At 10 a.m. on Sunday morning the Whistler Farmers' Market is already a hive of activity. La Bocca Chef Danny Winter and Sous Chef Edward Johnston know that the best time to shop at the market is before the official opening time of 11 a.m. Winter, in his chef gear, is getting set for the La Bocca Sunday routine of grabbing some high-quality fresh produce from the market for use in the weekly Sunday market dinner prepared at the restaurant.
The seating for La Bocca's three-course weekly dinner is limited to 20 people and the price is $25 per person. According to Winter, that price barely covers the cost of putting on the exclusive meal.
Usually one of the restaurant's sous chefs does the shopping in the market, but on this day, Winter is leading the way. His strategy is simple. Step one is to walk through the busy market from one end to the other to check out all the options. The second step, he explains before stepping foot into the market, is to purchase what's required for the meal on the way back through.
Armed with a cardboard box, a backpack and a stack of $20 bills, Winter and Johnston wade into the chaos of the market where kids run randomly through the shopping area, dogs pull on leashes and residents eagerly seek out the best produce before the tourists arrive.
After visiting the second farm market booth, the plan looks to be out the window as the squash at the second stop is too irresistible to pass up. Winter and Johnston agree they have to have two of them for the Sunday market dinner. After the squash is paid for, Johnston holds up a huge zucchini and declares it the biggest he has ever seen. Suddenly the chefs and the booth operator are brainstorming ways to use a zucchini of this impressive length and girth — there's loud, hearty laughter at the notion of using thick zucchini slices covered in batter as a substitute for buns in the creation of hamburgers. The zucchini is generously declared part of the squash purchase and goes into the bag as part of an impromptu buy two squash and get one massive zucchini deal.
Along the way Winter and Johnston check out peach tomatoes, miniature plums, ground cherries, lemon cucumbers and a number of other possible candidates for Sunday dinner.
"We don't want to take it back and mash things and pulp them or change them around too much because people want to see real fresh vegetables," says Johnston as he strolls through the busy market.
The pair doesn't even make it halfway through the market before they have determined exactly what they want. The shopping is well underway and the empty cardboard box starts overflowing with Pemberton Valley's summer abundance.
At the end of the shopping spree the pair recaps the plan.
"Go for it Eddie," says Winter.
"For the starter we're going to have mixed greens salad and we're going to have a roasted squash with corn cut off the cob and probably some of those cucumbers," says Johnston, then he remembers with a jolt that they didn't actually get the cucumbers. He puts down the big box of vegetables, dashes off to get the cukes and Winter picks up the plan.
"Potato medley, we have purple potatoes and German potatoes, fresh kale, golden beets, baby carrots and Canadian rib eye," says the chef.
"We've got some other stuff back at the restaurant left over from last week," says Johnston. "We've got some beets we bought and pickled and some Pemberton berry coolly we made last week."
The protein portion of the Sunday meal is the only thing that isn't purchased at the market.
"There's not very many people that sell anything here so we'll use some of our main suppliers but make sure it is something local," says Winter. The plan is to serve triple A Canadian rib-eye steak to go with the produce gathered at the market.
"We sell out almost every Sunday," says Winter. "We try to keep a limit on it and we want to have something special."
The Sunday evening dinners are attracting people week-after-week with a group of people reserving every week because they love the experience. Winter hangs out with the diners and answers questions while they dig into the flavourful locally grown produce.
Winter and Johnston depart from the busy market to start prepping their ingredients for Sunday dinner.
Two chefs, one market, 20 very satisfied foodies.