CHEF PROFILE: Bernard Casavant of Wild Apple

Chef Bernard Casavant. Photo by Jasmin Dosanj

When Bernard Casavant joined the culinary world, Canada’s fine-dining establishments were dominated exclusively by European chefs and cuisine. Local and fresh were seen as expensive fads and fine-dining Canadian cuisine? Today, he is recognized as one of the pioneer chefs who received their culinary education and training in Canada, challenged the European-only executive chef status quo, and helped achieve a  Canadian culinary identity grounded in dishes inspired by local and regional produce.


His greatest culinary influence was his beloved grandmother, Nellie Watts, who as a child taught him to cook, clean, and set the table. Her welcoming philosophy of there is always room at the table, just pull up another chair has been a life-long mantra for Casavant.


After the realization that a professional soccer career was unlikely, he chose cooking as his career path and graduated in 1976 from the Culinary Arts Program at Malaspina College with the distinction of “most outstanding student’. He was the first West Coast Canadian trained chef to achieve a chef title at an international hotel fine-dining restaurant, and in 1986 attained the Canadian Certified Chef de Cuisine Certification, the highest possible level for Canadian culinary excellence. Chosen as the executive chef for the Canadian Club for Expo’86,  he dazzled foreign dignitaries and celebrities including Princess Diana, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and George Burns with his innovative use of local and regional dishes (revolutionary at the time). In 1991, Chef Bernard had the honor of representing Canada in France’s Bocuse d’Or competition, one of the world’s most serious culinary competitions.


Starting in 1989, Casavant helped make Whistler a true culinary destination, first as the executive chef for the newly built Chateau Whistler and later his own restaurant Chef Bernard’s Bistro. A champion of the local food movement, he opened the doors for local produce especially from the Pemberton Valley, created Whistler’s first farmers market, and was a founding member of Farm Folk/City Folk.


The perfection in every bite of a fateful pear plucked from a tree while on vacation in the Okanagan with his wife Bonnie and good friends Rod Butters and Audrey Surrao led to his moving to the Okanagan instead of retirement. First as executive chef at Burrowing Owl’s Sonora Room in Oliver and since 2009 at the Wild Apple Restaurant and Lounge in Kelowna. The arrival of chef Bernard Casavant signaled the change in the Okanagan from “peaches and beaches” to a true wine and culinary destination.


Amongst all the awards and achievements, Casavant’s true greatness can be seen in the love for both his family and extended culinary family. His influence and mentorship to a younger generation of Canadian chefs cannot be measured. It is a love of the profession and mentoring to a third generation of Canadian chefs that keeps Casavant forever young and in the kitchen. Wild Apple Restaurant and Lounge is a must when in the Okanagan for both wine-inspired cuisine and the opportunity to eat the influence of a Canadian legend.


Bernard Casavant helped change the Okanagan from “peaches and beaches” to a true wine and culinary destination. Known in the culinary world, as Chef Bernard, some of the chefs he has mentored and inspired include Michael Noble, Chris Mills, Brody White, Andrew Springet, Jeffrey Jordan, Rachael Kompass, Michael Kompass, Lee Cooper, Trevor Jackson, Tim May, Ray Henry, Greg Hook, Peter Zambri, John Clark, Mel O’Brien. And currently in the Okanagan Chris VanHooydonk (Burrowing Owl),  Jeff Van Geest (Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek) Rob Cordonier and Brent Pillon (Hillside Bistro), Jenna Angle (Local Lounge) Rod Butters (RauDZ),  Geoffry Couper (Okanagan College of Arts), Robyn Sigurdson and all of the chefs currently at Wild Apple Restaurant.


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