Chef Scott Holmes is like an institution within an institution.
A mainstay in the kitchen at The Longhorn Saloon in the heart of Whistler Village since 1992, Holmes has held the position of head chef from day one.
Summer or winter, diners can be found on the Longhorn's enormous patio, people watching and enjoying the weather, whether it's sun, moody clouds or even snow.
This — and its location adjacent to the lifts for both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains — has made it an essential stopping point.
Holmes said at the start of our interview that he's not a big reader of newspapers and that he lives "in the bubble of Whistler." This is fair enough and an honesty that is kind of awesome.
But he did check out Pique before the interview to get a sense of how The Longhorn fits into the Chef's Choice oeuvre.
"I was thinking about how we fit in and wondering what our niche is. To get into 700 seats, the logistics are more complicated and detailed than a place with 30 or 40 seats," Holmes said.
"It's a lot of food. Last weekend we sold 18 cases of fries, just under 600 lbs. of French fries in a day. I prepped 200 lbs. of salsa for Saturday. It's not that we're not part of the niche (of finer dining), we are constantly evolving to that kind of foodie menu.
"But one of the things my grandfather taught me is that we're not here to educate people about food, we're here to feed them. A lot of people want to show you what they can do. It's how they make their money. Well, we make our money by making a fun place to go with really good food."
Back in the day, the Longhorn was a self-service kitchen.
"People would walk to the kitchen and say what they wanted. We'd take their order, take their money and give them an order number," Holmes says.
After his first year, they increased sales and The Longhorn started its long evolution to the fine but fast dining they sell today.
And how things have changed. Today there are 19 kitchen staff members.
"We did a renovation in '94 and '95, and a major expansion of the kitchen in 2000. I basically designed it and came up with the layout of it," Holmes said.
It became a horseshoe-shaped kitchen and opened up bar space. And most recently, the Longhorn expanded its patio. The food is stored three levels below the restaurant.
"There were 500 seats when we did the big expansion," he said.
"Now there are 700. We're at just over 400 outside and just over 300 inside, roughly. The patio has always been a major portion of our business. Winter or summer. The location, the proximity to the mountain, it promotes that 'come down off the mountain and see everyone going on around you' vibe.
"We're at the point now where we are just as busy in the summertime as winter, even busier."
The progression of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park and big events are the main reason.
"The bike races of the olden days were big draws to the village, but when you compare it to Tough Mudder, or Ironman, or stuff like that, it's a completely different world," he said.
And then there is the food."I think the development of The Longhorn as a food place, and the development of Whistler as a whole, is being driven by the food shows on television," Holmes said.
"It's a starting spot for people who don't understand food. What you now have is easy access to this information all day long."
This means, he adds, that fine dining has taken off in Whistler. He remembers the history of this development, a time when Hy's and Rimrock dominated.
"There has been a lot of diversification," he said.
He gets asked why he spends so much time prepping food on that humongous scale when things like onions or carrots can be bought pre-sliced.
"I'm very, very old school. I believe in this. I'm also a bit of a nut when it comes to what I like to eat. I'm a very 'fresh' person. I'll make food and my wife loves it. She'll put it in the fridge and she's ready to eat it as leftovers the next day. I can't do that. I'm not much on freezing food," he said.
Holmes also stays away from precooked food and preservatives like xanthan gum.
"I don't like precooked chicken burgers or bacon because it is faster. We cook all our stuff à la carte."Okanagan goat cheese & smoked boerenkaas quesadilla
with roasted red peppers, drunken onions & a bruschetta dip
2 - 8-inch flour tortillas
1/3 cup Okanagan goat cheese
1/2 cup shredded natural pastures Smoked Boerenkaas (the cheese rolling cheese)
2 roasted red peppers
2 onions sliced
1 tbsp of butter or olive oil
2 cloves of garlic minced
salt and pepper to taste
150 ml of your favourite beer
(I use Deep Cove Loudmouth pale ale)
4 ripe tomatoes chopped rough
4 single cloves of garlic, minced
Fresh basil rough chopped
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Roast red peppers in the oven or BBQ until black and beginning to peel. Set aside in a bowl and cover; it will make them easier to peel later.
2. Sauté the onions in butter with the garlic and salt and pepper until they are soft then add a splash of your favourite beer.
3. Chop the tomatoes into 1/2cm pieces, then whisk together the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and salt and pepper and fresh basil, add the chopped tomatoes.
4. Grate or slice the boerenkaas cheese, the goats cheese will just crumble.
5. Peel the red pepper and slice into 1 cm strips.
6. Heat a pan larger than your flour tortilla to a medium temperature.
7. Place the tortilla in the pan and start with the boerenkaas cheese on the bottom, then place the red pepper strip and drunken onions, followed by the crumble of goats cheese across the top. Place another tortilla on top and cook until all the cheese is melted.
8. Remove and cut in half ,and then into wedges, serve with the fresh Bruschetta and enjoy.