With the number of daylight hours waning, the average temperature falling and snow sliders looking longingly at their snowboards and skis, Whistler restaurants are making the shift to fall.
Julian Owen-Mold, Executive Chef at the Hilton Whistler Resort and Spa, is leading the charge and it means mushrooms are once again stars of the menu. Porcini mushrooms and elk meat debuted this week at the Cinnamon Bear Grille.
The dish is part of a special fall three-course dinner offering available at the Cinnamon Bear.
"This is the time of year when you see people head out into the woods with their buckets," says Owen-Mold over Sunday morning coffee. He smiles a big U.K. smile and in his bubbly English accent shares his vision of mushroom pickers from Vancouver pulled over at the side of the highway preparing to forage for fungus. "We're trying to bring in the autumn with the porcini mushrooms."
The porcini is described as a nutty flavoured mushroom loved by chefs the world around — its Italian name translates to "piglets." It is also known as king bolete and the Germans call this mushroom variety Steinpilz. The science world named the species by its Latin name, Boletus edulis. For our purposes we're going to stick with porcini.
Owen-Mold's new menu item is Alberta Elk and pappardelle pasta topped with creamy porcini mushroom sauce. Pappardelle is very-broad fettuccini pasta.
It is apparent the dish stirs up memories for Owen-Mold of past mushroom hunting expeditions in the Cheakamus Lake area.
"I know there are three spots up there," says the U.K. transplant. "It's amazing. You know, every time I go up there, you go to get the mushrooms and somebody's been there before you. This is the middle of nowhere, I've remembered where to get to and you get there, you've got the hoes out and they've gone already. Somebody's been there before you. That's part of the wonderful thing about Whistler. It's not snowboarding, it's not extreme mountain biking, this is truly nature at your doorstep."
As a chef, he says, the romance in the kitchen comes with using fresh ingredients grown nearby. Fresh, full of flavour and exploding with potential in the right hands.
Owen-Mold started his kitchen career in Europe while studying engineering. His practical kitchen experience through his engineering studies apparently proved more interesting than the engineering textbooks.
He took his cooking knowledge on the road and launched his own international apprenticeship with stops in Melbourne, New Zealand, Hong Kong, London, Vancouver and Whistler. For the last four years, Whistler has been his home and this is his second go around in the resort. His return to the resort was to run Jordan's Crossing. You might remember that as the original name of the restaurant at Nita Lake Lodge. Through successive ownership regimes Owen-Mold held on until the Hilton opportunity came up. Now he's overseeing the hotel kitchen and the banquet services at the Hilton with a team of people in the kitchen he describes as an international group. It is worth noting that a group of his kitchen staff is currently participating in Gilbert Noussitou's professional cook training program delivered online from Camosun College on Vancouver Island.
Two Rivers supplies the meat for the new mushroom and elk pasta dish. Owen-Mold describes elk as mild compared to more gamey animals like venison or bison for the meatballs that go with the pasta and the mushroom sauce. He says elk is a healthy option with less fat content compared to many of the other options. It is an interesting offering for people who, say, come from South America where there is no elk, but he notes that it is also meat Europeans like to try and compare to the elk from their part of the world.
"You get this multitude of tourists that wants to have an experience so that's why we try to bring these sorts of flavours and these sorts of things into the restaurant environment because it engages them and gives the waitress a story as well," says Owen-Mold.
This elk story also includes the porcini mushroom, a fungus trained mushroom pickers are finding right close to home and at Cheakamus Lake, if you get there first.