Around the back of Home Block at CedarCreek Estate Winery, stands a huge tower of neatly stacked wood. The logs—just a fraction of the restaurant’s stockpile—are chopped down from timber produced by local Okanagan orchards and the discarded staves from seasoned wine barrels. This wood serves a dual purpose: as natural and sustainable fuel for the restaurant’s enormous upright woodfire grill, and as flavour enhancer for the cooking of executive chef Neil Taylor.
You can see the latter as the first plate arrives: fresh burrata cheese and prosciutto are gussied up with blistered shishito peppers and chunks of housemade focaccia sporting toasty grill marks. By the time wild boar chops with grilled rapini are served on one of the ceramic platters commissioned from a local potter, I’m convinced indoor grilling is the only way to cook.
“It’s all about simplicity,” Taylor says of working with the incredible Grillworks Infierno machine. “There’s something primal about it.”
Originally from Berkshire, England, Taylor came to Vancouver from London’s storied River Café to open Cibo Trattoria and its sister room, Uva Wine Bar, bringing with him a passion for bold, rustic Mediterranean cuisine. He went on to open his own tapas bar on Davie Street—España—and the short-lived British-style gastropub, The Fat Badger, in Coal Harbour.
He’d planned to give Vancouver a year, but stayed a decade. When he was asked to come take a look at a new restaurant being built in Kelowna, it was the right offer at the right time.
“I was ready for a change,” he says. “When I first came up, this place was a shell, but I felt really excited about it. Even though I was looking at uprooting my family and leaving my own business, I knew immediately that I wanted this job.”
You can see why: CedarCreek is part of the Iconic Wineries of British Columbia group (along with Mission Hill, Road 13, CheckMate, and Martin’s Lane) and the Home Block space reflects the high standards of architecture and design one expects from an enterprise with Okanagan visionary Anthony von Mandl behind it. A huge open kitchen looks into an airy room, through a full (and fully retractable) picture window, large patio, and across a stunning view of Lake Okanagan. Open for business year-round, the restaurant also has a fireside section ready for cozy winter dining.
Along with the dream kitchen and setting, Taylor had free reign to design and execute the restaurant menu concept.
“Even though we are part of a big company, each winery is individual,” he explains. “So we’re able to get on and do our own thing, as is Mission Hill. We’re allowed to have our own identity, and I think that’s really cool.”
At CedarCreek, that means being approachable: good food and good wine, served with a lack of pretension.
Taylor shrugs: “If you really like sauvignon blanc and you want to drink it with your steak, who’s to say different? Eat what you fancy, drink what you like—I’m just having fun changing up the menu all the time, and making food I like to eat.”
He’s too modest, of course. Under his direction, in 2009, Cibo won the Air Canada enRoute Best New Restaurant in Canada award and, just weeks after Home Block opened, it made this year’s long list (the shortlisted Top Ten will be announced October 24).
“I’m just here to present really good cooking with great ingredients,” he insists. “It’s about lots of flavour and minimal fuss.”
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