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Low and slow is the name of the game at Fairmont's revamped Portobello Deli

Multimillion-dollar renovation includes state-of-the-art rotisserie,smoker and antique-style cast iron ovens



When the team at Fairmont Chateau Whistler was coming up with the new design for its revamped Portobello Deli, they came up with two distinct wishlists.

"When we started talking about what we would have in the kitchen if we were allowed to build our dream, we definitely went more in the direction of what would be lovely to have over what we absolutely needed," said Executive Chef Isabel Chung.

On Thursday, Dec. 21, the new-look Portobello re-opened after a months-long, multimillion-dollar renovation that features some of the top items on Chung's wishlist: an Alto-Sham smoker, a pair of antique-style, cast-iron Miwe Wenz 1919 ovens shipped from Germany, and an open-flame Rotisol rotisserie that will serve as the updated kitchen's centrepiece.

"It's this fire-engine red deal with these beautiful chrome nobs on it, and we can put up to 48 chickens on it," explained Chung.

The new kitchen equipment means Portobello can continue its focus on slow-cooked barbecue that began in earnest a few summers ago with the launch of its barbecue program. But while that menu had more of a backyard barbecue flair, the new approach draws from the Southern tradition.

"Now we're starting to move more Southern in terms of wood smoke and longer cooking times overnight, slowly bringing things up to temperature. Like brisket takes 12 to 14 hours, depending on the brisket," said Chung. "So we're moving away from 'I cooked it on the grill on my patio,' to low and slow meat that's rubbed and held for a day beforehand to develop those really deep flavours."

That down-home vibe is reflected in the deli's new décor as well. Now with family-style seating in "a rustic, modern alpine setting," the new Portobello features reclaimed barn board, and exposed brick and metal fixtures, all designed by award-winning Calgary firm, FRANK Architecture, with B.L.T. Construction overseeing the renovation.

"It is bright, updated," Chung remarked. "There's some tile work, some powder-coated steelwork, and I think the overall décor has got it into a very comfortable space. I think it's incredibly welcoming."

Portobello's drink menu has also been expanded, and now features a full-service bar with eight B.C. craft beers and cider on tap.

"The bar is relaxed. The whole concept is relaxed, but the bar is a nice, relaxed place to hang out, with leather seating," said Chung. "It's just really warm and cozy."

Of course, the café will still be pouring gourmet espresso drinks to go along with its selection of delectable baked goods and ready-to-order sandwiches. On that front, the Fairmont team is developing a new website and mobile app so guests in a hurry can order their food in advance.

So, whether grabbing a quick lunch on the go, lingering over a steaming latte, or devouring a slow-cooked barbecue feast, the Portobello is now primed "to cater to a much wider crowd," Chung said.

The upgrade is part of the Fairmont's wider $23-million renovation that began at the luxury hotel five years ago.

But even with a new vibe at the Portobello, Chung said guests could still expect the same inviting, world-class service that the Fairmont is known for the world over.

"People should come give it a shot," implored Chung. "It's a whole new Portobello but we're still the same welcoming, friendly and warm individuals we've always been, with a relaxed sense of luxury."

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