While Adam Protter is a chef, he's got stories to tell and he tells them through his food. The chef at Canada House Whistler is sharing the story of the nation through food he describes as Haute Shushwap at one of Whistler's newest restaurants.
The names of the menu items are inspired by all things Canadian, like the Oka Crisis. Protter explains his cheese comes from Oka, Quebec, where in 1990 a stand-off between a group of Mohawk people and the town of Oka made headlines across the nation and around the world.
"I like stories. I like telling stories. That really appeals to me," said Protter from his home at Cheakamus Crossing early Monday morning.
The Ontario transplant has been in Whistler since 2000 and has worked preparing fine dining offerings at Nita Lake Lodge while also operating Big Smoke Barbecue Catering.
In his new role at Canada House he's trying to define Canadian food.
"The problem is that it's a very difficult thing to define," says Protter. "It could be anything."
He points to the legend of butter chicken as an example of how difficult it is to nail down a truly Canadian taste.
"Butter chicken was invented by a pizza shop owner in Scotland who missed home and his friends did too," Protter explains. "When the pizza shop was done for business he used to have his friends over and he used to make them chicken tikka, but some of it had to sit around and wait too long for them to get there so he came up with a sauce for it to keep it moist. Butter chicken was born."
According to legend, and according to Protter, the pizza shop recipe was shared around the world and really caught on in India.
So it is that the Canada House menu includes everything from classic Canadian dishes inspired by Caribbean cooking to recipes from Ukraine. Inspiration from around the world that lands in Canada and caught on here is what Protter and his team is serving.
"We want to give them salmon and we want to give them halibut, we want to give them beef and we want to give them pork belly — the stuff that we enjoy," says Protter.
"There's a hunger for our guests coming to the resort to experience what it is to be Canadian."
The menu includes catchy names for the Canada House dishes with distinct Canadian references.
"I'm someone who is up to date with current events," says Protter. "I'm opinionated."
Protter says he didn't work alone on the menu and that seems to have been a good thing.
"They had to edit me quite a bit," Protter says. "My version of the menu contained a lot of saltier language but that's just my personality. I wasn't trying to write a comedy essay."
He is funny in a distinct Canadian lean.
"We are different," he claims. "We're not Americans, we're different and we have our own history and our own way of doing things, and we're delighted to give our guests an opportunity to discover that."
Presenting things so the essence of the story remains true is an objective of Protter's.
"Food tells the story of the planet. The cultural significance of dishes and how they came to be, why they stayed in that particular culture and what made them appealing to everyone else to want to try and make them and spread them around the world," says Protter.
He truly believes that all food tells a story.
"Where it comes from and how it gets to your plate can tell a lot about the people who served it to you or tell you a whole story about a country of origin," says Protter.
Taste is important but Protter understands the power of a catchy name for a dish.
"A good name sometimes draws people to try something they might otherwise not do," he says.
Getting past the story there's the reality of economics and Protter is keenly aware that the food produced in the kitchen has to be good enough that people will eat it again and go so far as to tell other people how good their dish was then encourage them to go and try it for themselves.
"In anything, it can only be a good deal if both sides are happy," says the chef.
That is where this chapter in the story ends. Protter continues to write chapters but don't look for any text, his story is served in every plate he sends out of the kitchen.
Féves Au Sucre (Sugar Shack Beans)
Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato Sandwich
4 slices guanciale or good quality bacon
2 slices thick crusty bread (Italian or sourdough)
4 slices fresh, ripe tomato
Arugula and/or artesian lettuce
Mayo, Dijon, salt and fresh ground pepper
500 g dried navy beans
¼ cup salt
150 g house cured salt pork, cut into batons (or smoked bacon, guanciale or pancetta)
1 large yellow onion
¼ cup good quality oil
2 fat garlic cloves (4 or 5 regular cloves)
2 tbsp good quality tomato paste
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup golden yellow sugar, packed
1 cup maple syrup
60 cranks of ground black pepper
Soak navy beans overnight using ¼ cup of salt in the water.
Drain and rinse well in the morning. Put in a pot with water (no salt) close to double the height of the beans. Bring to agonizingly slow simmer and cook until tender.
Cool and drain beans, reserving cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, make a BLT. Cook the Guanciale or bacon; toast the bread light to medium, not too crunchy. Mayo and Dijon the bottom piece, add bacon, then lettuce, tomato, salt and pepper and lots of mayo on top. Eat and enjoy your breakfast. A couple of strong Americanos really add to this experience.
Now you are ready to continue making the beans.
Cut the salt pork into thick batons and add to bean pot. Do not fry or brown as the meat will go tough and chewy.
Cut onions into a thick, half julienne. Fry golden brown in oil on medium high heat until good and dark brown edges form and they are well coloured. Add garlic, then tomato paste and fry two minutes more. Deglaze pan with a quarter cup of apple cider vinegar and one cup of water. Remove from heat and put in the bean pot.
Combine all remaining ingredients plus beans to pot, adding reserved liquid to make the sauce cover the beans.
Seal tight with parchment then foil and cook six hours in 300º oven until reduced to a pleasing yet undefined consistency.
Cool overnight and reheat for your meals.
For a vegan version don't add bacon to the sandwich, omit the salt pork and double the onions and oil. The oil is necessary to replace the fat the pork would have added.