Not everyone can work with their spouse, but Lauren Mote and Jonathan Chovancek complement one another in and out of the kitchen. The co-owners of catering and events company Kale & Nori Culinary Arts and local bitters line Bittered Sling Extracts have more than 30 years of combined restaurant industry experience—Mote as a certified sommelier and mixologist and Chovancek as a chef who has worked on four continents.
Their path toward starting a food and beverage company together two years ago, however, wasn’t always so assured. Chovancek, for one, wanted to be a musician when he moved from small-town Ontario to Vancouver as a teenager.
“I was playing guitar, and I had hair down to my ass,” the chef tells the Straight while seated in the back room of Main Street’s Campagnolo. “It was one of those things where I was working at a toy warehouse in Burnaby and really wondering what I was going to do with my future.”
Mote went to university in her hometown of Toronto, but working as a bartender part-time helped her discover other passions.
“I actually recall in second-year university at U of T, sitting in my Russian political science class with my textbook open and underneath it was Saveur Magazine,” she says.
Once the couple met in Vancouver, they decided to channel their love for food and drink into one business: Kale & Nori. At around the same time, Mote began developing her own line of bitters, and Bittered Sling Extracts, available in stores across the country, is now Mote and Chovancek’s main focus.
“Bitters aren’t there to change the flavour of the food or the cocktail,” Mote explains. “They’re there to add depth and complexity where you can’t achieve it in any other way because we need bittering agents to do that. It pulls out the best of everything.”
“You can utilize bitters as you would a high-end vinegar or a spice blend,” Chovancek adds, describing their use in cooking. “Each of the different bitters has a combination of up to 48 different ingredients, so you have an incredibly vast array of flavours from roots, fruits, vegetables, leaves, and seeds.”
While Mote can combine a wild assortment of spirits and ingredients to create a tasty cocktail, she says that novice bartenders can follow a simple golden ratio that results in a foolproof drink.
“The easiest way to describe it is 75 percent acid to 100 percent sugar, so whatever the base spirit is—it could be gin, vodka, rum, whiskey, whatever the case may be—I take 1½ to 2 ounces of the spirit with ¾ of an ounce of lime juice or whatever citrus you want to use,” she says. “Then an ounce of a syrup that’s made with equal parts of sugar and water, and as long as that’s the ratio you use, it will give you a balanced cocktail every time.”
When it comes to pairing cocktails with food, Chovancek’s approach is just as straightforward.
“As long as you’re not overpowering your food and you’re working with a fruit-sugar-acid balance, you’re going to be good as far as pairing the dish,” he instructs. “People get too esoteric and too crazy about really nailing food pairings when they’re doing parties at home. You want food that’s delicious and you want cocktails that are delicious.”
Some things just go better together.
Lauren Mote’s Aqua-Venus Cocktail
1.5 oz (45 mL) Okanagan Spirits Aquavitus
¾ oz (20 mL) lime juice
¾ oz (20 mL) rhubarb syrup (see recipe below)
2 dashes Bittered Sling Clingstone
1. Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake rigorously for 7 seconds. Strain liquid into a chilled cocktail glass.
Yield: 1 cocktail with leftover rhubarb syrup. Syrup will keep in fridge for up to 10 days.
1 cup (250 mL) red rhubarb stalk, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 vanilla bean, split in half
1 lb (455 g) sugar
2 cups (500 mL) water
2 g (0.07 oz) powdered citric acid (or 4 oz [120 mL] fresh lemon juice)
1. Place the rhubarb and vanilla bean in a small, heat-safe bowl.
2. In a small saucepan over low heat, mix the sugar and water. When the sugar has dissolved, add the citric acid or lemon juice.
3. Pour the hot liquid over the rhubarb and vanilla bean and allow to come to room temperature. Once cooled, transfer to an air-tight container and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Strain before using.
Jonathan Chovancek’s sweet and spicy wild salmon pops with paprika cream
135 oz (4 L) water, divided
½ cup (125 mL) salt
¼ cup (50 mL) wildflower honey
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 green onions, sliced
5 Tbsp (75 mL) Bittered Sling Extracts Denman Bitters, divided
0.9 lb (400 g) wild spring salmon
2 Tbsp (30 mL) maple syrup
1 Tbsp (15 mL) cold-pressed sunflower oil
1 Tbsp (15 mL) ground Stein Mountain Farm or other paprika
¼ cup (50 mL) panko bread crumbs
¼ cup (50 mL) any dried herbs and edible flowers, finely chopped
8.5 oz (250 mL) sour cream
1. In a large pot, bring 68 oz (2 L) of the water with the salt, honey, garlic, and green onions to a simmer. Remove from heat and add the remaining 68 oz (2 L) of water and 3 Tbsp (45 mL) of the bitters. Let the liquid reach room temperature. Pour the liquid into a sealable plastic bag and add the salmon. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Remove the salmon from the plastic bag and gently rinse with cold water. Pat the salmon dry and discard the brine.
3. Slice the salmon on the bias as thinly as possible into rectangular slices, yielding about 13 slices that are 1 oz (30 g) each. Lay the salmon slices in a casserole dish and pour the maple syrup, oil, and remaining 2 Tbsp (30 mL) of bitters over top. Marinate for 20 minutes in the refrigerator.
4. Preheat the oven to 325 ° F (170 ° C).
5. Remove the salmon from the refrigerator, and, using cocktail skewers or large toothpicks, thread one end of each salmon slice securely like a flag pole. Wrap each slice around the skewer to create a fish lollipop. Lay the fish pops on a baking pan lined with parchment paper.
6. Place the baking pan in the oven and bake for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove pan from oven and cool for 5 minutes.
7. Mix the paprika, bread crumbs, and dried herbs and flowers together in a small bowl. Dip each fish pop into the sour cream, and then into bread-crumb mixture.
8. Serving suggestion: slice a melon in half and skewer the salmon pops into the fruit flesh so that they stand up.
Yield: 13 salmon pops. Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.