Executive chef realizes his dream at Okanagan Valley inn

The restaurant offers Great Bear scallop crispy porky belly. | Supplied photo

“Sometimes you just need a clawfoot tub in your life.”

That observation on the home page of the charming Naramata Inn grabbed my attention and prompted some research on the area. I subsequently spent a couple of inspiring hours interviewing executive chef and co-owner Ned Bell.

Naramata is a tiny village on the southeastern shore of Lake Okanagan, 15 minutes north of Penticton. Founded in 1907, it was originally regarded as prime agriculture land. Over time, tourism grew and, together with agriculture, formed the economic base of the village.

Initially known for its countless fruit orchards, many of which still exist, the area is now recognized as one of the top wine-producing regions in the country. The numerous vineyards and wineries, collectively known as the Naramata Bench, not only attract tourists, but are also gaining international recognition for the quality of their wine.

In the heart of this picturesque community is a quaint 113-year-old, 12-bedroom house. Located on one acre, the boutique-style inn welcomed new owners on Feb. 21, 2020, just before COVID-19 changed our world.

While the timing may appear unfortunate to most, new owners, husband and wife Ned Bell and Kate Colley, along with Paul Hollands and Marina Wiesner, viewed it as an opportunity to make a few updates to the 10,000 sq. foot inn.

While maintaining the mission-style rooms that reflect the charm of the early 1900s, contemporary comforts were added creating both a modern and historical feel.

Do not expect to find a television or phone. Rather, be prepared to unplug and relax while exploring and experiencing the tranquil ambiance of the Naramata area.

As you enter the Inn’s foyer, you are only a few steps away from the dining room, which is adjacent to a semi-open kitchen. The scent of freshly baked bread made from Naramata apple sour dough starter will likely greet you and be the start of a memorable and unique culinary experience.

Having a restaurant where the executive chef is one of Canada’s foremost culinary talents has quickly made the Inn a destination. Over a career spanning nearly three decades, Bell has earned multiple accolades. He is the founder of Chefs for Oceans, which actively promotes the environmentally responsible and sustainable seafood movement, a regular guest on chef segments for both CTV and Global B.C., the author of a best-selling cookbook, Lure: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the West Coast, and the list goes on.

Although he is accomplished, his dream is being realized through ownership of the Naramata Inn. Chef Bell’s cooking philosophy is globally inspired and locally created, and the Naramata Inn is proof positive that he lives what he believes.

“Farmers are the hardest working people out there. Chefs can’t do anything without a farmer,” Bell said. “Over nearly 30 years, I created a respectful connection to the area farmers, ranchers, foragers and makers. And, if I do not know the farmer, fisher or grower, their ingredients are not on my menu,” he said.

In fact, other than coffee and chocolate, you will not find any ingredient in his kitchen that does not come from Canada. The Naramata culinary team doesn’t use olive oil — they use canola oil. They don’t use white rice — they use Saskatchewan-grown legumes and local potatoes. Don’t bother looking for lemons or limes as you won’t find those either. Rather, they use locally grown substitutes.

What you will find is a meal like no other. Dubbed French-Naramatian cuisine, the menu often changes because Bell is focused on the season and the region and he strives to give visitors a taste of place.

Currently, the most popular dinner entree is the dry-aged Fraser Valley duck and juniper jus served with chef-inspired red cabbage jam, charred onions and beets.

I count on experiencing the pacific scallops and crispy pork belly. I happen to have a strong devotion to pork belly so my mind is already made up. Knowing scallops will be cozying up to the pork belly makes me want to hop in my car and head west today.

Locally grown parsnips and ambrosia apples with foraged rosehip vinaigrette will round out this delightful offering.

Yes, my mouth is watering.

They also have an incredible selection of desserts, from the merroir dark chocolate pot de crème to Okanagan apple tarte tatin. Although all pique my interest, I will be tempted to try the whipped orchard honey cheesecake featuring hazelnut dacquoise resting on a house-made spelt cookie crust with a wild rosehip drizzle.

Bell may be the conductor of the kitchen, but he credits a talented team around him.

“Dining at the Naramata Inn is not about one person, but about a team. From the pastry chef who starts at 5 a.m., to the last one to leave at 2 a.m., it is a collection of people who give it their all.”

Yield: Six to eight individual cheesecakes or one eight-inch cheesecake.

Spelt flour cookie cheesecake base:

  • 1 2/3 c. spelt flour (380 g)
  • 1 tsp. salt (4 g)
  • 2/3 c. organic sugar (140 g)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda (4 g)
  • 1/4 c. liquid honey (90 g)
  • 3/8 c. milk (90 mL)
  • 1/2 c. butter, cubed (100 g)
  • 1 tbsp. butter, melted (15 g)

In the bowl of a food processor or similar mixer, pulse together the flour, salt, sugar and baking soda.

In a small bowl, slowly pour the liquid honey in with the milk and hand mix well. Set aside.

Cube cold butter into quarter-inch pieces and add to the flour mixture. Pulse together until you create a coarse meal. Slowly drizzle in the honey and milk mixture. Pulse for a couple of seconds or until the flour is hydrated.

Pour the crumbly dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread out evenly and bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes or until lightly golden. Depending on your oven, you may need to stir it up a little halfway through baking, or turn the tray if you have hot spots.

Cool completely and then crush it up in the food processor or in a plastic Ziplock bag with a rolling pin until it looks like graham crumbs.

Line the bottom and sides of individual rings or a removable base pan with parchment paper or acetate sheets.

Mix one tablespoon (15 g) of melted butter into 2 1/2 cups (340 g) of the cookie crumbs. Pack it firmly into the individual rings or a spring form pan with a removable base.

Chill the base to enable it to set before adding the cheesecake topping.

Cream cheese topping:

  • 2 c. cream cheese at room temperature (500 g)
  • 2/3 c. honey (150 g)
  • 1/2 c. icing sugar (60 g)
  • 3/4 c. 35 percentcream (200 mL)

With the paddle attachment of a stand mixer (or with a bowl and a wooden spoon), cream together the room temperature cream cheese, honey, and icing sugar. Cream until smooth. Reserve in a bowl large enough to fold in the whipped cream.

In the stand mixer with the whisk attachment (or in a bowl with a whisk), whip the cold cream to medium stiff peaks.

Gently fold half of the whipped cream into the cream cheese base, then fold in the remainder.

Spread on top of your prepared base, and allow to chill in the fridge for one to two hours.

Top with delicious, seasonal Okanagan fruit, either made into a compote or as is, tossed in a little honey.

Adele Buettner is a farm girl (at heart), foodie, volunteer, business owner and lover of all things relating to agriculture and food. She is located in Saskatoon.

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