It might be hard to convince some people that an après bar can actually serve fresh, local food, but chef Matthew Brown and his team at The Garibaldi Lift Company have been doing just that.
"I know a lot of people who don't eat at mountain bars, but they're pleasantly surprised when they eat at ours," Brown says. "We try and stay away from processed food and do everything ourselves and it shows in the quality. Then you have to do that at a high volume. I think we've done well with that."
It might feel like summer just made its exit, but already Brown is thinking about the après ski crowd. Now entering the shoulder season, he's focused on transitioning the menu from summer eats to après treats. "The things that change are salads and flatbreads," he says. "You change with the season. You also change with what's popular at the time. It is a process to change anything on the menu. It's kind of like a brain trust involved where everybody sits down and goes over what does well and what you can work on."
Brown has had plenty of experience to back up his choices. "I've been cooking for 17 years," he says. "I started at a fairly young age. I had my first kitchen manager job when I was 18. I've been doing it a long time."
He and his brother moved from Kingston, Ont, 10 seasons ago and as soon as he arrived a friend helped him land a job interview at The GLC. "I was the first cook at the time," he says. "There was no sous chef, so basically that was my role. I had been doing that for eight years. This will be my second season as the head chef."
One of the big challenges — but important values — that come with the gig is ensuring that as much food as possible is sourced locally. Some fruits and veggies come from places like North Arm Farm in Pemberton. Seafood also comes from the coast. That's part of what sets the venue apart from other après destinations. "We always try and use as much local ingredients as possible," he says. "Then it gives everybody a clear perspective on what Whistler has to offer. It's a destination place and you want to showcase what people are here for, what people like to eat. Just keep it local and simple."
His job also requires him to keep an eye on ever-changing food trends. A big one in recent years has been Asian fusion. "There's a lot of Asian fusion happening that's really popular, especially around here because it's the west coast and that's what west coast is. Things like sushi and translating that into a bar/pub type thing. That's the biggest trend I noticed in the last couple of years," Brown says.
Not only does the menu change in winter, but the atmosphere is different too. In warm sunny months the nicest days are the busiest, all day long. Winter is a different story. People come off the mountain from a day of skiing and snowboarding ready to fill up on food and drinks. "Winter is après time, so you do your menu with things people can sit down and share with each other," Brown says. "Lunch is always going to be busy, but après is your three hours of power. It's a lot of volume in a short period of time. You have to be careful what you put on the menu because you want to keep the quality and keep things the same. That's always an obstacle."
After a busy summer, The GLC is getting ready to shut its doors for the slow season from after Thanksgiving until opening day. That means a bit of down time before the snow falls. "It's good because you need it," Brown says. "It really is flat out busy from the moment you open until closing time. It's nice to have the break... I'm looking forward to vacation time. I do enjoy the winter, but I'm trying not to think about it right now. It's funny, every year we have a staff meeting and the (general manager) will say, 'I'll see you in April' because basically it's crazy how fast it goes. For me, 10 years has gone by so fast."