Urban Forager

Clockwise from top left: Brodo at their take-out window, Meal Kits from Joy Road Catering, Owners of the new Loki's Garage, Chef Ned Bell of the reborn Naramata Inn.

The year 2020 provided one wild rollercoaster of a ride. The way we ate, shopped, cooked, dined and communicated abruptly changed.

We took to sourdough starters and cooking with vigor. We hoarded. And gardening and growing-your-own enjoyed an unprecedented renaissance.

While nothing can take the place of that spirit of conviviality enjoyed at a pub, a restaurant or at home with friends around the table, we adapted.

Meet-ups, cocktail hours and mealtimes via Zoom and other online platforms have allowed us to share while waiting out these strange days. We are a resilient bunch. But there’s no better example of fierce resilience and tenacity than what we’ve seen in the restaurant industry.

The word “pivot” was top of mind as food establishments had to change, adapt and otherwise roll with the punches to reinvent and keep themselves and their customers safe. For dining rooms it meant closing for a spell to reassess; for other establishments it meant pivot — and pivot fast.

Phone-in orders and a take-out model rolled out. Ready-made meals — that evolved into some of the most incredible and delicious meal kits imaginable — and a line of pantry provisions offered a new source of income and a means of survival.

When brew pubs, cafes and dining rooms did reopen, social distancing guidelines were firmly in place with limited seating. And food and drink were, and continue to be, cooked and served by masked employees. I want to take a moment here to give a huge virtual hug to all service employees from cashiers to servers to chefs, who have worked through this pandemic with astonishing grace.

If you think cooking in a hot restaurant kitchen is hard work, trying doing it with a mask on for eight hours!

It’s never been more important to support your local businesses. The Penticton Farmers’ Market too had to pivot. We spaciously and patiently lined up this past year, guided by a team of devoted volunteers. And although many vendors went to an online model, or incorporated both, it was such an incredible pleasure to see and support the vendors that showed up weekly — come rain, shine or wind.

Restaurants garner notoriously slim margins at the best of times, and yet there are new ones opening all the time. We saw the ambitious transformation and reopening of the Naramata Inn this past summer with celebrity chef Ned Bell spearheading the menu, Loki’s Garage with their brunch and comfort foods, and just recently Neighbourhood Brewing finally opened its doors in Penticton with two floors, spacious patio, over 15 taps and a Mexican-inspired food program.

Tasting rooms also had to pivot this year with most rolling out an appointment-only model. While it added an extra planning step for anyone visiting the region — and a learning curve for the wineries — the success of pre-booked tastings may become the new normal for the industry.

It’s conventionally thought that January is named after Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings.

Depicted as a god with two heads, one looking forward and one looking back, the first month of the new year is a time of reflection and transition. With that, some restaurants are taking a well-needed break — anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

They’ll be resting, renovating and otherwise regrouping to adapt to whatever unknown might be coming down the pipe. Fingers crossed, things don’t go sideways this year and head into further restrictions. For the rest of us, perhaps the new year means a resolution, a new project or goal?

More baking? An online cooking course? Maybe a foray into a plant-based diet? Lately, I’ve been trying my hand at making soufflés. And down the road, I’ll be working on my sit-ups.

Happy New Year to everyone!

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With fork and pen in hand, and a passion for culinary adventure, Shelora Sheldan, writer, cook and curious traveller, goes in search of the delectable adventure.