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In the Kitchen: Richard Holland By Brandon Barrett

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When restaurateur Richard Holland took over the reins at Ciao Thyme Bistro in the Upper Village nearly a year ago, he decided not to drastically alter the eatery's approach to high-end, wholesome food.

With a reputation for serving one of the best breakfasts in a town full of restaurants that cater to the hungry, early-morning ski crowd, Holland followed the old adage that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

"I wanted to keep as much of the original idea and concept intact as much as possible because the people who know Ciao Thyme and eat here love it, and you don't want to mess with that kind of success," he said.

That should come as no surprise to anybody who's had the good fortune to sample one of Ciao Thyme's legendary bennies, smothered in a rich hollandaise sauce that exemplifies the bistro's homemade approach to cooking.

Prepared daily from a reduction of white wine, vinegar, peppercorns and bay leaves, Ciao Thyme's hollandaise is indicative of the approach to the restaurant's other dishes, made 100 per cent in-house using top-quality ingredients.

"Our vision is that everything in house is created from scratch. We don't bring anything in that's pre-prepared or in packages," Holland said. "All of our sauces are made using traditional French culinary techniques, made with reduction, we don't thicken with flour or roux, so we are very much using traditional cooking techniques and traditional ingredients starting everything from the basics."

What's more is that Holland sources the best ingredients from Whistler and the surrounding areas whenever possible, and hopes to push the restaurant more in that direction in the future, especially with the Whistler Farmer's Market located just a stone's throw away. It's all a part of Holland's effort to meet the needs of a demanding dining public, who know what they're after and aren't afraid to ask for it.

"The general public I think is getting increasingly knowledgeable, especially with television and the Food Network and things like that. It's not like even 10 or 15 years ago — people are very knowledgeable and they're getting increasingly health conscious," said Holland. "We definitely do our best to cater to everyone."

Satisfying guests' sophisticated palates is one thing, but doing so without gouging diners' wallets is another entirely. It's that fine balance between offering fulfilling, high-end cuisine along with great value that underlines the vision at Ciao Thyme Bistro, according to Holland.

"You're getting high-end dining with a casual atmosphere, and you're not going to pay through the nose with the prices as well," he said.

You're also not going to leave hungry.

"When you go to a restaurant like West in Vancouver, one of my favourite restaurants in the city, you're going to be paying around $20 for an entrée that you're going to eat and then want McDonald's on your way home," he said. "Whereas, with Ciao Thyme, we do strive to serve wholesome portions. Many restaurants will do two to four ounces for their protein portions, we always look to do six-ounce portions, so we're talking about a whole duck breast, for example.

"It's well prepared, it's well cooked, and everything's from scratch, so when you've eaten at Ciao Thyme you'll come out feeling like you've had a meal."

Along with their popular breakfast and lunch menus, Ciao Thyme opens for dinner four months every year. While the kitchen sticks to more traditional fare during the day, dinner service is the time when Executive Chef Mike Riddell has more room to experiment, putting his own twist on modern Pacific Northwest cuisine.

Take the bistro's mouthwatering braised beef shortrib soaked in a signature star anise marinade, a staple on the evening menu going on five years. Wanting to switch things up, Riddell began serving the succulent meat stuffed into handmade ravioli — much to the delight of Ciao Thyme regulars. But with a diverse dinner menu that includes a black pepper and thyme-encrusted elk steak, a fall-off-the-bone red wine braised lamb shank, and a juicy pheasant stuffed with goat cheese and roasted walnuts, you'd be hardpressed to find a dish that wouldn't satisfy even the most discerning of foodies.

Visit ciaothymebistro.com for more.

Ciao Tyme's Huevos Rancheros

House cut Salsa

  • 3 each of red green and yellow peppers, cored and deseeded
  • 3 red onions
  • 10 tomatoes deseeded
  • 4 limes (juice and zest)
  • 60g Sambal alek
  • 2 bunches cilantro, finely minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method: Finely chop and combine vegetables. Mix in rest of ingredients and season to taste

Salsa Beans

  • 2 white onions (diced)
  • 10 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 200 oz Black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 6 chipotle peppers (minced)
  • 2L tomato fillets
  • 1 bunch cilantro (minced)
  • Canola oil (as required)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method: Sweat onions and garlic in a large saucepan until soft but not brown. Add beans, chipotle peppers, and tomato fillets and reduce to thick consistency, but not so much that the beans start to mush. Allow to cool, stir in the cilantro and season to taste.

Ciao Thyme's Huevos Rancheros

  • 12" whole wheat tortilla
  • House cut salsa
  • Salsa beans (warm)
  • 1 Roma tomato
  • Fresh Spinach
  • Grated cheddar
  • Sour Cream
  • 2 eggs (poached to desired hardness)

Method: Pre heat oven to 350F. Cut Roma tomato in half, season with salt, pepper and oregano and roast until starting to soften (approx 12 mins). Meanwhile, warm tortilla on a flat iron and then place in a suitable pie dish to form a bowl shape. Place warm beans in the centre of the tortilla and sprinkle with cheese. Bake until cheese begins to melt. Add a handful of spinach leaves onto the cheese and return to the oven until wilted (1- 2 mins). To serve, arrange the tomato halves and poached eggs, around the beans, add sour cream and salsa on top of the spinach and slide the whole dish out of the pie plate onto a suitable serving plate.

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