How have you been celebrating the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables? Ha! If you’re like us, you didn’t know the United Nations declared such for 2021. Reading about UN’s designation a week ago led to today’s story, an agritourism destination we highly recommend. A farm stay at Klippers Organics and dinner onsite at Row 14, named the number one restaurant in Vancouver (even though it’s five hours away!) in 2019 by The Globe and Mail.
Magellan and I remember when Annamarie and Kevin Klippenstein first began bringing their abundance of fruits and vegetables to farmers markets nineteen years ago, their four children helping to display produce and hand out samples. Their certified organic farm, now totalling more than 60 acres, is in the town of Cawston, in part of the pastoral Similkameen Valley, the capital of Canada’s organic farming. Twice a week they’re still driving from the farm to Vancouver to fulfill restaurant orders and fill the bellies of locals with their fruits, vegetables and preserves.
With Covid restricting our travel, I had forgotten about their restaurant that the Globe’s trustworthy food critic, Alexander Gill, had rated so highly. Until we began planning where to stay between Vancouver and Golden this summer and I discovered Klippers has four guest suites right on the farm. But with a two-night minimum. However, when I requested a dinner reservation and asked if they knew of a place nearby where we could spend the night, they kindly waived the minimum stay.
“Imagine driving this road twice a week,” I said to Magellan somewhere on Highway 3, the rain beating down on the twisty road after we’d left Princeton. “And then they’ve got that horrid bumper-to-bumper stretch into Vancouver from Abbotsford,” he replied.
Just before we arrived at the farm, the rain that had dogged us all the way from Vancouver and the clouds of smoke from wildfires paused to give the sun a breakthrough. With a few hours to spare before dinner we wandered the farm, anticipating what might be on the menu.
Baby artichokes curling under thorny branches. Eggplants sheening purple. Chickens pecking at fallen apples. Peaches a husband-and-wife team were placing one-by-one in cradled boxes, gently as if laying a newborn to sleep. We had noticed several houses on the Kippers property. “Do you live on the farm?” we asked. “Yeah, that’s our home right over there,” the husband replied. “Are you allowed to eat these peaches?” “As many as we want,” his wife smiled.
Inviting as the outdoor patio looked, we had dinner in the restaurant’s timbered interior, expansive yet cozy, rustic but modern, unfussy. We sat near the open kitchen, the plating counter backed by a wood-fired hearth custom built by a local welder.
Remember our blog Primal Flavours about the fire-smoked food at Asador Etxebarri in northern Spain? (Now rated #3 in the world.) Similarly, in roasting just-picked fruits and vegetables over fruitwood charcoals, Row 14 fires up explosive natural flavours.
The menu, Field, Pasture or à la carte, changes every few days. Over glasses of Crimson Star and Lionheart cider, we went to Pasture. The young woman serving us suggested a bottle of 2018 Horseshoe Pinot Noir, a small vineyard just down the road that produces only 112 cases of this earthy and delicious wine.
We’ve all heard how difficult it is for young people to find work, while at the same time restaurants can’t find staff. This was the first job Ariel, our waitress, has had since March 2020 when she managed a restaurant in Vancouver. A graduate of Emily Carr School of Art & Design, she and her partner moved from Vancouver to Cawston. Here, they could afford to buy a house and with him in construction, fix it up when he’s not doing the same for others. “In time, he plans to add an art studio on the property for me,” she beamed.
Remember when we used to photograph restaurant dishes? Not here. It would have felt pretentious, as passé as culinary foams or beef Wellington, though you never know, we may go retro ourselves in the future…
First up was wholewheat bread lavished with smoked butter, immediately reminding me of Asador Etxebarri where the smoked goat butter still makes me want to reserve a flight to Spain.
Although Magellan blisters a fine Padron pepper, (careful, one in ten is hot we were warned) and we’ve eaten many at tapas bars in Spain, Chef Derek’s, sprinkled with sea salt sourced from Vancouver Island, were the best we’ve tasted.
Tomato gazpacho. Don’t we all have a dozen recipes? Row 14’s is earthy, complex and unadorned, the way you’d expect at a farm restaurant. And drizzled with olive oil sourced from Salt Spring Island, Canada’s only supplier.
One of my favourite dishes of the night was unidentifiable. Like Baba Ganoush, a Lebanese hummus, but sweeter, absent the bitter taste of eggplant, tasty with the addition of toasted sesame seeds and richness of labneh, a thickened yogurt. Scraping up the deliciousness to smother onto the last crusts of bread, I asked our waitress what I was eating. Smoked and grilled zucchini, a vegetable I always find tasteless and unappealing had reached its apex from being grilled over a woodfire—fire: what Alexis Sover, the French chef who became the most celebrated cook in Victorian England, called a “gastronomic regenerator.”
The next dish equalled my favourite way to eat beets, smoked and served with an avocado crema and chili lime salt, a recipe from Hartwood in Tulum where most everything is cooked under the stars on wood-fired grills. At Row 14 the beets are boiled before they’re smoked and mixed with candied walnuts, fresh blackberries and sakekasu, the whey from making sake that addes a complex umami depth.
Peaches—we got to eat some! A simple dish we can all make at home. Grill perfectly ripened peaches and sun-ripened heirloom tomatoes lightly over a fire. Garnish with whipped ricotta cheese and ribbons of basil.
By now we were way ahead of Canada’s daily requirement of five portions of fruits and vegetables, equivalent to about 400 grams. Surprisingly, at least to me, less than 30% of us buy enough fruits and vegetables to reach this level of consumption.
At the onset of dinner we expressed a slight worry that the number of dishes and generosity of the portions may be too much for jubilados who had done little but sit in Rove-Inn all day. Accordingly, instead of serving us a steak our protein was trout. But what was the tasty green stuffing, like spinach but not?
It was about this time that Annamarie herself (who had been waitressing as well!) dropped by. “It’s callaloo,” she explained. “We had Jamaicans working on the farm who told us about their country’s staple green and convinced us to grow it. Isn’t it good?” She identified the flavour. Nuttier than spinach with the grassy taste and crunchiness of amaranth.
We asked Annamarie about the farm, the drive, the work…
“Our son does the Wednesday run now, Kevin does the weekends and I have time off,” She laughed. She went on to tell us that on those long drives to and from Vancouver she and Kevin had many hours to talk about the future, which for some time included discussions about opening a restaurant on the farm. A near deal fell through. Then Derek Gray came for a farm visit. Annamarie and Kevin had delivered produce to Derek, the renowned opening chef at Vancouver’s highly acclaimed Savio Volpe (we love it and the pasta Derek made at Cibo Trattoria when he cooked there). The three of them formed a partnership and planned the steps-from the-farm-to-table restaurant, naming it Row 14 because it was built in the 14th row of the farm’s apple orchard. The restaurant shares space with Klippers Untangled Craft cidery.
Their timing was dreadful.
Row 14 opened in late August 2019. In a matter-of-fact voice, Annamarie explained that they closed for the holidays in December, cheered in early January when they received accolades from the critics and happily began planning reopening in March. (I asked about staying open in winter for the locals but Cawston only has 900 people.) Then came COVID. They were only open for three days in March 2020 before they had to shut down. But as we from Saskatchewan know, farmers are resilient. They built a new facility, the Marketplace & Café, where they sell farm produce, cider, coffee and pastries and a selection of grocery items. Which also gives Row 14’s pastry chef another outlet for her talents.
For dessert we had her panna cotta with carrot gelee, carrot mousse, crumble and a thin gingerbread cookie resembling a Langue de Chat, soft in the middle and crisp around the edges.
At breakfast (the coffee at Marketplace & Café is superb) after a last walk in the fields, we had her “egg,” a brioche/yeast Danish, the white a circle of vanilla cream, the yolk a smoked apricot.
How sweet life can be when you savour such goodness.