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One-on-one with Chef Rod Butters

Ironically, Chef Rod Butters’ cooking career began with an injured arm. An excellent athlete, he was offered a baseball scholarship to Indiana State University, however his professional sports ambitions were cut short after an injured right arm forced him to change paths. 

As most people do when faced with a career change – he had to dig deep. In his cookbook, he talks about his earliest memory of when his passion for cooking was first ignited – he was around seven or eight years old and his father took him to visit a friend of his who worked in a hotel in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. He toured the kitchen and all the smells and the huge stainless steel stoves, the cooks at their stations – it blew him away. Remembering that passion, he channelled his discipline and drive into cooking. 

Born in Port Coquitlam, B.C., he began building his resume at Toronto’s Scaramouche and the Four Seasons where he saw a move underway toward a cleaner, lighter approach to food, with the best ingredients being sourced at local food markets. When he returned west, he landed a job at the Four Seasons Vancouver, working his way up the restaurant hierarchy to become the executive sous chef of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler (or, as the hotel was called in 1989, the Canadian Pacific Chateau Whistler). 

From there he went on to be the executive chef at the Pacific Palisades Hotel in Vancouver which was owned by the Shangri-La Hotel chain. His work there took him to the Shangri-La in Hong Kong, and he spent some time travelling through Singapore and Malaysia. That’s when, in his early 30’s, the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino came calling. 

He was given the opportunity to create his own vision of the perfect restaurant and have a say in everything from construction to menus to décor. A year later, the Wickaninnish Inn earned a designation from Relais & Châteaux, a prestigious 60-year-old French association that recognizes the finest hotels and restaurants in the world. Although he enjoyed his years at the Wickaninnish Inn, he was yearning for sun and a change and after a year travelling throughout Italy and India, he decided the sunny Okanagan Valley in British Columbia would be the perfect place to settle down. 

In 2001, he launched Fresco, a fine-dining restaurant in Kelowna which earned the AAA Four Diamond Award within its’ first year of operation. After operating for four years, the economic downturn came about, and sensing a change in demand, he decided to shut down Fresco and reopened a more relaxed, fuss-free restaurant at the same location called RauDZ Regional Table. 

With a focus on being “fresh, local, comfortable” the restaurant features 100% local wine. As Chef Butters says “world class wines need world class food.” Four years later, to help with the long lineups of customers at RauDZ, he opened the neighbouring micro bar●bites featuring a pared down bar and food menu. 

In 2017 he added Terrafina at Hester Creek to the roster of restaurants. Terrafina – Italian for “from the earth” is Chef Butters’ ode to the region, the food, the wine and the farmers and artisans of the south Okanagan. The fourth restaurant to join his collection in 2018 was Sunny’s Modern Diner. Sunny’s is named after Chef Rod’s beloved dog, Sunny – a golden retriever. The name Sunny’s is also play on the sunshine of the Okanagan Valley and speaks to the restaurant’s prime Lake Okanagan location.

Chef Rod Butters recently took home the Silver at the 2018 Taste Canada Awards for his latest cookbook, ‘The Okanagan Table: The Art of Everyday Home Cooking‘. To celebrate, we sat down with Chef Rod to ask him a few questions about what advice he says for up-and-coming cooks, what he admires in other chefs, and his favourite smells in the kitchen.

What’s the last thing you burned?

Chefs don’t burn things, they caramelize! However, I did burn some rubber off the tires of my Mustang convertible.

Your favourite spice?

Cinnamon; it’s exotic, warming, and incredibly versatile.

What makes you ‘kitchen angry’?

Disrespecting and wasting ingredients. Passionate farmers, suppliers, and artisans put their livelihood into producing amazing items that we as culinarians should respect to their fullest.

The latest flavour you discovered?

The subtle nuance of mock orange as a botanical in our co-created, exclusive The Whole Truth Gin in partnership with Okanagan Spirits Distillery

What’s your most extravagant purchase?

I live quite simply; I try not to be too ‘extravagant’.

Favourite song in the kitchen?

No music; just the sound of sizzling pans, knives on cutting boards, oven doors opening and closing, the footsteps of cooks moving in unison, people laughing in the dining room, and cutlery on plates. The bustle of a restaurant – that’s my favourite song.

What’s your comfort food?

Tomato sandwich with mayonnaise, cracked pepper, and flake salt.

What’s your most essential tool?

Masking tape and a black sharpie! Simple items but vitally important for labeling items, dating, and taking notes.

If you could change anything about the food industry, what would it be?

That we embrace the ‘ugly’ items. The not-so-perfect-looking carrots, strawberries, or tomatoes are equally as tasty and nutritious as the “perfect” looking ones. We have become conditioned to only expect aesthetically perfect foods. However, to me, perfect is being ethical – and that means no waste.

Your favourite smell in the kitchen?

The intoxicating scent of roasted turkey!

What’s your bad habit?

Bad habit? Me? No comment.

What do you admire in other chefs?

Professionalism and a willingness to be an active member of their community; giving back to others and our industry.

Who or what is your greatest inspiration?

Our guests, our team, our suppliers. 

The dish that you are proudest of?

The last one I just made.

What’s your end of the world menu?

Blantons Bourbon; nothing else is necessary.

Your favourite piece of advice or quote?

“When you cook with passion, you feed the soul.”

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