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Chef's Choice: Milestones Donne Thornton



It's the first day at the new job in the kitchen and introductions are underway. The first new kitchen friend is from Japan, second co-worker is from Australia, next is a Filipino, then a German, followed by a Swedish cook, a handshake with a Brit and the final person in the kitchen on this day is from South Africa.

Welcome to Whistler, enjoy all the different accents around your workstation.

This could be a pretty typical first day for a young new employee in the kitchen at Milestones, located in the Upper Village at the base of the Wizard.

Donne Thornton, the chef at Milestones, leads an international blend of cooks who work hard every shift and enjoy sitting down after super-busy workshifts to enjoy a beer and compare notes from their international experiences in life.

It should come as no surprise that this is the environment she works in given her own international background. Her accent is hard to pin down with hints of Down Under mixed with a distinct African tinge. She grew up in South Africa and at the age of 13 her family moved to Australia. After two years of university she decided to travel with a friend during her school break to Whistler. Lured by the coming 2010 Olympic Winter Games, the foundation of her future was laid her first night in Vancouver when she met an Englishman, Rory Riley-Gillespie.

Our international tale continues in Whistler as the trio of new friends makes its way up to Whistler where Thornton lands a pre-Olympic cooking job with Players Chophouse at PCH Prime, across the way from Dusty's. She says the little operation was only around for the Olympic period.

Thornton falls in love — with the place and the guy.

According to Thornton, while in Whistler it becomes clear to her that she isn't going back to university in Australia to finish her chemical engineering degree. With an understanding that Whistler is where she wants to be, Thornton jets back to Australia to let everyone know that she's only returning to scrape together some cash to get herself back to where she really wants to be — Whistler.

At 23 she is now leading a young group of kitchen workers ranging in age from 15 to 29.

"For me it is about the people more than the actual skills," she says on a quiet Tuesday morning in the restaurant. "My job, I suppose, is more about people and making people work together and keeping people happy and making it like a cool working environment."

Thornton's own Milestones story started when the restaurant opened and she was hired as a nighttime fry cook.

"I taught myself the station beside me, I was kind of nosey about the other stations and got those guys to teach me that and then I was asking for prep shifts during the day, then I found myself kitchen managing then I became a sous chef and the last chef left and it was kind of natural that I would advance up to the next stage," says Thornton of her rise through the Milestones kitchen.

She and three other front-of-house staff are the only people who haven't moved on in the three years Milestones has operated at its current Benchlands location. This means Thornton is constantly training new people as the visitor numbers rise and fall with the seasons.

"For me its about building relationships with the people that you work with and teaching them everything they need to know and setting them on their way," says Thornton.

Whether their way is at Milestones or another resort somewhere around the world, Thornton is gathering the world in her kitchen, training them and setting them up with valuable experience while apparently influencing them with wisdom beyond her years.

"If you work hard for your people then they are going to work hard for you and you get results," says the young kitchen philosopher.

The end of this story is really the beginning of another. Riley-Gillespie, who also works in the food and beverage industry, is still very much a part of Thornton's life. The engaged couple plans to wed.

Their family and friends are spread from England to Australia and around the globe. Like so many other things in her life, Thornton's next story will be told in a global context.