“What’s for dinner?” Three hungry words typically uttered at about 4:30 pm, when the fridge is empty and our to-do list is full.
When you need a break from the kitchen (or lack enough ingredients to summon sustenance), why not try the restaurant at Urban Fare Kelowna? Find a comfortable seat and dine in or get your meal boxed for take-out. Either way, dinner is deliciously served thanks to the work of Executive Chef, Ryan McDonald.
“I'm responsible for the food programs in all our restaurants,” explains the 38-year old (who looks ten years younger). With four locations in Vancouver and one in the Okanagan, it’s a career that keeps McDonald on his toes—and in his car, traveling—but most importantly, fulfilled.
While he earned a degree in marketing, it wasn’t long before he realized sitting behind a desk didn’t do it for him. “If you get up and say, ‘Damn! I don't want to go to work,’ you need new work,” he says, chuckling.
With Urban Fare for nine years, now McDonald greets each day with a smile. He started as a sous-chef at the Coal Harbor location, but has twenty years experience in the industry and cooked up creations as a little kid.
"I helped my mom cook all the time. I was fascinated with what she did,” he explains.
Mom is always the best teacher (mais oui), but it was a competition in French class that foreshadowed a career for this chef.
“I went through my mom’s cookbooks and decided on Beef Bourguignon. I was nine or ten…She might’ve helped me…but I won for best dish.”
These days McDonald oversees chefs at each Urban Fare location, where the day begins with beautiful breakfasts like Eggs Benny, wraps, corn beef hash and healthy, homemade muesli. Entrées might include beef dip and crispy, hot French fries, squash angnolotti with bocconcini, curry vegetable stew or how about a bison burger? Gourmet sandwiches, wraps, and potluck are on offer, and of course the Carvery starting at 5 PM.
"Our food is high quality and good value,” McDonald says. “On average eleven bucks for a good meal. We rotate our buffet every day and offer a different carvery every evening."
Why hate Mondays when roast turkey with fixings are on the menu? Mid week there’s stuffed pork loin and leg of lamb and just when you’re ready to ring in the weekend, there’s Friday’s prime rib for just $15.99—all of it washed down with a local craft beer or VQA wine.
More than Good Food: Food that’s Good for you—and the Earth
The upmarket store in the Overwaitea Food Group, Urban Fare aims for impeccable quality, authenticity and sustainability.
"The way the world is going, people want to know where their food is coming from and that is close to my heart," McDonald says, his hand on his chest, a sparkle dancing in his dark eyes.
And it comes from as far away as Japan and as close as our backyards.
In the deli you'll find Wagyu round, Urban Fare’s signature roast beef. A Japanese breed, Wagyu are the Prima Donnas of the pasture, receiving daily massages and a brewski to boot.
“The farmers baby them,” McDonald admits. Bringing a whole new meaning to beer belly, apparently sipping suds brings out the best in a cow’s fat, resulting in even and delectable marbling. “Happy cow; happy steak.” McDonald grins.
Keeping chickens perkily pecking is a good idea, too. Urban Fare Kelowna gets theirs from a non-GMO farm in nearby Salmon Arm. “I've been to many chicken farms as a chef and Farmcrest is pretty cool,” McDonald says. “It's the best chicken I've ever had. The farmer grows his own feed and hatches his own chickens.”
The store’s simmering soups are made by a local lady; same with the savory samosas, supplied by an Indian cook in Kelowna. You’ll find barbeque rubs and sauces, crackers, snacks, and confections like chocolate by Knight’s and macarons from Sandrine, all of them locally crafted, and plenty of products made elsewhere in the province. But you’ll also find the staples.
"If you walk our shelves, we're never going to get rid of Cheerios,” McDonald says, but we source unique, high-end products—and some crazy ones, too.”
International olive oils and prosciuttos from Italy are popular, while Frankenstein pumpkins from California and square watermelons from Japan (which sell for “$200 bucks a pop”) are more out there.
Bling water—now that’s stretching the quench. Not the water inside, it’s the outside that counts in California, where the Swarovski-smothered glass bottles are made and marketed to celebs and such. “We have a $2600 bottle on display,” McDonald says, “just for fun. Although we have sold the $50 ones.”
The bottles are like works of art and in keeping with sustainability, can be salvaged as vases. When it comes to recycling, however, the fresh juice bar at Urban Fare is a shining star.
Imperfect looking but perfectly healthy fruit doesn’t sell well but cut it up and package it like salad? Convenience in a container. If it still doesn’t go out the door? Turn it into juice. With a selection of freshly squeezed beverages, staff whip up some beauties or invite you to create your own. That same premise is applied to products. Don't see what you want on the shelves? Staff will strive to bring it in for you.
A popular new addition to the fresh side of food is the sushi bar where flavorful fish is decorated into handmade delicacies.
“We developed the program and had good success in Vancouver,” McDonald explains, although even he was pleasantly surprised by its popularity. "Why would I buy grocery store sushi where there are 3,000 restaurants, right?” Yet lower mainland stores get loads of orders.
Watching it being prepared is fun and knowing what's in it is reassuring. Like in the deli, all fish is one day fresh and ocean-wise (Vancouver Aquarium’s sustainable seafood designation) and made with the choice of white, brown, or McDonald’s favourite—black rice.
"We've got black rice going here in Kelowna. It's much healthier, higher in antioxidants, amino acids, and fiber – and the flavor! Slightly nuttier and sweeter than white but without the offensive texture of brown."
Loving Life; Loving Food
To see him you might wonder how he remains fit —the guy cooks for a living and so does his girlfriend—but McDonald counters his calories with outdoor fitness. Snowboarder by winter; hiker by summer, he can’t get enough of the mountains, although he’d love to have a little more land—and a couple of dogs roaming it.
Until then he is relegated to an urban life and the animals that fit into that, like his pet python, Selena.
An inherent love of nature and a respect for all the creatures that inhabit it brings perspective to McDonald’s designation as chef. “I like to hunt, forage for my food. It goes back to knowing where my food came from. I value life in a very deep way. We’re all stardust. We’re all on the same rock.”
So why not revel in it and relish good eats, right?
“There's something really satisfying about feeding people,” McDonald says, smiling. “You watch people put food in their faces and they light up, it's instant gratification.”