For the 68 people working with Executive Chef Vincent Stufano the goal every day is to operate like a small restaurant. That is a big ask for the kitchen staff working at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, a hotel most would agree is a big hotel with a big kitchen.
Operating like a small restaurant is what Stufano strives for every day with every customer.
Here's how he does it: "Buy the best ingredients we can buy, as local as possible and keep it simple and flavourful," he says, adding that it is very difficult to do.
Stufano's food philosophy is clearly illustrated as he discusses of one of his favourite summer recipes: tomato with hand peeled shrimp. He loves the recipe because of its simplicity and great flavours. His passion for flavour flows as he talks about the ingredients, where they come from and what they bring to the dish.
Stufano says he likes to drop by the Whistler Farmers' Market on Sundays and check out the produce. He pleased one of the Pemberton vendors earlier this season by requesting that they bring all their unsold lettuce to him at the hotel at the end of the market day because he wanted to buy whatever was left.
"I go to the market sometimes, not every Sunday, but I love walking through the market," he says from his comfortable chair at the Grill Room on a wet and cool Monday summer morning.
He tells the story of buying the lettuce a few weeks ago and this triggers another great local purchasing story. He met lamb producers Len and Patty Ritchie of Pemberton a few months ago.
"By fluke I came across him and his wife last fall," says the chef. "I was coming home from the Cornucopia weekend, I was pretty exhausted and they were parked in front of our house delivering a lamb to someone. My wife being a lot more curious than I am, she said, 'Oh, doing some delivery?'"
It was late at night, he says. The delivery person confirmed a lamb delivery was underway.
"I stopped in my tracks as I'm going into the house, I turn around, we start talking and I ask him about his farm and how long he had been doing it," he explains, with the pace of the story picking up as he gets deeper into the tale.
"I was shocked I'd never heard of him and I said, 'How many heads do you have?' and he said, 'Oh, about 24,' so I said, "OK I'll buy everything!"
The final line is delivered with the kind of precision a standup comic would use to bring down the house with the punch line to the night's final signature joke.
He leaves Jennifer Tice, the manager of public relations for the hotel, and I laughing at our table. It takes a moment to get the interview back on track after the customers around us return their attention to their plates.
With order restored, Stufano says he plans to have the lamb on the menu this fall. He has special plans for how he wants to serve the lamb.
According to Stufano, the emphasis on local food, and highlighting what is in season, keeps his team motivated.
"When they are working with great product they are proud of what they're doing and that's really important," he says. "That's the kind of cooks I want here. I want the kind of cooks who are (making) this a career. They are only hungry for one thing and that is knowledge and to better what they do."
He says the team is excited to come to work because of the product they get to work with.
"In the end the guest is the one benefitting because it shows up on the plate," says Stufano. "I am a firm believer that's how we are building our clientele and the front of the house staff are so passionate about what we do because they see the passion from the kitchen."
One source of passion is the hotel rooftop. There is a garden above the kitchen with lettuce, strawberries, lavender, chives, grape vines, peas and much more. The kitchen staff uses the produce grown in the small garden.
This is just another small tool Stufano uses to help a big food operation to function like a little restaurant.
Vine-ripe tomato with hand peeled shrimp
- 1 vine-ripe tomato
- 56 g hand peeled shrimp
- 5 g hydroponic watercress (Pemberton fresh in the spring)
- 30 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 5 ml white balsamic vinegar
- salt and pepper
Using a pairing knife make a small X on the bottom of the tomato. Carefully place tomato in boiling water for 10 seconds removing and placing in ice-water to stop the cooking. Remove tomato from ice-water and remove skin which should easily peel away. Cut the stem end off the tomato and using a spoon carefully scoop out the flesh leaving a smooth clean dome. Rub a few drops of olive oil and seasoning on the inside of the tomato and set aside to marinate. In a bowl whisk together oil and vinegar with a pinch of seasoning. In a separate bowl add cooked shrimp with watercress and a teaspoon of the dressing. Toss well and fill tomato cavity with shrimp. Place tomato on plate with watercress and another teaspoon of dressing drizzled on the plate.