Wine Culture Magazine

Cultivating a different kind of wine country cuisine at Backyard Farm

At Backyard Farm, chef Chris Van Hooydonk is connecting food with land, family and community. Joanne Sasvari photos

On a two-acre plot of land with more than 80 heritage fruit trees, a flock of chickens and raised beds filled with herbs and vegetables, Chris Van Hooydonk is living his dream life.

“I want to grow food and farm and be a chef,” says the chef and proprietor of Backyard Farm. “I just want to do it in a different way and on a much smaller scale.”

Backyard Farm is unlike anything else in wine country. Located just north of Osoyoos, it’s not a restaurant, but a farm that holds private dinners, cooking classes and offsite catering events. As Van Hooydonk says, “We’re basically an educational centre that promotes agritourism.”

But if you think that means rustic home cooking, think again. This is beautiful, imaginative, elevated cuisine that passionately supports the region’s growers and wineries, when the chef isn’t plucking ingredients from outside his own front door.

“I really do feel that I connect with people on a different level than you can in a restaurant. It’s about the food and the farm,” he says. “What do you really need? I already have everything I need.”

Arrival: Artisan charcuterie and cheese selection with accompaniments. 

Recommended wine: bubbles or rosé.

When you arrive at Backyard Farm for one of the Chef’s Table dinners, you might be confused at first. It’s just an old house surrounded by old trees, after all, with maybe a chicken or two meandering about. 

But step inside and it’s a different world. To the left is the immaculate commercial kitchen; to the right, the airy dining room with its long table and big windows that look across to the Black Sage Bench.

And then comes the reveal. Suddenly, everyone starts pulling bottles of wine out of boxes and bags. Van Hooydonk doesn’t sell wine, so he assigns guests to bring their own. He sends the menu ahead of time with suggested varieties to pair with each course. (The subheadings here are a recent example.). He then sends guests out on a treasure hunt to find them, and it’s always exciting to see what everyone else has brought. 

“I want to send people to places where it’s not just about the wine, it’s about the experience,” he says.

First course: Dungeness crab and charred asparagus terrine, house-cured bacon shortbread, nectarine and blood orange gastrique

Recommended wine: Sauvignon Blanc.

Van Hooydonk has spent 25 years working in culinary hospitality, including three years at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston and five years at Burrowing Owl’s Sonora Room, three of them as executive chef. 

From there he could see this farm across the valley. It had two old houses and a bunch of fruit trees and it was exactly what he was dreaming of. He and his wife Mikkel bought the place, did a few renovations and, in June 2014, launched Backyard Farm. Now they and their two kids live in one of the houses and operate the Chef’s
Table out of the other.

“Our plan all along was to have the long vision of having a place to raise our family,” he says. “The reason I wanted to put roots down in the valley is that I can see the magic here. My motivation is life and family and food.”

Gougère filled with smoked char from just up the road.

Second course: Applewood-smoked Road 17 char gougère, smoked sunchoke soubise, tarragon oil, chive blossom. 

Recommended wine: Chardonnay.

The Chef’s Table dinners are only part of what Van Hooydonk does. “This is my passion project, but the real business is catering,” he says.

The catering business has come roaring back since pandemic restrictions were lifted. He’s got catering events planned every week this summer, several at local wineries, and events are already being booked for next year. “We’re pretty selective about what we do because we’re a pretty small team,” he says. “We’d rather keep things nice and small and exclusive.”

The cooking classes are back, too. They tend to be in-depth, hands-on culinary workshops like the recent one on chocolate, “but more like a kitchen party. Every party seems to end up in the kitchen anyways,” he says with a laugh.


The duck confit main course.

Main course: Yarrow Meadows duck confit, foraged morel and potato croquette, farm-foraged arugula, currant, pine nut romesco. 

Recommended wine: Pinot Noir or Gamay Noir.

“This duck confit is one of the reasons my wife married me,” Van Hooydonk confides as he serves the glossy and fragrant dish. For a moment we’re swept away to France, and that’s just what he has in mind. “I’m trying to take a little piece of France and plunk it down in wine country. Because what is wine without food?”

As much as possible here is made in house, from the naturally fermented bread to the handcrafted and air-brushed chocolates. “The last thing that people remember is just as important as the first. And if the last thing they remember is a handmade heart-shaped chocolate, that’s not a bad thing at all,” he says.

And when he’s not busy planning menus or cooking, he’s joining Mikkel in taking care of the farm. 

“We are an agritourism business that is concentrating on food culture and sharing stories in an intimate setting. It’s not just a place to eat,” he says. “We’re truly making the best effort to educate our guests in the importance of knowing where your food is grown.”


Who can resist dessert when it’s this pretty?

Dessert: Hazelnut financier, apricot crema, lavender-poached heritage rhubarb, roasted white chocolate, quince. 

Recommended wine: late harvest or icewine. 

When Van Hooydonk serves dinner, he’s not just putting food on the plate. He’s feeding a much deeper, more fundamental need. He speaks earnestly of making “connections to the place and its stories,” of showing “the harmony of food and wine and tourism,” of “mealtimes being more than just sustenance.”

Most of all, he cares deeply about where that food comes from, especially when it’s his own two-acre piece of land.

“I’m a farmer,” he says simply. “I just happen to be a chef first.”

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