B.C. Wine Culture

Terrafina at Hester Creek by RauDZ specializes in Italian-inspired dishes based on local ingredients. David McIlvride photo

Three culinary visionaries are cooking up something delicious in the Okanagan Valley

Three amigos. Three musketeers. Three’s a charm. Wishes come in threes, as do all good things, it seems, including the trio we can credit for creating BC’s wine country cuisine.

When chef Rodney Butters and partner Audrey Surrao opened Fresco in Kelowna in 2001, it was the first step toward revolutionizing the region’s cuisine. David McIlvride photo

Rodney Butters, Bernard Casavant and Audrey Surrao are culinary legends in B.C. After putting Tofino on the foodie map at the Wickaninnish Inn, chef Butters and front-of-house pro Surrao opened Kelowna’s groundbreaking Fresco back in 2001, later rebranding it as RauDZ Regional Table. Meanwhile, after proving that Whistler really could be a gourmet destination, chef Casavant arrived in Oliver in 2006 to introduce the south Okanagan to terroir-inspired cuisine at Burrowing Owl’s Sonora Room.

Now for the first time, they’ve teamed up to take wine country to the next delicious level. Casavant recently joined RauDZ Creative Concepts in the newly created position of director of operations, responsible for, among other things, recruiting and mentoring a team of top-notch food and drink professionals. It was a move that was decades in the making.

“Thirty years,” Casavant says with a laugh. “Our friendship goes back that far.”

RCC’s growing collection of Okanagan eateries includes the original RauDZ, the small-plates-focused micro bar & bites, and the new Sunnys—a modern diner, all in Kelowna, and, as of last year, Terrafina at Hester Creek Winery near Oliver, the first winery restaurant in their company’s portfolio.

All this culinary choice is a far cry from when they landed in the Okanagan in the early 2000s. Back then, there was no farm-to-table scene, no winery restaurants, no fine dining to speak of. “It was pretty much a no man’s land 17 years ago,” Butters says. He credits the arrival of a number of talented culinary professionals for changing the scene; Casavant adds that the relationships they forged with local producers also made a huge difference.

The wineries have come a long way in the last 10 years, and so have the restaurants.

Chef Bernard Casvant, one of the architects of B.C.’s wine country cuisine, has just joined forces with fellow chef Rodney Butters to take it to the next level. David McIlvride photo

“With Rod and Audrey opening Fresco and not just talking about local, but meaning it, it gave the farmers and producers a reason to stay here and not just send everything to the bigger centres,” he says. “Now the clients are expecting it. The wineries have come a long way in the last 10 years, and so have the restaurants.”

So, now what? If what they’re doing at Terrafina is any indication, things are about to get even more delicious in the Okanagan.

“At Terrafina, the changes were small, but significant,” says Surrao. “From a culinary perspective, that’s just how Rod does things.”

Chef de cuisine Jenna Pillon will continue to run the kitchen, but it’s a completely updated one. The Italian-inspired menu has expanded to include build-your-own charcuterie boards as well as more of the flavourful, local-ingredient-driven dishes Butters has long been known for: wild boar meatballs, a cauliflower soup made seductive with saffron, gnocchi lavished with fragrant herb pesto. They’ve added beer, cocktails and an expanded wine list that includes high-end Italian labels as well as the entire Hester Creek portfolio.

And they’re not done yet. Casavant is focusing on “deepening a relationship that’s so multifaceted with local wineries, local purveyors and full-time year-round staff,” he says. For his part, Butters says, “I’d like to see a signature hotel for sure, a Relais & Châteaux or five-diamond place. There’s no Wickaninnish Inn or Four Seasons. We’ve got the wineries, we’ve got the restaurants, we need the accommodation now.”

Most important of all, is changing people’s mindset about the Okanagan Valley being a seasonal destination, especially in the south. “It needs to change,” Butters says.

With these three visionaries leading the way, it surely will.


Old vines, new vision

This year, Hester Creek Estate Winery celebrates 50 years of growing grapes—and helping change the history of B.C.’s wine industry.

In 1968, the overwhelming majority of the province’s 2,232 acres of vines were planted with hybrids and vitis labrusca for just a handful of wineries. Then an Italian immigrant named Joe Busnardo planted some 80 classic European vinifera grapes on this sunny property on the Golden Mile bench. He proved that B.C. could produce grapes to compete with the best in the world. A half-century later, that handful of wineries has grown to 358, of which 274 are grape wineries, and Busnardo’s Pinot Blanc, Trebbiano, Merlot and Cabernet Franc continue to thrive.

Throughout the year, the winery is holding a number of events to celebrate, including dinners and tastings of old vines wines. For the full list of events, visit hestercreek.com/50th.

Joanne Sasvari is editor of Vitis and The Alchemist magazines. She also writes about food and drink for WestJet and Vancouver Sun, and is author of the Wickaninnish and Vancouver Eats cookbooks.

Joanne Sasvari is editor of Vitis and The Alchemist magazines. She also writes about food and drink for WestJet and Vancouver Sun, and is author of the Wickaninnish and Vancouver Eats cookbooks.

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