La Dolce Vita: New book chronicles an Okanagan love affair

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The cover of Jennifer Schell's new book.

The cover of Jennifer Schell's new book.

With the first printing of The Butcher, The Baker, The Wine and Cheese Maker now sold out, it’s safe to say there are going to be a lot of happy people around the province when Christmas gifts are opened this year.

In the interests of disclosure, let me first explain that author Jennifer Schell also edits Food and Wine Trails magazine, which is a Black Press publication. I am a contributing writer for the magazine. I have never met Schell other than through emails.

Not so many years ago, self-published books were the refuge of conspiracy theorists, local historians and UFO abductees. How times have changed. This year, some of the best books to cross my desk have been published by their authors, and Schell’s ranks among the very best of those.

I was looking forward to getting a copy of the book Schell subtitles An Okanagan Cookbook as soon as it was announced as being in the planning stages. The author, who has an unbridled passion for wine and food and the people who work with them, intended to create a book that celebrates producers throughout the Okanagan. Farmers, winemakers, chefs and others who toil, often in the background, to bring food to tables in homes and restaurants throughout the province were about to get their time in the spotlight.

Having written a couple of series of stories about similar folks here in the Creston Valley, and being an avid amateur cook and wine enthusiast, I knew that The Butcher, The Baker, The Wine and Cheese Maker would be my kind of book. When a copy arrived at my office, inscribed by Schell, a few minutes flipping through the pages proved that this was no wet blanket to cool my eagerness.

Nicely organized into menu-like sections — starters, main courses, desserts and cheeses — with additional pages devoted to a number of old-fashioned home recipes and then some wine and food events, the book is chock-full of short biographies of people. Some are even penned by the food and wine producers themselves.

One recipe, for instance, for fig and blue cheese ravioli, is matched with short bios of chef Jeremy Luypen of Oliver’s Terrafina Restaurant, cheesemaker Gidda Pedersen of Poplar Grove Cheese and winemakers from Hester Creek Winery. It’s a clever and absorbing way to connect food with the producers of the ingredients for a wonderful experience at the table.

Schell comes by her passion for food producers honestly. She grew up on an Okanagan farm, with her grandparents’ farms on each side.

“This cookbook is a love letter to all those who have created, grown and nurtured our special valley on this earth,” Schell writes. “They are a delightful confluence of old and new world, blending their international influence and flavours with our local bounty, establishing a cuisine that is distinctly Okanagan. Through their recipes and stories, I am pleased to introduce you to these gifted people who bring this local food to your table every day.”

Having visited the Okanagan many, many times, largely to experience the very things that Schell celebrates in this book, I find it a genuine treat to get an up close and personal look at the individuals who grow and make the food, produce the wine and bring it to restaurant tables around the B.C. Interior. Some of the faces are familiar from our visits, but many more now feel like, if not friends, at least acquaintances I would like to know better.

We visit wineries, festivals and markets wherever we can so that we can take away a small share of the passion and enthusiasm we invariably find. In The Butcher, The Baker, The Wine and Cheese Maker, Schell has delivered a generous helping of those very qualities, all in one very sumptuous package.

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Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.