Willi Franz, Chef/Owner, Grapevine Restaurant at Gray Monk Estate Winery

The Grapevine Restaurant serves about 30,000 meals per season, opening for lunch and dinner with wine and cheese available in the afternoon. The terrace is one of the more spectacular places to dine in the valley with amazing views and sunsets over Lake Okanagan.

Willi Franz has been cooking in the Okanagan for over 30 years.

“You have to know that 30 years ago tourism was different here. It was families camping, water slides, Flinstones and always about the beach.

“When the Mission Hill Chardonnay won overseas, all of a sudden people started to pay attention.” (John Simes’ 1992 vintage won the trophy for Best Chardonnay at the 1994 International Wine and Spirit Competition.)

“With that, the valley became more of a culinary destination — especially at a winery. People want not just dinner, they want an experience.

“While learning to work so closely with Gray Monk wine, I had to change how I approach a dish. I had to learn no mint, I’m conscious of acidity in the dressing and that red wine and asparagus don’t go together, so you don’t use asparagus as a vegetable with a steak, for example.

“We have a grower just a few miles away from the winery; Tom Thompson at Lake Country Culinary Garden. He worked for a large distribution company, then he decided to do his own thing. We’ll use whatever grows at that time on our menus. The season starts with green spinach, bok choy, asparagus, then carrots. We didn’t do this 20-30 years ago. Now we get together in the fall, what are we going to grow? Which lettuces did well, which didn’t? What colour is it going to be? Is this going to look good on the plate? It’s a lot more flexible and exciting.”

“Usually the first greens happen during spring wine festival. But for now, we’ll buy lower mainland hot-house product. I think of that as local, it is BC. To me local also means, do I know the person I’m buying from? Our chicken may not be certified organic, but it’s free range — I saw them with feathers. I know the family, I’ve been to the farm and visited their facility.

“I was born on a farm. How we work now is a lot like when I was growing up. In the 1960s and ’70s chefs got away from that. The more exotic, the further away something came from, the better. We’ve come full circle.

“Every year we have some new staff. I learn a lot from them. That keeps me excited about cooking — different techniques, new equipment, new kinds of cooking such as sous vide, and I can teach them some of the old tricks.”

Pan-seared sterling springs chicken scallopini and Okanagan berry salsa served with roasted fingerling potatoes

  • 8 thin slices (3 oz each) of boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 8-12 fingerling potatoes
  • chopped rosemary
  • grape seed oil for roasting potatoes
  • roasted fingerling potatoes

Cut potatoes in half and toss chopped rosemary and oil in a bowl. Place on cookie sheet and roast in the oven at 380ºF for approximately 12 minutes.

Chicken scaloppini: Sear the chicken scaloppini in a medium-hot pan with 2 tablespoons grape seed oil for approximately 3 minutes on each side until done. Set aside.

  • fresh berry salsa
  • 1 c each fresh blueberries, strawberries and raspberries
  • ½ c fine-dice red onions
  • 2 gloves garlic, crushed
  • ½ oz cilantro, chopped
  • 1 T honey
  • ½ c Calamondin Balsamic vinegar*
  • salt and pepper

Toss berries with red onion, cilantro, garlic, honey and vinegar. Season to taste.

To serve: place roasted fingerling potatoes on a plate. Add two seared chicken scaloppini and top with
berry salsa.

Serves 4.

Chef’s wine suggestion: Gray Monk Odyssey Rosé Brut.

*Calamondin Balsamic vinegar is available from crescendo.com, alternatively use a citrus-infused vinegar or white wine vinegar and a squeeze of fresh lime and orange to taste.