What: North Saanich Flavour Trails Festival
When: August 16-18

by Jen Rashleigh

A delightful self-guided rural ramble, the North Saanich Flavour Trails Festival features 23 different venues that will introduce you to the flavours, farms, wineries, breweries, and cideries of the Saanich Peninsula—a rich tapestry of local food producers and their stories. Here are a few of my favourite stops.

Last year’s Flavour Trails gala. Credit: Kelly Schaecher & Mark Taylor
Kallayanee’s Kitchen – 1455 McTavish Road

At the end of the long driveway off McTavish Road, I receive a warm welcome from a gorgeous border collie and a small Thai statue perched by the door.  Inside the house, a narrow hallway is laden with huge prints, a feast for the eyes reminding me that Thai culture really does have the market cornered on beautiful food.

Kallayanee and husband Ry had long dreamed of teaching the cooking techniques of her homeland, but the small Vancouver townhouse they lived in just didn’t fit. When they moved to North Saanich, a writer-friend on Pender Island coaxed her into offering a cooking class there. When 51 people showed up to the tiny restaurant, they realized they were onto something.

That was 2006. Thirteen years later, Kallayanee offers 20 different classes from her well-appointed home kitchen, including vegetarian meals, curries, and desserts. They return to Thailand often to sample the food stalls and restaurants, gathering ideas for new dishes. This is their second year in the Flavour Trails Festival, and Kallayanee and Ry will spend both days handing out food samples and showing what Thai herbs and plants can be grown in our temperate west coast climate.

McTavish Academy Of Art – 1720 McTavish Road

Just down the road is the McTavish Academy Of Art, a public school turned community hub for art exploration. It’s the kind of creative space that many have dreamed about—especially artsy undergraduates like me!—but never quite had the nerve to do.

Photo: McTavish Academy of Art

The dream began when friends Sean, Karl, and Lucas would hold regular art nights with food, music, and art-making and wonder: “What if we shared this with a wider community? What if we created a safe place for people to gather and explore their artistic sides?”

Fast-forward to 2016, when they bought the school and 4.5-acre parcel, embarking on the substantial modifications needed to make it a creative hub, including a yoga studio, coffee shop, commercial kitchen, gallery space, art studio, and printing room.

What makes the centre so unique is its open, intergenerational mandate to create community through art. A recent comic-making class included participants from ages 10 through 50, all in one room. “Everyone was learning from one another, because we had so many different perspectives,” says Sean.

The Flavour Trails weekend will see the creators host a collaborative art piece, music, free blackberry picking for families (the bushes abound on the property), and a Sunday morning pancake breakfast and family square dance, all outside in the honey-coloured late summer field.

Deep Cove Winery – 11195 Chalet Road

From McTavish Art Academy, drive up to the top of North Saanich, where the small and snug Deep Cove meets gentle sun-baked slopes that support various farms and vineyards, to find the Deep Cove Winery. New owners Elyse and Tasem bought the property just last June and juggled the renovation with parenting their two children, aged five and nine. It was obviously a labour of love: the open and airy building is a beautiful example of modern design. I am starting to realize that North Saanichers are no couch potatoes!

Rows of grape vines with the winery building in the background
Photo: Deep Cove Winery

Tasem is from New York with a background in biochemistry, while Elyse worked in psychiatric nursing. They had lived in Sidney for 10 years when Elyse’s dad brought up the idea of a winery, planting the seed of an idea. “That seed mutually grew in both of us,” says Elyse. “One of us would say, ‘We should,’ and the other: ‘No, we shouldn’t. The next week we switched roles. Finally, we both said: ‘Wait, maybe we should?’ And so we took a chance on a dream.”

Tasem and Elyse knew they liked to drink “old French style” wine but were realistic about their newness to the field. They found a brilliant French consultant to work with them in the vineyard, bringing in sustainable practices—“no harmful chemicals, as low-intervention as possible”—and developing their desired flavours.

Deep Cove Winery will be hosting the Friday night festival gala dinner—a sit-down, four-course affair—and will be open for tastings all weekend long.

Fruit Trees and More – 724 Wain Road

Last but certainly not least on our North Saanich journey is Fruit Trees and More, signalled by an extensive and orderly fig tree orchard on the front lawn. Turn the corner of their house, and you come face to face with a vision of southern Spain: trees dripping with lemons and limes, orange groves, olive trees, pomegranates, guava fruit. It is dense, beautiful productivity everywhere you look. The modestly sized kiwi vines alone give 400 to 500 pounds of fruit each year.

The orchard mastermind is Bob Duncan, while wife Verna is the master jam-maker who also steers their very busy business. It all started when Bob decided to switch gears after a successful scientific career towards a specific goal of growing every type of tree fruit that the local climate can sustain.

And how many types of tree fruit is that? An astounding variety, it turns out. The Duncans grow the things you’d perhaps expect—apples, apricots, cherries, pears, plums—in wide variety (450 types of apple!). But they also have almonds, lemons and limes, oranges of all kinds, and kaffir limes.

Bob exhaustively selects the best varietals for our climate, then grows and monitors them carefully to understand their frost tolerance and what protections they need. By the time he’s ready to sell his trees, he has a wealth of information and skills to pass along to ensure a successful bounty. Bob and Verna’s work is an amazing gift to the region that can be seen in orchards across the Peninsula and beyond.

It strikes me that Bob and Verna are making an incredible contribution to living locally and sustainably. If we grow our lemons and limes in our own commercial orchards and backyards, we don’t have to fly our food in from across the globe. Come see the orchard for yourself on the Saturday of the Flavour Trails Festival.

Bon apétit!