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Mark Filatow, Chef, Restaurateur and Champion of Regional Cuisine
By Andrew Findlay
When chef and restaurateur Mark Filatow packs his kitchen knives and heads to cooking competitions like the annual Gold Medal Plates, he admits he’s on a bit of a personal crusade. The modest, but well respected chef just wants to help shine some light on the often overlooked Okanagan Valley culinary scene.
“It is good to get the Okanagan on the radar. Take a look at the MacLean’s magazine ‘top 50 restaurants in Canada’ issue. All of the 50 are in the big cities,” says the 41-year-old, multiple Gold Medal Plates competitor. “We have a great scene here and it needs to get noticed.”
Filatow is an integral part of that scene; busy barely describes his schedule. Most diners know him as the culinary inspiration, executive chef, entrepreneur and one of the business partners in Kelowna’s recently expanded and renovated Waterfront Wines and its catering arm, Details Catering. Somehow he manages to juggle business and running kitchens with regular appearances at chef competitions and food and wine events, while tending a backyard farm and raising two young kids with his wife Deepa.
Like a lot of people who leave their mark on the world of dining, Filatow’s life is in many ways an ongoing apprenticeship in the kitchen. As a young boy back in Mississauga, the Filatow family kitchen was a place to break bread and celebrate good food. However, one of the more memorable food memories of his youth is surprising; it originates from when he and his brother routinely tagged along with their father who fixed machinery at a local German butcher shop.
“The smell of the smokehouse and the crack of a knackwurst started me off on the right foot,” Filatow says. “My father was usually paid in salami, liverwurst, schinkenspeck, blood sausage and fresh rye bread.”
“The smell of the smokehouse and the crack of a knackwurst started me off on the right foot,” Filatow says.
Following high school, he headed west chasing powder snow and good times in Whistler where he worked the frontlines in numerous kitchens. In summer he migrated to the backwoods of B.C. to cook for tree planting crews in remote camps with rustic cooking conditions; an experience that he says taught him how to “keep things simple and defrost chickens when the air temperature is below zero.” He hit the books as an undergrad at the University of British Columbia before switching tracks to Vancouver’s Dubrulle Culinary Institute and graduated with honours in 1996. Filatow went on to work in top notch innovative kitchens, apprenticing under Rod Butters at the Wickaninnish Inn’s Pointe Restaurant, John Bishop at Bishop’s, and Michael Noble at Diva at the Met Restaurant. In 2001 he followed his instincts to Kelowna and the plentiful Okanagan Valley where he again joined Butters along with Audrey Surrao to open the kitchen at Fresco Restaurant, now RauDZ. That same year he entered the International Sommelier Guild. Filatow had discovered a niche in the Okanagan with its abundant local produce and wine scene, not to mention ample sporting opportunities.
“My wife and I were looking to get out of Vancouver. The Okanagan had it all. Job, great ingredients, awesome wine, skiing, mountain biking, and affordable housing,” Filatow says.
The trajectory of his career led to the opening of his own restaurant in 2004, Waterfront, which is both an expression of his culinary creativity and his connection to local food producers and farmers. In recent years, this sort of 100-Mile food ethic has received much mileage among foodies and in the media, and Filatow believes it remains a work in progress (“unfortunately we are still driven by convenience and price,” he says). Yet “buying local when possible is not just logical, it makes for much more satisfying personal networks and friendships that create the fabric of a strong food scene.”
“Those relationships are critical. It took two years to convince Jon Cox at Sweet Life Farms to grow us russet potatoes. Now he keeps us in supply for 10 months of the year,” Filatow says. “It’s easier to make ‘use local’ decisions when the product is actually available.”
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