Chef Josh Bender and his new restaurant Urtica Eatery at Legend Distilling in Naramata are taking eating local and sustainable to a whole new level. He grows or forages as many of the vegetables and herbs as he can and sources the rest from neighbouring farms. In addition to lovely local fruit the Valley is known for world-wide, Chef Josh serves only sustainably farmed meats, seafood, dairy and eggs.
After a busy day serving guests at Urtica, Chef Josh unwinds at his Naramata property by tending his 12 garden beds and 100 containers of vegetables and herbs and the containers he has planted at the restaurant itself.
“I cooked as a kid,” he says as he offers me a first dish of roasted beets with cumin yogurt, nettle pesto, pumpkin seeds, orange and wild fennel.
Urtica, Chef Josh tells me, is latin for the stinging nettles he used in the most amazing tasting pesto I’ve ever had. “It’s my favourite wild edible and its a super food for plants as well. I ferment tons of it to feed to my vegetables. I love foraging for it.”
“My mother had a big part in my cooking,” he says. “She was my first teacher and I was lucky to grow up surrounded by nature. Blackberries lined our two-acre property in Langley where we had a creek you could walk along for miles in the forest.”
Josh, a guy of few words, describes his Urtica menu as comfort food with a twist which is better tasted than explained in any case. Who needs words? The beet cured organic spring salmon with cucumber carpaccio, radishes, whipped goat cheese and olive crumb was as fresh, bright and luxuriously creamy tasting as it looked on the plate. Each bite was a pleasure and the flavours and textures worked beautifully together.
Other choices on the ever-changing seasonal menu included a roasted carrot hummus with pita, dandelion honey ricotta, hazelnuts and chili oil, mushroom bruschetta with local cultivated oyster mushroom, herbed ricotta and aged balsamic and a farm kale salad with Upper Bench King Cole cheese, honey walnuts, apple chips, pickled onion and anchovy dressing. A selection of focaccia sandwiches included a buttermilk poached chicken with slab bacon, spring greens, tomato, pickled onion and caramelized onion mayo. A braised beef neck melt and goat cheese & beet were also tempting. The featured entree was a vegetable curry stew served with kale chips, spiced yogurt and pita.
“Urtica is a dream come true for me,” says Josh who put his culinary degree to work for him in various restaurants for the past eight years. “I knew since I was 16 that cooking is the only thing I want to do. I’m coming at this out of a place of love versus building a brand. I want to make good food and be happy with what I do. I’m lucky not to be ‘working for the man’ but able to pursue my passion and learn more and more as I go.
“I am making food that I would be happy to feed my family. Food that is sustainably farmed that is good for you.”
Urtica aligns perfectly with Naramata’s status as an international Cittaslow member town. Cittaslow is an organisation founded in Italy and inspired by the slow food movement. Cittaslow’s goals include improving the quality of life in towns by slowing down its overall pace.
Talking about slow, the view on Legend’s patio makes the dining experience one you want to linger over. I paired my lunch with a refreshing summer cocktail, the new Legendary Cup featuring their just released Amaro.
Urtica Eatery is serving lunch Tuesday through Sunday 11:30am – 3:30 pm and beginning today dinner service Wednesday through Saturday 5-8 pm.