Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — You’ve no doubt heard a story about how the grandmother of an esteemed chef inspired the cuisine served at a restaurant. Nonna’s meatballs, Grandma’s pierogies, Mamey’s chicken noodle soup, Abuela’s salsa — all have been written out in more than one menu in North America. For Isabel Chung, though, the grandmotherly touch to her career didn’t come directly from a family matriarch. Chung, the executive chef at Fairmont Chateau Whistler, grew up spending summers in Singapore visiting her grandmother, who owned an estate with servants, chauffeurs and, yes, talented chefs.
“My grandmother didn’t cook, but she loved good food,” Chung recalls during a recent dinner at the Grill Room, Chateau Whistler’s high-end restaurant that serves steaks, seafood and decadent desserts. “When I visited her, I didn’t want to go shopping, I wanted to spend time with the cooks. She didn’t approve of that choice, but I was able to debone a fish before I could read.”
Chung, who is from Calgary, refined her skills at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, where she studied culinary arts, and then during her time in Fairmont’s apprenticeship program. Having gone through the corporation’s culinary training regimen, she is keen to share that experience with aspiring chefs. Fairmont Chateau Whistler currently has about 10 apprentices in the culinary program. They learn to butcher meats, make exquisite pastries and run the important garde manger station in the kitchen.
In 2016, Chung’s apprentices won an internal Fairmont competition with other hotels in the region, claiming top prize in a judged competition. To her, the apprenticeship program and the various experiences it offers help Fairmont retain culinary talent who are often tempted to join independent restaurants. At the same time, she says the hotel chain also needs to adapt to the demands of contemporary culinary culture in order to excite young chefs.
“We want to be more like a standalone restaurant,” Chung notes about the culinary operations at Chateau Whistler. “That means being hyper-local as much as we can and being more creative with some of our dishes.”
While you won’t find any of Chung’s family recipes on the menu, there is a grandmotherly touch in one of the Grill Room’s favourite dishes. The Tomato and Gin Soup is inspired from a recipe from the grandmother of Chung’s predecessor, Vincent Stufano. Prepared table side by the server with an eye-catching burst of flames, the soup includes local mushrooms, double-smoked bacon and gin sourced from a craft distillery in Pemberton. That dish and several others, including British Columbia seafood and steaks, showcase the Fairmont’s focus on local cuisine in North America’s leading ski resort village.
Artistic Wonders in Whistler
Fine dining isn’t the only sophisticated touch you’ll find in Whistler these days. The Audain Art Museum opened in 2016 and includes stunning and diverse art, including a large selection of paintings from Emily Carr and an abundance of First Nations art. Along with Carr, other Group of Seven artists featured at the museum include J.E.H. MacDonald and Frederick Varley. Contemporary stars such as Brian Jungen, known for his inventive use of sneakers and other apparel, also have work showcased in the $30-million facility.
Visitors can also try their hand at artistry themselves as a room is set up with easels and pads of large paper. A still life display is set on a table for those who desire a subject or you can sketch from your imagination. Kids love it, but so do many adults — this writer included.
MORE ABOUT FAIRMONT CHATEAU WHISTLER
Address: 4599 Chateau Boulevard, Whistler, BC (see map below)
Phone: 1-800-606-8244 (toll free)
New Alpine Suites: This winter, the hotel completed a five-year, $23-million renovation that created 11 new elegant units dubbed Alpine Suites. The 600-square-foot suites including rain head showers, king beds, attractive built-in fireplaces and comfortable sofas in the living room. Best of all is the view of Blackcomb Mountain and all the activity taking place on it.
Room Rates: A recent search of the hotel’s website returned a starting rate of $439 for a regular room during a June weekend night. Alpine Suites usually start at $459 per night.
MORE ABOUT AUDAIN ART MUSEUM
Address: 4350 Blackcomb Way, Whistler, BC
Admission: $18 for adults