Sam Alexander had his dream job. He had spent years working his way up from line cook to head chef at Whistler Blackcomb's signature mountain-top restaurant, but there was still something missing.
"I was the head chef at Christine's and thought that was what I wanted to work up to my entire career, then I got there and was like, 'This ain't what I want,'" he said.
So, one day, the 27-year-old was shooting the breeze with his fellow cooks during some downtime in the kitchen when someone posed the question: What kind of career would you have if you could do anything? Alexander took the rhetorical query seriously, and began a list of all the boxes he'd want checked in the ideal job: to be his own boss; to work outside; to cook ethically and sustainably; and to share his vision of authentic Italian cuisine with the people of Whistler.
The more he thought about it, the more Alexander realized that a food truck would be the perfect vehicle for his ambitions. Two years later, and his eco-friendly, organic pasta truck, Amo La Vita, is a reality.
Of course, as with most pipe dreams, there were doubters along the way.
"I chatted with people to see if it was really a viable option, and, to be honest, most of them told me it wasn't. Most of them told me there were going to be so many headaches and just how difficult it would be to serve pasta on a food truck. 'What, you're going to handmake it every day on the truck? And it's just going to be you and one other person?'" he said, noting that he's aware of only a handful of other food trucks around the world making fresh-to-order pasta "I still went for it. A month into being open now, and I can tell you right now it's proof of concept. It's a lot of work but it's a lot of fun. It's really nice to be passionate about what I'm doing every day and serving food that I'm really proud to be making."
Alexander has remained steadfast in his commitment to sustainability. His truck, an old shuttle bus that was bound for the junkyard, has been fitted with reclaimed wood and is entirely solar powered.
"If I can prove that a small business can still do this and be sustainable and be good for the environment, when most new restaurants fail within the first year, then I hope other people will follow suit," he said.
That philosophy extends to the kitchen as well. Alexander's hyper-seasonal menu runs counter to the approach at most restaurants.
"My menu reflects what the farms can give me," he explained. "I wanted to be completely at the will and whim of nature and do exactly what would be happening if I was running my own farm and cooking for my own extended family. I wouldn't say, 'I want to have tomatoes today' and have tomatoes. I wait until it's been sunny for three days and those tomatoes are ripe and juicy and beautiful."
Take the tortellini en brodo, a hearty Italian soup traditionally served at Christmastime, that Alexander whipped up last week after asking the folks at Laughing Crow Organics in Pemberton for any leftovers they didn't need. He got back some dill that was going to seed, some tomato leaves, basil tips, and onion tops, and made a flavourful vegetable stock that was "essentially made from kitchen scraps."
It's an approach that not only aligns with Alexander's core values, but also helps keep him on his toes.
"It's a nice way to work," he said. "As a chef, it makes me constantly reinvent myself."
A throwback to the Old-World way of cooking, Amo La Vita is not without its regional flairs, however. Alexander will typically take a classic Italian dish and mould it to local tastes. Since launching four weeks ago, he's come up with over 70 recipes, including "my version of a North American mac and cheese" made with fluorescent green noodles dyed with kale, and a "poutine pasta" he's planning for Canada Day that will fully deconstruct the classic Canuck comfort food.
His menu, which changes daily, will usually consist of a short pasta, a long pasta, some type of pan-fried arancini ball — last week's was stuffed with camembert and slathered with duck and kale ragout — and a "passion-piece" pasta that he admits he spends way too much time on. Alexander also makes a new decadent dessert every day, and pours Whistler Roasting iced coffee along with Namasthé iced tea.
Amo La Vita will be at the Whistler Farmers' Market throughout the summer, as well as every Friday starting in July alternating between Lost Lake and Rainbow parks as part of Whistler's food-truck program.
Visit amolavita.ca for more info.