It took Dylan Foss — executive chef at Fort Berens Estate's Ponderosa Kitchen — less than a minute to decide what kind of dishes the new restaurant would eventually serve.
"The menu I wrote literally in about 45 seconds in my head," Foss recalled.
"My first time here I walked out the front door and I looked up at the mountains, and I thought of the Mediterranean, and it just all appeared."
Foss wrote up his menu and emailed it to Rolf de Bruin — co-founder and co-owner of Fort Berens.
"It was very much in line with the dream that he had been seeing, and we just went for it," Foss said.
The end result, when the Ponderosa Kitchen opened its doors for the first time this past June, was a diverse mix of dishes made with locally sourced ingredients — all designed to show off the wine of Fort Berens.
While Foss has extensive kitchen experience in and around Whistler — the Bearfoot Bistro and Nita Lake Lodge are among the establishments on his resume — he drew most of the inspiration for his menu from a trip to southern Spain and Berlin with his girlfriend.
"My taste in food really changed while I spent time in Europe... I saw less prerogative towards making it look really pretty and just relying on the ingredients to speak for themselves," Foss said. "That style of cuisine has really dominated what I'm doing at Fort Berens now."
In his first role as an executive chef, Foss is focused on making the most of the natural ingredients around Lillooet.
"The bulk of my ingredients come from four farmers in the area, plus some other smaller-scale guys rounding things out," he said.
Foss uses recently launched website www.lillooetgrown.org to source his ingredients — think an online farmers market that delivers.
"We now have three local producers putting all of their product on the site," Foss said.
"So I can go onto the site and see what each farmer has that day — they take pictures of it and post it — and I just order it and they bring it around in the next couple days."
He's also committed to ensuring his kitchen is a respectful work environment for the four employees working under him.
"What I wanted out of a workplace is a place that doesn't fall to the old stereotypes of the cheffing world — the overaggressive and assertive behaviour, the condescending nature of what you see in a lot of professional kitchens, the sexism, the bullying," Foss said.
"I've worked very hard to create an environment where that does not exist, and all my employees feel safe and feel as if this is a positive place for them to be. That's very important for me."
The Ponderosa Kitchen is open exclusively for lunch — which can limit Foss' creative freedom.
But with the restaurant's Discovery Dinner series — a twice-monthly, themed dinner paired with some of Fort Berens' finest wines — the chef has room to expand.
"It is a huge opportunity for me to do what I love most, which is to create complex tasting dinners and pair them," Foss said.
"Creatively, it's a great opportunity to express and to kind of get that out of my system."
The next installment in the Discovery Dinner Series is Saturday, Aug. 8. The theme is Little Italy.
"This one is $39. We're encouraging people to bring blankets to sit on the grass, bring your kids," Foss said.
"It's a family event, so it is a buffet of Italian cuisine for $40 with a couple glasses of wine."
The Ponderosa Kitchen is open for lunch daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. until September 20.
For more information visit www.fortberens.ca.
Fort Berens Pinot Noir Poached Salmon Salad
200 gram pieces of wild salmon, skin off, cut into cubes
200 ml Pinot Noir
200 ml water
50 ml honey
20 grams salt
1 sprig basil
1 sprig parsley
A small variety of heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers
20 ml olive oil
In a small pot, combine the wine, honey, water, salt, basil and parsley. Bring to a light simmer for five minutes.
At a gentle simmer, place the salmon into the poaching liquid for four to five minutes — be sure not to boil the fish. Low and slow is the adage to keep in mind.
Dress the cucumber, tomatoes and arugula with salt and olive oil, then place salmon alongside or on top.
Chef suggested wine pairing: Fort Berens Pinot Noir