Chef Chris Van Hooydonk's dream took him out of an Okanagan Valley high-end kitchen and onto a small farm. He's embarked on a journey of sustainable and authentic food, a seed to table to experience that embodies his passion for food.
Q. Why did you leave a high profile kitchen to start your own business?
After spending 5 years at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery culminating in the position of Executive Chef, I decided to pursue a dream I have had since moving to the South Okanagan: build a business that lets me both engage my passion for food and lead a sustainable life.
What we do at Artisan Culinary Concepts is simple. We raise food in our backyard farm with passion and integrity, and we share it with a clientele through teaching classes or catered events.
Q. How did you choose the town of Oliver?
I chose Oliver as a career move when one of my mentors, Chef Bernard, offered me a position at Burrowing Owl as his Restaurant Chef. I had visited here as a child during family camping trips, and tended to travel south once in awhile when I lived in the North Okanagan. It has always possessed the critical components for my food interest-a wealth of dedicated local growers and suppliers, a diverse offering of fantastic wineries, and a long "food" history. I found myself moving from Boston, Massachusetts (big city life, small shoebox apartment and a long commute) to taking up residence in an orchard house with 47 fruit trees, surrounded by mountains, rolling vineyards, no neighbors and a view like nothing else. Subsequently, Mikkel and I ended up purchasing this home (built in 1929) 3 years ago-realizing that we both loved farming, and that this was what we considered our dream property. So, we have put down roots here, as the most beautiful area I have lived in thus far-Living the Okanagan Dream.
Q. What plans do you have for the adjacent property that you purchased?
With a little help from our family, we purchased an additional acre of land which harbours many hidden green thumb gems. We are currently in the planning stages of developing a Private Cooking School, and in the future we envision have limited accommodations for guests. We’ll have a fully commercial kitchen with space for twenty, featuring interactive cooking classes and demonstration. We’re also interested in culinary tourism-pick your own, cook your own and eat your own under the guidance of a skilled and passionate chef.
Q. Are you collaborating with other small businesses?
I provide my retail products to a very limited amount of local wineries and businesses who I feel showcase the efforts made to support the local infrastructure. I have also continued my support of the local producers and growers with whom I cultivated relationships over the last 6 years in the local industry. Off the farm, I participate in local events such as Feast of Fields or Slow Food. My goal is to share my love of the Okanagan with a very broad range of food and wine lovers alike.
Q. Beyond seating folks at your farm’s table for an experience of local wine and food, what other services do you offer?
We have products for retail from our backyard such as jams, jellies, vinaigrettes, hot sauces, crackers, and chutneys, just to name a few. Our cooking classes are both on the farm and at private or public venues. We also do restaurant consultations drawing from my 6 years of kitchen management in a high profile high volume winery restaurant.
Q. What would your dream farm/business look like?
As I look out our kitchen window at the quail families feeding under our mulberry tree, I can see that this is what my ideal farm and business would be. The only additions would be a couple of pigs foraging under our hazelnut trees and a chicken tractor with heritage birds producing eggs for our kitchen. I have transformed my vision for the lifestyle I have always wanted into the humble one that we have. This is what I have wanted our lives to be.
Interviewed by Tyler Harlton