Every ingredient in Aman Dosanj’s food tells a story. As I sit down at a long table dinner hosted by the chef inside Kelowna’s historic Laurel Packinghouse, the dead-of-winter chill is quickly shrugged off in the candlelit glow. And then there are Dosanj’s warm and humorous stories that accompany each course: the bear that helped itself to walnuts in her family home’s backyard; the Peking-style duck that pays homage to artist—and tonight’s collaborator—Meg Yamamoto’s Asian heritage; and the grouse that got away on a hunting trip.
Entirely self-taught, Dosanj honed her cooking skills at Poppadoms, the Indian restaurant her family opened in 2009, after they moved from England to Kelowna. (In her home country, Dosanj was famously the first British Asian (male or female) to play soccer for England—she was goalie). When Poppadoms closed in 2016, she decided to cash in on six years’ worth of untaken vacation time and took eight months to travel the world.
Everywhere she went, she would ask locals to recount their most poignant memory of food, eventually launching her food memory project on her blog. “I decided to learn about the world through food,” she explains. “It was a cool way of showing how everyone is connected—everyone has to eat. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that similarity to accept our differences.”
This sense of community and connection is at the heart of the foodie events she created shortly after returning to the Okanagan. In the summer, her pop-up dinner series Sourced connects locals and travellers to the region’s farmers and winemakers under the shade of cherry trees and grape vines. This year, Dosanj launched the Artist Series, collaborating with local artists in an effort to re-imagine the way we dine and this, the dinner with Kelowna artist Yamamato, in partnership with the Kelowna Museum Society, is the inaugural event.
“It’s the people I meet that inspire me the most, not chefs or food trends,” says Dosanj on her reasons for experimenting this way. “I wanted to rewrite the rules of collaborating with just food people.” She also wanted to show the importance of preserving and freezing local produce rather than buying out of season.
As I tuck into Dosanj’s Indo-Okanagan take on a panzanella salad—toasted sourdough from local Sprout Bread and buttery walnuts (those the bear left behind) mingling with squash and house-made paneer espuma—my attention turns to the acorn chandelier that sways overhead, spanning the length of the long, rustic wooden table. The installation piece, created by Yamamoto, reflects her conceptual, multi-media work and nature-inspired aesthetic, in turn represented in different elements of tonight’s meal.
“Meg is somebody who looks at the world differently, and with the Artist Series, I wanted to shine a light on talented people,” says Dosanj. “She uses terroir in the same way that I do, and we both have a strong sense of place in our work.” Yamamoto notes that, as they dangle from long, thread-like wires, the acorns become easily entangled, an idea she found fitting for an event where food, people, and art are intimately connected.
Peking-style duck, resplendent in a plum and local wild honey glaze on a bed of parsnip puree and showered in crispy parsnip chips, follows. “Meg is Japanese so I wanted to infuse the dinner with an Asian element,” says Dosanj. Deceptively simple, the dish has sweet and spicy nuances that give it depth. “When you look at Meg’s art, you really need to contemplate it to get all the intricacies, and so I wanted that notion to be this dish,” explains the chef.
Between pours of Tantalus riesling comes Dosanj’s take on Old Delhi-style butter chicken: local Sterling Springs chicken brined in garam masala for a crispy skin, and cloaked in a tangy sauce made with her own house-made butter. Last but not least are saffron-poached pears nestled against Dosanj’s interpretation of a chocolate Aero bar: a sweet, feather-light honeycomb that dissolves on my tongue. “Meg has this piece I love that incorporates a beehive, so I wanted to take that and replicate it,” she explains.
Her own cooking is forever evolving, as mastering a craft should, she says. “It should change as you change and experience different things.”