If there’s anyone who knows everything about food and wine in British Columbia‘s Okanagan Valley, it’s Jennifer Schell. Author of three international award-winning cookbooks (The Butcher, The Baker, The Wine & Cheese Maker series), former editor of a Canadian food and wine magazine, Schell is a freelance food and travel writer. She’s also the co-founder of Garagiste North Small Producers Wine Festival and co-owns micro lot winemaking company Schell Wines. Take a peek into Jennifer Schell’s world to find out why she loves the Okanagan Valley.
Okanagan food and wine
I am a passionate supporter of all things local. My writing and cookbooks shine a spotlight on the amazing community of people behind the food and drink industry in British Columbia and highlight their relationships with each other.
The farmers, foragers, artisans, chefs, fishers, wine and drink makers work together to provide our unique and extraordinary local cuisine. Through these books, I am able to share their stories of passion and drive, applaud them and thank them for their hard work.
The books also allow me to visually introduce them – it is a part of the current movement to ‘know your farmer know your food’.
My goal is also to help provide a stage for them to educate us on their individual expertise, share their vision and explain how they are impacting the future of our land and sea.
British Columbia’s emerging wine scene
I live in Kelowna and was born and raised on a fruit orchard in East Kelowna, so farming is in my soul. This area is a high-production tree fruit region and has recently been discovered as prime terroir, growing award-winning pinot noir and chardonnay!
I was brought up in this wonderful growing culture that celebrates old-world values and a community that lives by the season.
I love the four seasons on the farm, from spring planting to fall harvest, where preserving that bounty happens in the kitchen.
I did move away in my late teens to spend over 20 years on British Columbia’s beautiful west coast (which inspired my second book By the Sea), but the emerging wine scene in the Okanagan drew me back.
There is magic happening here as we hit the world stage as a brilliant new frontier of world-class winemaking.
This opportunity and our unique range of microclimates available here are what is captivating high-level international winemakers and growers from the best wine regions in the world to relocate here.
Where are you going tomorrow?
Tomorrow I’ll be going to the Wednesday Farmers Market to load up. I am hoping that Jon and Russ from Sunshine Farm will have one last round of our favourite heirloom tomatoes to feast on.
I am also crossing my fingers that the mushroom foraging guy Scott will be there with some chanterelle mushrooms!
After that, I will be heading back to my mom and dad’s farm to continue with the apple pie-making bee we started today. An apple harvest tradition, we make enough for family and friends and then freeze the rest.
I will also be taking the time to photograph the apple trees in their full glory. I never tire of photographing this beautiful bounty.
Then, I will be shipping an order of our Schell Wines Chardonnay to a local restaurant, then organizing with my brothers (my partners in our family wine project) a pickup time for the grapes we have ordered from a vineyard in Naramata for our new vintage.
After that, I’ll be going back home to cook my farmers market treasures for dinner to enjoy with a bottle of local wine with my husband.
What’s a typical day in your life like?
I wake up early (farm girl) and find this to be the best time for me to write. My mind is clear and words seem to come easily.
My afternoons are usually spent running around doing a multitude of things as I wear many hats in my business. Luckily my work subjects are also my passion so visiting my local baker or butcher is also a time to visit and catch up on what they are working on.
Lunch meetings are usually held at winery restaurants and I love seeing the newest seasonal items featured on the menus and chatting to the chefs about their most recent creation.
I love to shop for the meal so if I am not at my parents picking up fruit or veggies from their garden, or if it isn’t farmer’s market day, I go to fruit and vegetable stands to buy direct.
I am always planning what to cook next and I actually love the end of the day when I can create from the beautiful products I have sourced.
What do you love about the Okanagan?
The breathtaking beauty of our grand lake. The drive between Penticton and Kelowna provides a very glamourous view of our Okanagan Lake and its full stretch covers a remarkable 135 km!
The colour scheme here is blue – my favourite colour- blue mountains, blue lake and blue sky highlighted by the range of green to sandy tones of our desert hills – an eyeful that will inspire every painter.
Pair these visuals with a picnic featuring local food and wine and you have a world-class contender for a wine country experience.
In the middle of my parent’s apple orchard. The land that the farm is on is steeped in the love and sweat of my Dad and family who nurtured it into producing beautiful tree fruits and food to sustain us.
Our roots run deep here and when I am standing there in the grass, surrounded only by the hug of the apple trees, light dappling through the branches, hearing only the buzz of a bee or song of a bird and the comforting hum of a tractor in the distance-time stands still.
My Dad came from Germany as a child and worked the land on the farm next door that his father worked. The farm on the other side of ours was where my mom grew up and my grandpa built his orchard.
The Okanagan was built by the orchardists, who are the stewards of the land and I have great pride in my family legacy.
Stuffed zucchini blossoms, chanterelle mushrooms on toasted Okanagan Grocery brioche, heirloom tomato salad with bocconcini and basil finished with chocolate from local KARAT Chocolate!
Raudz Regional Table or Waterfront Wines…both are amazing leaders in locavorian dining and then a winery restaurant Quails’ Gate Mission Hill, CedarCreek or Summerhill – I can’t decide because they are all amazing.
Again, because these chefs are all hyperlocal supporters and many even have their own gardens to draw seasonally from. And…they all have perfect wine pairings and views to die for.
For something different, I love Wasabi Izakaya – Chef Junya Nakamura infuses local, seasonal cuisine into his Japanese tapas and housemade ramen!
Micro.bar.bites, Oak + Cru & BNA Brewing. All three feature an excellent range of local wines and beers including the hard to find small producers. All have tasty food offerings and unique and fun ambiances.
Who is the most interesting person you know?
The one and only Jon Alcock from Sunshine Farm. Privately we call him Gandalf. Not because he wears a hat and has a beard (but he does), but because of the magical knowledge, he has of our good earth.
He is a walking encyclopedia of our farming history as well as knowing almost every heritage variety of vegetable and fruit on the planet.
He and his family are leaders in organic, sustainable farming and he was a pioneer in the seed-saving, heritage seed renaissance and farmers market.
He is one of my heroes and a dear man on top of it all. You can meet him at the farmers market!
What’s your favourite season?
SUMMMMMMMER! I love the sunshine, I love being on the lake and sipping wine on patios and all of my favorite foods are in season: Heirloom tomatoes, zucchini (blossoms), strawberries, peaches and corn. But I also adore fall because of the colours, the harvest season and the buzz at the wineries during crush!
One last tip
So many! If in season, the farmers market is a must – here you can shop, meet locals and taste the bounty of our region.
I also suggest lunch on the dock at the Eldorado. This Kelowna tradition holds dear memories for many locals and the buzz from boaters coming offers a true Okanagan experience.
Jennifer Schell is the author of The Butcher, The Baker, The Wine & Cheese Maker series and a passionate advocate for the Okanagan Valley’s farm-to-table movement.
Discover Jennifer Schell’s suggestions for a three-day food and wine tour around the region.