Features & Images » Feature Story

The feeding of Whistler foodies

What locavores are eating behind closed doors.


There is no doubt that Whistler has a strong culinary history stretching back to its very origins. Just think of Burnt Stew Basin! Hmmmm, maybe not the best example.

You only have to walk through the village and enjoy a few meals here to embrace our love of food.

It is something that I have always been attracted to and perhaps it has contributed to my own "foodie" revolution.

After all, in the '80s I was known to be able to burn plates. Fast forward to present day and I am now capable of catering weddings, various events at The Point and keeping guests fed at our Inn on Savary Island without weeping.

So, as I tossed this, and sautéed that I began to think about other "foodies" I know, and if Whistler's growing number of families has young foodies amongst them as well.

I was pleased to find out the answer is yes.

The whole idea came to me one morning when, like most mornings, I woke up to find my boyfriend, John Oliver, staring wistfully at the ceiling.

I thought, "Wow. I wonder what's going through his head. By the dreamy look on his face, maybe he's thinking about our 12 wonderful years together and just how lucky he is to have me."

"Whatcha thinking about, darling?" I ask, expecting a torrent of sweet endearments.

A dramatic pause, and then, he says...

"For breakfast I'm thinking Dungeness-crab-and-bacon eggs Benedict, or buttermilk pancakes with smoked-duck sausage and real maple syrup. What do you think?"

(This was actually the response I expected.)

And later, while we're eating one of those two options he'll get that look on his face again — and he'll soulfully say, "And for dinner I'm thinking...

Yes, I'm living with a foodie. I'm one too — but not where I'm planning my meals hours in advance.

Now, there is a difference between someone that just likes to eat food a lot and a foodie.

So what's the actual definition? After "searching" it there were no surprises.

Here's what Google had to say: "A gourmet. Someone with an ardent or refined interest in food, who seeks new food experiences as a hobby rather than simply eating because of hunger or convenience."

Or on the more sarcastic side — "A snob who thinks they know more about food than you do."

I just may be that snob.

My love for food, really good, interesting food came early for me. My parents were both great cooks and made fabulous meals.

I felt sorry for my friends who were eating Kraft Dinner and wieners, or Shake and Bake with reconstituted mashed potato flakes (processed and canned foods were tragically gaining in popularity back then).

My dad, who worked near Chinatown, would bring home cool dried shrimps, exotic mushrooms and nummy noodly things, and from Japantown — fresh tuna that he would make us eat, get this — RAW! It was unlike anything any of my friends were eating and I dug it.

Inspired by Jacques Cousteau TV shows, I once freaked everyone out by ordering squid when I was nine years old at a Greek restaurant.

So that's how my "foodiness" got its start, but there's really no normal way. Lots of foodies I know say they got into it because their parents served them basic meat-and-potatoes type fare. Any deviation from that menu was considered weird.

"My parents are still gob smacked when I tell them I eat oysters," says fellow foodie Chris Hodgkinson.

On a visit to Savary Island, to stay with us, Chris and his wife Chandra really wanted fresh clams and oysters. The tides were way up, but we would not be deterred, so we pretty much dove for them. Now that's dedicated.

My gauge of figuring if I'm more of an enthusiast than the next person is when I'm describing, say, a halibut recipe I want to make.

"It's almond crusted halibut with beurre blanc served with white beans and chorizo," I'll say.

If the other person says, "I cook my halibut in tin foil with garlic powder for 45 minutes," then I know they just don't care about food as much. I mean — to each his own, but there's a bit of a difference here. Watching certain friends inhale a meal in 10 seconds while I've barely sat down is another indicator.

"Did you even taste that? I'll ask.

"Burp... Ya, it was great!

"Well do you want any more?"

"Nope, but it was great!"

What are the foodies serving up?

Food has become very hip these days, or there wouldn't be an entire television network devoted to it. Hell's Kitchen, Hell's Kitchen Kids, Iron Chef, You Gotta Eat Here, Diner's Drive in and Dives, etc, etc. The latest added shows being a bit of overkill — I mean Carnival Eats and Deep Fryer Wars?

If someone you know takes a bite of something and analyzes the crap out of it — they're Food Network fans. ie: "The crunch of the cabbage compliments the tenderness of the meat — but it needs more sweetness to balance the blah, blah, blah..."

I would think Whistler has more foodies per capita than your average town, simply because the food and beverage business is a huge industry here. There aren't a lot of people I know, (even if they're in a different profession now) that didn't at one point or another work in the biz, and just being around food a lot rubs off on you.

We've read in these pages for years about the plethora of truly fab restaurants we have and what they're serving up, but what are the foodies of Whistler serving at home these days?

After some investigation I've discovered some interesting things.

Firstly, there's a stark contrast to what the "back-of-house" restaurant people eat at home compared to the "front-of-house people."

This may surprise you, but the chefs and the cooks who actually create and cook all this good stuff do not, as some would suspect, whip up elaborate meals for themselves on their days off.

Quite the opposite.

I discovered this the hard way when I went on a camping trip with friends who said one of Whistler's best chef's was going to be there as well.

"This is going to be awesome! We're going to eat some amazing stuff!" I thought.

My hopes were dashed when the chef quickly and simply grilled a trout, made some rice, and sat off to the side quietly eating his simple dinner.

Dreams of smoked salmon-topped rosties with crème fraîche and caviar were promptly blown sky high.

So I pouted, and made my ramen over the cook stove.

And now, having become a cook, I totally get this. And believe me there's something about being up to your eyeballs in food preparation all day that puts you off food. After touching, smelling and tasting it, sitting down and actually eating it is very anti climactic.

I polled a couple of local chefs and that's pretty much the sentiment across the board — unless they have kids, and then they know they need to make the effort.

As my favourite celeb chef Anthony Bourdain says in his Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, book — he's just happy if someone else has done the cooking, intimidated, as they may be that they're cooking for a chef. "Oh I hope you like this, being a chef and all," one might say.

He says people have no idea how pleasurable it is, for someone who cooks for a living, to eat someone's clumsily thrown together pasta, or a meatloaf, something simple and homemade.

Local and international "Chef of Mystery" Neil Idle agrees. "Anything made by someone else is great with me, unless of course it's burnt," he says.

Colin Pitt Taylor of the former Burnt Stew Cafe says when he gets home it's cookies, or sour cream and onion potato chips, or for something really different, peanut butter and banana sandwiches. "But I do make my own bread at least," he says.

Another chef I know collapses in front of the TV and eats prefab pizza, mashed potatoes, packaged gravy and (Stove Top) stuffing.

Claire May of Chef Claires, a Vancouver/Whistler catering company says, "My fridge is always stocked with wine and cheese and I always have chips. I love dumplings and ramen." No fois gras or truffle oil to be found.

Now that he's more of an office guy, Kevin Wood of the Alpine Cafe loves to cook great meals at home, but when he did cook he thinks back and says, "I'd just eat anything that would line my stomach."

And probably because she's sweet enough, Sabrina Perfitt, of Sugar Momma Pastries, usually up to her elbows in butter and sugar doesn't gorge herself with cookies and cupcakes. It's usually cheese and baguette — and again, potato chips. Or Splitz burgers.

Jeff Alexander of the Rimrock likes popcorn with truffle oil and shaved Parmesan.

Pretty simple stuff overall, compared to what they're creating for a living.

Not surprisingly it's the servers of food that become food crazy. You can't serve gorgeous plates all night and not want make it at home.

Right now I'm working at Nagomi Sushi — the first sushi place I've worked in. Watching gorgeous sushi rolls, sashimi and tempura going out is sweet, sweet torture. So what's in my fridge right now? A slab of albacore tuna ready to be devoured on my next night off.

I know lots of Whistler food lovers, but if I were to narrow it down into the "taking it to another level" it would be Darryl and Deann Palmer.

On a kayaking trip up the coast, Darryl stashed bags of his homemade bouillabaisse broth in the bow of his kayak, just in case they scored some fresh seafood. Like I said — there are degrees of dedication here.

Darryl used to work in the biz, but has been a videographer for over two decades, and travels the world shooting footage for a variety of professional sports. Deann is a teacher at Spring Creek Elementary School. Plus she's part Italian, and now a wine rep, so that explains a few things.

Together they're a force to be reckoned with when it comes to dinner parties.

They have dinner parties to set up the next dinner party. I know this because at a pre-dinner party they held a draw to see who would be bringing what — with a twist. Guests drew which course they were to prepare, and also the ingredient that had to be used.

Lucky me, I got beets. For course seven. Yes, beets. For dessert.

I did, however, knock it out of the park with crepes filled with vanilla cream and topped with raspberry/beet coulis.

As an aside let me explain that these dinner parties have come a long way from the weirdest one that I ever attended — oddly it was at a squat near where Darryl and Deann live now in Cheakamus Crossing. A friend who squatted just by Cheakamus River had discovered some road kill — a deer had been hit by a truck, so he of course thought — dinner party! He invited us over. It got dark and his propane ran out, which meant no lights, but the stove had also gone out. Luckily we didn't really know if the meat was warm because it was cooked, or if it was still warm because it was... just still warm. But it put eating "locally grown" into a new perspective.

But back to the Palmers. They throw sushi parties where they prepare roll after roll of really delectable stuff — so intricate, and so much of it, that you're looking around for your bill at the end.

Pizza parties, Olympic City themes, '60s night (there was a lot of Cheez Whiz at that one), Cornucopia parties... they really get into it. So much so that it's rubbing off on their daughter Reese, and most kids in their circle.

The next generation

As a teacher Deann likes to educate the young'uns about where food comes from, how to grow it and how to cook it. Last summer they turned their kitchen into a classroom where they taught kids how to make salsas, guacamole, latkes, Greek salad, crepes, eggs, hash browns, Caesar salad dressing, poutine, coconut rice, (using real coconuts) and lemon curd — all from scratch.

These were all dishes the kids wanted to make — not things their parents thought they should make (I would have asked for Chateaubriand with Potatoes Anna). This class culminated into an awesome idea for a family weekend category of party — Kids Restaurant Night, where the kids get to make you dinner!

For this night the kids planned and printed the menu for parents to peruse when they arrived. They set the tables, made centerpieces, prepared and served dinner — they even had their own staff table and uniforms.

Everyone had a great time and I believe the restaurant got five stars.

The couple also has family nights, where each member will make a course for dinner. The adults create the usual good stuff, but nine-year-old Reese is also no slouch.

Recently I spent the evening with Reese and her friend Quinn Isert while their parents went to a Whistler Wine Club tasting. When Reese was told beforehand that I planned on interviewing them for this article, she promptly said they'd cook for me and sent me a menu.

I was to enjoy wild mushrooms sautéed with basil, white wine and garlic, and seared scallops with mango salsa. Man, research for Pique features is so tortuous....

After arriving at the house Reese and Quinn got right into the food preparation. Watching them move around a kitchen with nary a "where are the pots kept?" (like you'd find with a lot of partners — just kidding) they efficiently located cutting boards, pots, bowls, and ingredients and got to work.

Reese pulled out a knife to chop with.

"This is the only one my mom lets me use, but I'm OK with a much bigger one."

She looks at the small knife in her hand with an expression that screams, "This is a silly, inefficient little thing."

While they prepare dinner I talk about how much I like it when kids at least try food they've never had before. Reese, who is Celiac, has to be very careful about what she eats, so I think she just appreciates finding something new that won't make her sick.

Both she and Quinn are pretty good about trying everything at least once — she happily ate an oyster for the first time one summer up the coast, and after an iffy start, she's acquired a taste for them.

She's also proven herself to be fearless when taking the heads off prawns after catching them. (I just asked her to thank each prawn before beheading it.)

"Thanks Mr. Prawn, but your life is over," was her mantra.

Quinn also has lots of experience with ripping off prawn heads.

"No problem," she shrugs.

"So what's your definition of a foodie?" I ask the pair.

Says Reese: "Someone who really likes to eat and cook food. You should know how to cook it too."

According to Quinn, who's stirring something; "Oohhhh, butter. Yum, this smells like butter. I love the smell of butter."

"So where did you learn to cook, Reese?" I ask.

This is where the interview takes a funny turn. I completely expect her to say that her parents taught her everything she knows. I soon find out that as a parent, you just can't win.

"Cutthroat Kitchen on the Food Network," she says.

"Not from your parents?" I ask.

"No, they're not great cooks," she says

"Are you kidding me? They're some of the best cooks I know!" I say stifling a laugh.

"No they're not! They eat Brussels sprouts and asparagus for a living," she says wrinkling her nose.

Says Quinn: "Those are so grody. Oh, and you know what else is gross? Wine is all gross. I don't care if it's red wine, or white wine, or green wine it all tastes the same. It's gross."

Adds Reese, "Plus everything they make is too spicy!"

"Oh, I think you'll learn to like spice when you get older," I say.

"No, I think their taste buds are just really old, so they have to add spice to everything just so they can taste it," she explains.


Meanwhile as they casually diss their parents, Reese throws together the mushroom sauté.

She puts a medley of wild mushrooms into the pot — chanterelles, porcini and oyster — (she swears all mushroom varieties taste the same, too) with garlic, basil, and white wine.

Quinn chops mango, scallion, cilantro and tomatoes to make salsa while Reese sears off the scallops. Pretty impressive stuff.

Also, in the meantime they've made a normal kid favourite, mac and cheese, gluten free for Reese.

"Are you going to eat the mac and cheese first?" I ask.

"Don't call it mac and cheese — it's organic pasta with a gourmet cheese sauce!" says Quinn. So I've been told.

They serve up the mushrooms and scallops, which are divine and devour the mango salsa.

When I push on and try to give her parents some of the credit for their knowing the way around the kitchen, Reese changes the subject abruptly and asks, "Would you like some wine?"

Nice diversion Reese, well played.

Then she starts climbing up onto the counter, and reaching into a cupboard and I ask her what she's doing.

"Well — don't you want it in a Reidel?"

Wow — chalk up another point for the Reesie Pie!

Ya, this kid is going to be a serious foodie. And she'll thank her parents at some point. But probably not for a long time. Like, until they're put into a home. Or dead.

We finish off the evening with a dance they've choreographed called "An Ode to Butter."

Whistler's foodie future appears to be in good hands.

Let's just hope we get a visit in the old-folks home. With treats.

Michele Bush is a local foodie who just wants to play in her very own commercial kitchen (and not burn the plates).

Add a comment