The sun-dappled meadows and forests along Metchosin’s backroads are rife with small farms and properties where the intent is to enjoy the country and the lifestyle it affords. Apple trees bulging with fruit and fat sheep grazing in the meadows speak of abundance and life taken a little slower.
The gourmands who come to enjoy the chef’s creations at Wild Mountain Dinners are among a growing clientele who enjoy dining together. They are strangers, for the most part, but they do have one thing in common — they love good food, well prepared from local sources. They sit together at a long table and share their food and conversation with others in a communal dining experience.
Chef Oliver Kienast calls it a private dinner party.
The table champetre takes place at Glenrosa, a rebuilt heritage house in rural Metchosin. The original house was built in 1880 by a family who homesteaded in the area. The house itself has had a number of reincarnations but it has always maintained the air of a grand home set above Pedder Bay on a rocky outcropping. It is now a B&B which transforms its great room into a dining room for the twice-monthly private communal dinner parties. Glenrosa owners Jane and Peter Hammond welcome the dinners and the guests.
“It’s about humans connecting, which everyone is craving,” said Brooke Fader, the chef’s wife and business partner.
As the guests begin to arrive they gather on the veranda for conversation, canapes, and the first of the wines they’ll taste throughout the evening.
The dinner itself will be seven courses, served with wine pairings or fresh juices. Each of the wines selected for the dinner are from British Columbia. Fader has a lot of knowledge about local wines and pairs them perfectly with each of the dinner courses.
Fader said it is like a play, along with the nerves, anxiety and excitement, and each of the courses is an act.
“When the curtain opens the show is on,” said Fader.
And a show it is. The plates are beautifully presented. The first course is a cold summer soup with crab, cucumber, fava beans, mint, nasturtium leaves and chili oil served with a 2010 Sauvignon blanc semillon from the Similkameen Valley, or an elderflower water.
The courses keep coming. The second course is a stacked salad of fresh local heritage tomatoes, water buffalo mozzarella, hand made pancetta and eggplant.
Each of the courses arrive perfectly timed and include local smoked salmon, quail, elk carpaccio, bacon and fruit all sourced locally. Chef Kienast makes his own sauces from scratch and cures his own pork products. The couple live and grow as much as they can on their property in Sooke.
Chef Kienast is a believer in the slow and local food movements. He likes to forage for items such as sea asparagus and wild blackberries.
“Our mandate is to do wild foods with a modern twist,” said Kienast. “I try to go that extra step with fresh homemade butter, bacons, etc.”
At 32 years of age, Kienast is young for a chef setting off on his own, although he has gained a lot of experience in his short career. Starting out, he worked for free at Cafe Brio to gain experience and said that was his epiphany. He drove to the Sooke Harbour House and peered in the window, and said, “One day, one day I’m going to get my foot in the door,” and he did. It was while working there that he first heard of the Slow Food Movement from Sinclair Philip. This is also where he met his future wife, who is still a cellar master there.
Other jobs in prestigious resorts and restaurants led him to create Wild Mountain Dinners.
A trip to one of the world’s best restaurants in San Sebastian, Spain was a game changer for the couple.
“It changed my life. We realized the space we have in Canada and the access to creating our own food and supplies,” said Kienast.
They built a pig pen and grew a garden in order to cultivate those slow food ideals.
“It was a huge shift in our ideals and the way of dealing with food,” said Kienast.
The couple’s dream is the same as many who love food and that is to have their own farm and a small restaurant. Kienast hung around Ragley Farm in East Sooke for a year and learned what he could about the farm end of things and this led to his Wild Mountain Dinners at Glenrosa. He met Gillian, the daughter of the Jane and Peter Hammond who own Glenrosa and through a common love of good food, the farm to table dining experience began.
“They changed my life with their generosity, open house, grace and ease,” said Kienast. “They let me do my own thing, they just gave it over to me.”
“My dream was a one menu, one setting scenario, and I knew there was something that can happen at a big table. It’s a lot of work and a lot of reward.”
Fader said they have introduced people who have become friends and potential partners through the informal dining at Glenrosa.
Dinner guest Marion French said, “One of the highlights is having dinner with friends and making new friends as all the guests are served together at a large communal farm table. I would highly recommend the experience. It is worth the drive and you can always spend the night at the B&B.”
Kienast spends about one-half the week gathering the ingredients for the menu. It is relatively unique to forage through fields and oceans.
“They are value-added products you can’t get other ways,” he said. “It is a real movement ever since Noma in Copenhagen introduced Scandinavian wild foods, there’ s a real push on for this kind of thing.”
He has forged friendships and does business with people who also believe in the farm to table philosophy. To put on a dinner on their own terms is a rare thing for chefs, said Kienast. He never repeats his menus and attempts to use whatever is in season and available.
“It’s about knowing your environment and what’s out there. There is so much great produce grown,” he said. “Local hands, local foods.”
For more information on Wild Mountain Dinners, go to: wildmountaindinners.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.