culture, and make everything on site, Chris and Mikkel created an agrarian/epicurean smash hit.
Rally your friends to reserve a private booking. Alternately if you don’t have a group of 10 or more, see http://backyard-farm.ca/events/ for other opportunities where Backyard Farm is featured.
Featured photo: Backyard Farm is welcomes on a wintry March evening. Photo credit: Roslyne Buchanan.