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Chef's Choice: Owen Jones at 21 Steps



The numbers really tell the tale at a Whistler restaurant overlooking one of the busiest parts of the village.

From the front doors up to the dining room there are 21 stairs to climb at St. Andrew's House. For nine years now Stacey and Gardner Betteridge have been climbing those 21 stairs to prepare food and drinks for the people of Whistler.

The trio — the Betteridges and Jones — first connected back in 1990 through Monks in the Upper Village.

Chef Owen Jones recalls working with Stacey at the newly opened operation at Blackcomb's main base of operations at that time. Jones worked as the executive sous chef at Monks for 11 years.

Fast-forward to 2012 and Jones finds himself working at the second floor restaurant space in St. Andrew's House that has previously been occupied by Val d'Isere and Ueli's Flip Side.

For almost a decade now the Betteridges and Jones have been operating 21 Steps Bar and Kitchen with a peak season staff of up to about 40 people.

The first burning question about 21 Steps is all about the name.

Jones defers to Stacey.

"Our first manager and friend Bob Morrison had counted the steps and while we were sitting around a table trying to come up with names, he mentioned how many steps it was to the dining room," explains Stacey. "Our friends liked it so the name stuck."

After climbing the 21 steps up to 21 Steps customers are greeted by a menu of what is described as modern comfort food. If the use of the word "modern" conjures up science-based food made using liquid nitrogen, high tech water baths, vacuum sealing, anti-grilling or an inkjet printer this isn't the intent.

Jones laughs at the notion of a large space-age appliance taking up space in his kitchen and he points out that very few restaurants use science-based appliances.

"I guess it's interesting but it's not practical for what we do here," says Jones. "It is very expensive equipment and you need to have the proper setup for it."

Jones describes his cooking as style old school or homemade.

"We don't buy anything finished," he says. "We make it from scratch."

Jones likes having control over the flavours and working with raw ingredients from scratch is one way to maintain that control.

Jones is a product of an agricultural hotspot where vast quantities of food are produced every year. He grew up in the Okanagan. From his home in Penticton he was lured to Vancouver during Expo '86. After working in a few Vancouver kitchens he landed with Monk McQueens and it was with that chain that his Whistler experience began.

Jones has fond memories of his early days in the Upper Village when the summer activity program there hadn't yet been developed.

"I remember the summer of '91," he reminisces. "We'd be up at Monks. It would be a hot sunny day, 30 degrees, not a cloud in the sky and not a person to be seen. There was nothing going on."

In his current location above the stroll in the St. Andrew's House in the middle of the village there is usually a steady stream of visitors on the stroll below the dining room.

Those visitors and residents to Whistler who choose to ascend the 21 steps in St. Andrew's House find themselves in a comfortable dining room with the option of reclining in the third floor attic that offers leather couches and freshly poured cocktails.

The preference Jones has for keeping things simple and flavourful is reflected in one of his favourite recipes. His yam and corn soup with cilantro and chilies can be easily made by anyone in any kitchen.

"It is quite popular when I put it on," says Jones of the soup that is found regularly as the soup of the day at 21 Steps.

Beyond the homemade soups, Jones serves salads, small plates, big plates and desserts at his dinner operation. The entrees include fish, meat, pasta, seafood and a menu for kids that includes all the favourites for eaters from the age of three and up.

While there are 21 stairs customers climb to get to the dining room the stairs connecting the kitchen to the back of St. Andrew's House counts in at 18. One more set of numbers — the doors open at 5:30 p.m. each evening.

Those are the numbers behind the operation known as 21 Steps Kitchen and Bar from front to back and from bottom to top.

Yam and corn soup with cilantro and chiles

Peel and cube

1kg yams

1 medium onion

6 cloves of garlic

Put into pot with

2 litres chicken stock

1tsp black pepper

1tsp cumin seed

1 tsp of thyme


Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until everything is quite soft.

Puree contents of pot with your favourite implement — stick blender is easiest.

Return soup to heat simmering until you reach the right consistency. Soupy is what you're looking for. Add two cups of corn kernels. Good quality canned is fine.

Before serving add

2 finely minced fresno or hot chiles

1/4 litre heavy cream (this is optional but why wouldn't you?)

Garnish with lots of fresh chopped cilantro.

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