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Foodlovers in the fields

If you've ever ventured onto the fields of North Arm Farm, you already know it's one of the best places to go to stock up on local produce or sate a sweet tooth. Their cold room is fully stocked with the freshest of everyday items - carrots and beets - to more obscure foods, like crosnes. Plus, the freshest of pies and butter tarts also line their shelves.

But this summer, the farm is being transformed into something of a culinary destination, thanks, in part, to the help of two newcomers to the community.

Jenna Dashney and Maxim Ridorossi are both distinguished culinary talents in their own rights. Dashney is a reputable pastry chef with over 20 years of experience in the industry and Ridorossi is an executive chef who has already captured top honours at the inaugural Whistler Chef Challenge.

The busy couple has decided to slow down their individual business pursuits - namely their respective consulting companies - and dive headfirst into a brand-new joint business venture: the Foodlovers Cooking Co.

"It's the closest we'll ever come to getting married," Dashney said with a laugh.

They just moved to the region last fall, falling in love with the diverse options of culture and nature on offer. During the winter months they launched an underground supper club, preparing eight-course meals using seasonal and organic ingredients paired with wines, all for a suggested donation. It was a huge success.

"We're very individualistic people... but then hosting those things gave us a real taste for working together, because both of our skills complement each other really well," Dashney explained. "He's such an excellent chef that it allows me to focus on pastry and the hostessing aspects of the dinner."

The pair very recently entered into an exciting new partnership with the owners of North Arm Farm, the Sturdys, after Ridorossi answered an ad seeking someone to handle catering from the farm. He quickly realized they could also use some help managing the store, especially during the busy summer and fall months, and the Foodlovers stepped in to help cultivate a unique culinary experience right on the farm.

Now, they plan to work with the Sturdys to operate the North Arm Farm Store this summer, enhancing the current operation by bringing in house made charcuterie - a hormone-free, nitrate-free, organic selection, of course - fresh B.C. cheeses from Les Amis du Fromage, plus Tiger Blue and other cheeses from Salt Spring, and coffee from Pemberton Valley Roasters. They'll also offer up cooking classes, catered events and their Sea to Sky Supperclub upon reservation.

"We love food. We love feeding people, we love food that's in season that's fresh - that makes such a difference - we love issues around food," said Dashney.

You can either stay at the farm for a ready-made lunch, or grab all the local and regional ingredients you need to create your own meal at home.

They've spent the past two weekends in the store, revamping the space and getting ready to offer sandwiches on artisan-style handmade breads, soups and other items made from fresh local ingredients.

"People have such an attachment to the farm, myself included. I think it's really like an unofficial public park, almost," Dashney said.

"As a chef and as a customer, I always loved going there."

But she always thought it would be even nicer to be able to pick up a picnic basket of fresh goodies and a good bottle of wine, and head out to sit in the sunny fields.

"We're continuing on with everything like the butter tarts and the pies and the preserves," she reassured, "which people are really expecting, and then just adding a few more things. Lots more things, actually."

The store will be open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays until the first Farmer's Market, which is held on Father's Day weekend. Then, they'll be open daily until end of September. Fill up your picnic basket!

An extra scoop

Calling all closet sommeliers: here's a great excuse to spend a bit of cash on your lingering love of wine, even during tough economic times.

The Rotary Club of Whistler is hosting its inaugural Elixirs of Life wine auction to raise funds for Polio Plus, an organization dedicated to eradicating polio. The event, which takes place on Saturday, May 30 at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, features a meal created by the Four Seasons, entertainment by live pianist Jeff Maskell, a guest speaker, blind tastings, contests, games and an impressive array of auction items up for grabs.

Aside from the wine offerings, which include four double-magnums of Hommage a Jacques Perrin that typically fetch anywhere from $1,500 to $6,000 apiece, the auction also includes non-wine items like original artwork.

Greg Diamond, president elect of the Whistler Rotary Club, explained that if the overarching Rotary International can manage to raise $200 million for the cause by 2012, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will match with $355 million, for a grand total of $555 million to fight polio.

I'll raise my glass and drink to that. Tickets are $125 per person. Get yours by calling 604-938-0890.