The Secret Gardener

As the server walks away, they hold their breath…entrees artistically plated with fresh morsels, combined into an intoxicating experience for the senses. Fork lifted to mouth. Eyes roll heavenward, a satisfied smile appears…success. For Sarah Wallbank and Takashi Ohya, the creative couple ‘behind the counter’ at Riso in Lantzville, those coveted smiles are the power source that feeds their passion. Their collaborative energy, integrity in sourcing local foods and commitment to excellence have made Riso, the bistro to rave about.

Despite the fact, or perhaps because, Sarah was raised on “bland British food”, she was a natural cook from early days. Motivated to make her own dishes tastier and prettier, she would boldly venture into new tastes. Sushi was one of her favourite foods, long before it became trendy, perhaps that is one of the things that drew her to Japan. With her shiny new BFA in Creative Non-Fiction writing under her arm, she headed to the gorgeous city of Mishima, South of Tokyo to teach English as second language. After four years there, she fell in love with not only a culture, she returned to Canada with a renewed passion for cooking and the man who would be her husband.

After completing the VCC Pastry program, she gained experience working in several top Vancouver restaurants. Here in Nanaimo, she designed the menu for Mon Petite Choux while she was their pastry chef. Over two years ago, she was approached by an investment group that wanted to back a new restaurant/cafe, they wisely wanted Sarah at the helm. Working together innovatively; they sought out just the right spot, fashioned it into a space with a balance of class and sass, and conceived an original menu based on seasonal, local offerings. Sarah shared that it was tough to agree upon a name with a group of people. They finally settled on “Riso”…short and sweet, meaning both rice and laughter. That merger spoke to her philosophy “If you aren’t eating well and you aren’t eating with people you love, something has to change.”

The dedication that has been poured into Riso, is discovered in the details. From the confident smiles of the staff as you walk in the door, to the playful finishing touches on each plate. Sarah’s enthusiasm for the bakery and restaurant is palatable! The requirement of sleep seems to be the only thing that can slow her down. While she pointed out that they grow their own herbs on the balcony, fresh for the cutting, she enthused that if she wasn’t cooking food in the kitchen she’d be out growing food in a garden. Appropriate really, for someone who has cultivated and tended this business so thoughtfully. Riso’s healthy roots are already established…all that’s left is for it to blossom and grow!

A short drive North of Nanaimo to the quaint Village of Lanztville will bring you to Riso. Follow their Facebook page, if you dare…they are skilled at at posting lovely dishes to tempt you! Speaking of lovely dishes, Sarah shared this salad recipe she created this spring. I made it the other morning, an although it sounds simple, the flavours are outstanding.

  Morning Glory

This luscious salad contains beneficial oils that support good circulation, a feeling of satiety, and help maintain a youthful vigor and energy.


  • 300g arugula
  • 1 avocado
  • 200g smoked salmon
  • 50g pine nuts


  • 180 ml pomegranate juice
  • 10 ml honey
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 60 ml olive oil


  1. Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing, toss with arugula.
  2. Thinly slice the avocado and arrange on top with the smoked salmon; sprinkle on pine nuts.
  3. This great salad could happily accompany some shucked oysters, or welcome the addition of a couple of poached eggs.


“On a biological level, you’re sustaining life…a circle of life”~Sarah Wallbank

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Categories: Featured, Interviews, Recipes


Mom of six, social media translator at, travel junkie, wanna-be-chef and lover of all things clever and beautiful ...

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  1. Easy Breakfast Nests | Just a Pinch of Ginger - July 25, 2014

    […] had a few potatoes left over from the day before and a beautiful olive loaf from Riso Foods, as well as a few locally made sausages. After a little bit of back and forth, this is what we came […]

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steps to the light

that perfect hand...

In Ocean's 11, Danny said that "the house always wins. If you play long enough, never change the stakes, then the house takes you. Unless, when that perfect hand comes along, you bet big... and then, you take the house." Here's the hand I've been dealt, sometimes it's risky and sometimes it's safe, but all the time... it's perfect. It's mine.

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