• Popolo brings European cooking to locally grown ingredients

    Popolo brings European cooking to locally grown ingredients

    Popolo brings European cooking to locally grown ingredients

    Steeve Raye literally grew up in fine restaurants of France before coming to Vancouver 22 years ago to work as a chef.

    But Popolo in Oliver, a café specializing in pasta and gelato, is his first solo venture. He’s now approaching the one-year anniversary of its opening on December 31, 2020 in the former church building at 522 Fairview Road that previously housed Medici’s Gelateria.

    “I wanted to leave Vancouver,” said Raye, 40, explaining his decision to come to Oliver and start a business. “I spent 22 years in Vancouver, so I was ready to go.”

    Oliver, he said, offers a pleasant lifestyle.

    “It’s quiet, the nature is beautiful, there’s no traffic,” he added. “In terms of the restaurant, for me, all the wineries are here, and our local farmers. In summertime, you get everything locally. The sunshine and the people have been very nice. I met a wonderful girl. I like it here.”

    The locally farmed ingredients that change with the seasons give his pasta sauces their rich flavours. Plus he brings years of experience with European cooking.

    Raye grew up in the French Alps, not far from Italy, before moving to Paris where he worked in his father’s restaurants.

    He describes the restaurants his father owned in the Alps and Paris as offering “fancy French food,” the kind written about in the famous Michelin guides – “high end.”

    “I worked in the restaurants, starting with dishes and cleaning vegetables,” said Raye. “I’ve always been in it.”

    At age 16, he apprenticed as a chef in Paris.

    After coming to Vancouver in 1999, he continued cooking, and owned several restaurants, also specializing in pasta, but always had a business partner. A trip to Oliver in the fall of 2020 to visit the old church building convinced him to take the plunge going solo.

    Although he’s French and has not travelled widely in Italy, French and Italian cooking are very similar, he said.

    “I use local ingredients and turn it into something. I use my European cooking skills,” he added. “Italian food is simple – just a few ingredients on the plates.”

    The pasta itself is made in house from scratch. People who have only eaten pasta made from dried noodles will immediately notice that homemade pasta has a different texture.

    “People love pasta,” he said.

    The ingredients of pasta are also simple – flour, water, and some eggs. It’s the sauces that make it special.

    In summer, the fresh local ingredients might include zucchini, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, chili peppers, and greens. With fewer fresh vegetables available in winter, he’s making more meat-based ragu with ingredients like beef or lamb.

    “Last week I even used butternut squash purée with bacon,” said Raye.

    Some people may find the food a little spicy, but it’s not in the same spice league as cuisines like Mexican, Indian or Thai.

    “I like flavourful food, but it is not what I consider spicy,” he said. “I don’t like bland. I like garlic, chilis, onions – that’s the base of everything.”

    The extensive wine list is all local – mostly from Oliver-area wineries, with a couple from Osoyoos and Cawston-Keremeos. Beer too comes from local breweries – Firehall Brewery in Oliver and Cannery Brewing in Penticton. Spirits are also available.

    Raye said he decided to keep the gelato – Italian-style ice cream – that was popular at Medici’s, because it goes well with pasta and is keeping with the Italian theme.

    It's not easy to start a restaurant in the middle of the Covid pandemic, but Raye said Popolo did well in its first summer. Many tourists tried out the restaurant, dining in its spacious indoors or on the outdoor terrace.

    He has faced challenges in the slower fall season – including the staffing shortages so common in the restaurant industry at this time. The restaurant did offer both lunch and dinner, but in the fall, he reduced the hours to just dinner. Raye is reflecting on ways to increase his local clientele in the off season.

    “I’m positive about the business,” he said. “It’s been good to me. I’ve had a great year and I love this place. I’m not going anywhere.”


    522 Fairview Rd 

    Oliver, BC V0H 1T0

    (250) 498-0350

    Email: contact@popolocafe.com

    Web: popolocafe.com

    Story and photos by Richard McGuire

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