The first thing you’ll read upon opening Chef Rod Butters’ cookbook The Okanagan Table: The Art of Everyday Cooking is a quote from the chef himself: “When you cook with passion, you feed the soul.” Soul-satisfying, yet approachable dishes is what you’ll find in his long-awaited cookbook, inspired by his passionate relationship to food and love of British Columbia’s unique Okanagan terroir. It celebrates regional flavours, the farm-to-table approach to cooking, and encourages the home cook to create exceptional meals by connecting to fresh, local and high-quality food.
Chef Butters wrote the cookbook “quite simply for people who love to cook. It’s not intended to blow minds, or turn cooking into a lab experiment. Cooking should be inclusionary, not exclusionary. We gather in the kitchen because it’s comforting, and it harkens back to the happy feelings that a warm, aromatic kitchen instilled in us as kids.”1
Featuring more than 80 illustrated recipes that were all developed in his home kitchen, The Okanagan Table: The Art of Everyday Cooking is structured in the order in which we enjoy our meals: sunrise, midday, sunset and twilight.
The cookbook showcases a collection of signature recipes such as the number one best-selling Oat-Crusted Arctic Char or the Root Vegetable Torte resurrected from Chef Butters’ days at Chateau Whistler, to the popular RJB Blackberry Ketchup which is bottled and sold in his restaurants. The recipes appear complex but are surprisingly straightforward and ultimately decadent and gratifying, for example, the Double Chocolate Mashed Potato Brioche.
Many of the recipes include pairings with the best local wine, beer and spirits available in the Okanagan Valley, selected by Audrey Surrao, a respected wine competition judge and co-owner of RauDZ Regional Table. It’s easy to see why it won Silver at the 2018 Taste Canada Awards for best Regional /Cultural Cookbook.
Long before it was trendy, Chef Rod Butters has been a champion of local fare, which is ultimately his culinary philosophy which shines through not only his cookbook, but at the four restaurants he owns in the Okanagan.
The walls at RauDZ Regional Table in downtown Kelowna feature pictures of some of their local suppliers. He has local farmers come in to the restaurant to give workshops in the kitchen on how to cook with different local products and his team regularly visits local farms. He operates by the motto: ‘support local, buy local, eat and drink local’, and although he is considered one of Canada’s pioneers in the farm-to-table food movement, for Chef Butters, it’s just been the way he evolved as a chef.
To Chef Butters the Okanagan Region is “the chefs’ ultimate playground.” Located in Southern British Columbia, The Okanagan Valley is one of the warmest regions in Canada. Over 200km long and 20km wide, the Okanagan Terroir is home to some of British Columbia’s most historic farmland. An unexpected micro-climate that makes for warm, dry temperatures and varying soil conditions receives about 2,000 hours of sunlight and between 250 – 400mm of precipitation per year. This makes the Okanagan Valley the most important agricultural region in British Columbia and one of the largest producers of fruit and wine in Canada, containing more than 80% of the province’s vineyards. The region has thousands of farms and makes up more than one-quarter of BC’s farming with the highest number of organic farms in the province. Every summer, the region explodes with apricots, peaches, sweet cherries, pears, plums, nectarines, grapes and apples.
“It’s good for my soul to be there,” says Chef Butters of the Okanagan Valley. He sees “such a difference in the area and local food scene now from 18 years ago” when he first arrived. He loves the scenery, the sun and the length of the growing season. He adores the wetness of the coast that provides a bounty of fresh mushrooms and the access to the Pacific Ocean to provide fresh, sustainable seafood.
Currently, his favourite ingredient is the Haskap Berry which just might be the next superfood – higher in antioxidants than blueberries, the taste is compared to raspberries or bumble berries with a hint of honey crisp apple tartness. Currently he buys from more than 150 regional suppliers – “If I can drive there and back in a day, I consider it locally sourced.” He is proud of the world class cuisine and the hospitality of the region.
It’s this love of the Okanagan Valley that Chef Butters wanted to share with everybody in a way that would “100% get the home cook into the kitchen.” That’s the approach he took to creating the book, with every recipe being written, prepared and shot over a 10 day period by Kelowna based filmmaker and photographer David McIIvride, in Chef Butters’ kitchen. Butters wanted to prepare the dishes as the home cook would – on a single stove, not in a professional kitchen. Approaching the cookbook ethically was important, which is why he wanted to replicate what the home cook would experience in their own kitchen.
Writing the book was not easy – to narrow down so many recipes from over the years to just 81 recipes was difficult. He also wanted the recipes to be varied and include a range of skill sets – from a simple Everyday Smoothie, Sharp Cheddar Scramble on PB Toast or Okanagan Fruit Sangria to a more advanced Venison Carpaccio or Beef Tenderloin and Smoked Salmon Roll with Crab Macaroni.
The mantra of using local is so important to Chef Butters that he lists every farmer and produce supplier in a resource list at the back of the cookbook, as well as breweries, wineries and distilleries. Buying local is something he has always done and has always been top of mind for his business practice – it just makes sense to him to support the local farming community. His advice to home cooks on buying local is to buy quality and not worry about quantity. “Why buy 8oz or 12oz of crap meat when instead you can buy 4oz of quality meat?”
In its second printing, the book – which was printed in Canada – has been well received by locals, winning the Best Local Cookbook in Canada by the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. As a first time author, Chef Butters’ has found the experience both humbling and incredible “the awareness and media coverage has been great for the restaurant, the book and myself.”
In addition to winning two cookbook awards, Chef Butters has also received inductions into the B.C. Restaurant Hall of Fame and the Canadian Culinary Federation Honour Society as well as the Okanagan College Honorary Fellow Award. But for Chef Butters, the greatest compliment is that people are actually cooking from his book. He wants the book to get dirty and dog-eared, the spine cracked from use and for cooks to write in the margins. I hope he would approve of the many duck fat droplets that now adorn his Duck Fat Popcorn recipe in my copy of his treasured cookbook: The Okanagan Table: The Art of Everyday Cooking.