Summer Fusion

Summer Fusion

Story by Nikki Bayley / Images by Joern Rohde

Summertime is the favourite season for chefs. New fruits, roots, and vegetables appear almost every week, seasonal seafood swims into view, and it’s a time for chefs to explore their creativity with fresh flavours that pay homage to the season’s bounty. Sure, you’ll find plenty of familiar pairings on your plate, but we wondered what unexpected flavour combinations have inspired some of our favourite Whistler chefs this summer. We also got a glimpse into some of the wild and weird snack flavours that our chefs enjoy at home. Maple syrup-spiked omelettes, anyone?!

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Executive Chef Melissa Craig

Albacore Tuna Tataki with Smoked Watermelon

First, let me say that if you’ve never tried smoked watermelon before (and really, who has?!), trust me, you’ll be trying to make it at home as soon you’ve had a bite, as it is divine! “The idea came from my sous-chef Asuka,” shares Executive Chef Melissa Craig. “She’s been cooking with me for more than a decade, and she knows what I like. Smoking different elements of the dish, rather than, say, smoked fish, makes it interesting to me. I wouldn’t usually put smoke and fruit together, but it works.” The watermelon, striped with grill marks, is first cured in salt and sugar, quickly hot-smoked in the oven, then chilled before grilling. I almost feel guilty for gobbling it up so fast. Almost. But not quite.
Alongside the grilled melon are a lightly seared Albacore tuna tataki and a cantaloupe-cucumber consommé with a little jalepeño added for heat. Texture comes from a puffed tapioca garnish and pickled ramps (which get a little kiss from the grill too), little pops of citrus from lime pearls (“I thought it needed that acidity to balance”), and finally, a house-made wild ramp (wild allium, related to spring onions and leeks) oil drizzled on top. It’s a wonderfully juicy, fresh dish, but for me, the unexpected star is the smoked watermelon. So good, like a summer campfire.
A non-skier, Craig is an unabashed Whistler summer season fan. “I always look forward to pre-work lake swims. I start in May, but it doesn’t really warm up till August.” As for her odd combo snack, “Hmm. I’m not very adventurous at home,” she confesses. “You’ll find me eating grilled cheese sandwiches with sweet chili sauce. But I put Yuzu Kosho on absolutely everything; it’s a Japanese yuzu chili paste, and it’s so good! I’ll eat Chili crisp [a spicy, crunchy, aromatic condiment] by the spoonful, too; I love that hit of heat.”

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Chef Nick Surowy

Halibut with Pemberton Beets, Fregola Sarda and Agrodolce

Pasta and… beets? I know we said unusual combos, but I may have doubted this one. Chef Nick Surowy laughs, “It’s a little unexpected, but I think it works well. We get beautiful beets from up the road at North Arm Farm and try to use them as much as possible. They have a great flavour, and they really showcase the bright colours that announce the season change.” This vibrant dish screams summer on a plate: flaky halibut poached in olive oil, punctuated with salty olives, a crunchy olive gremolata (so dramatic against the gleaming white halibut!) agrodolce (niçoise olives cooked with vinegar, sugar, shallots, and olive oil to create a sweet-acidic garnish) those ruby-coloured beets, and a bouncy, buttery, creamy pasta. It’s a busy dish, but it’s beautifully balanced.

“The Fregola Sarda is a pasta from Sardinia, basically the step between pasta and couscous. We cook it with cheese and butter,” explains Surowy. The pasta and beets come from an old- favourite creation at sister-restaurant Caramba. “I thought they’d go together, and I got great feedback, so when I was thinking about unique ingredients, that stuck out to me. It brings together what we do here: combining unique and interesting flavours which really pop with local ingredients and Italian methods and flavours.”

I quiz Surowy on his home snack flavour combo. “I know cheese and fish together is a sin in Italy, but I love really salty anchovies with a really sharp cheese like pecorino. They taste so good. That’s my staple go-to. Less taboo, Okanagan fruit season — “I can’t wait!” he says. “Plums, apricots, peaches, cherries, they’re so versatile. We use them from pastry and desserts to savoury dishes too.”

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THE WILDFLOWER at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler
Chef de Cuisine Adie Anas

Halibut with Black Garlic Cracker, Stinging Nettle Emulsion, Mushrooms and Jalepeño

We meet with Chef Adie Anas on his second day in command at The Wildflower restaurant and The Grill Room at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Anas is bristling with excitement and eager to talk us through his ideas; it looks like things are about to get exciting in this corner of the Upper Village. “My concept is to take advantage of the surroundings and our mountains,” he explains. “I want to be able to use beautiful ingredients to showcase our surrounding area, all the seasonal vegetables, and fruits, and I want to pickle, ferment, and preserve them so we can enjoy them year-round.”

On the plate today, Anas is showcasing halibut with a crunchy black garlic cracker, a melt-in-your-mouth stinging nettle emulsion with leek confit, mushrooms, and fermented jalepeño. The black garlic cracker is a new creation (“third time was a charm!”); it’s clear that Anas thrives on trying new things. “I don’t follow a book,” he declares. “I like to experiment and mix things up, and if it’s good, that’s that.” Halibut and fermented jalapeños are a new combination for me, but explains Anas, “We ferment them for a week, then I blend them, warm them up with vinegar to add extra acidity and butter to break up the sharpness of the jalapeño.” It works as a handy condiment. Want things spicier? Just add more!

You can look forward to signature dishes on the new menus, which reflect Anas’s Jordanian heritage — Labneh (a soft, strained yogurt cheese) served with herb-crusted lamb loin, a harissa-and-walnut sauce alongside maple-caramelized carrots. Expect plenty of foraged and fermented elements from this young chef who expected to follow his father’s footsteps into a career as a scientist but ended up as an experimental chef. As for his unusual home snack combo, he says with a laugh, “It’s my traditional food. I have hummus with everything: breakfast, sushi, whatever!”

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Kitchen Manager Sergio Reyes

Basa, Tomato, and Rhubarb Aguachile

It’s always exciting to see what innovative spin Chef Sergio Reyes puts on regional Mexican cuisine at The Mexican Corner. This summer, Reyes is showcasing aguachile (“it’s flavourful, with a little heat and perfect for beers in the sunshine!”), a Pacific Coast dish that’s the spicier cousin to ceviche (raw fish cooked in citrus) and this unexpected flavour combo — fresh rhubarb from Pemberton — is a new ingredient for Reyes. “I haven’t tried much of it so far, but already I love it,” he tells me. “The combination of tart with sweetness is amazing.”

“We wanted to create aguachile with B.C. ingredients,” Reyes says. “We don’t have rhubarb in Mexico, but it’s so perfect in this dish.” The spice comes from habaneros mixed with a salsa macha (a punchy salsa with dried chiles, garlic, and nuts, but Reyes uses pumpkin seeds for a richer taste). Add basa fish marinated with lime, plenty of fresh tomatoes, and rhubarb, and you have a bright, beautiful dish with a whisper of fruity sweetness, zesty juice, and a just-right hit of heat from the chili. Scoop it up with crunchy fresh-made corn tostadas, and you’re in heaven!

Reyes is excited to unleash aguachile on this season’s visitors. “We have so many good ideas in the kitchen right now,” he beams. “I can’t wait to see the guests and their reactions to the new menu.” I ask him what crazy flavour combos work for him at home, and he bursts out laughing. “It’s a cliché, but I honestly always have a lot of chiles at home, and I love to make sauces. I love berries and chilies together, but my favourite is strawberries dipped in chipotle sauce! Try it! It’s kind of weird, but it works.”

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Executive Chef Joel Labute

Wild Scallop Crudo with Rhubarb and White Asparagus

After a long winter, Executive Chef Joel Labute was looking forward to the change in season and presenting the summer menu to guests. “I’m excited about new ingredients,” he says, “and I want to see how we can become more sustainable with the issues and challenges we face as chefs in the community. I’m just hoping that this summer gives us a wonderful bounty.” Sweet, just-torched scallop crudo is the star of this dish with Pemberton rhubarb, crispy ginger, white asparagus, and fresh herbs. “Unexpected but kinda expected, right?” Labute says with a smile.

“Rhubarb and asparagus don’t seem like they’d go together, but they work so well together. The asparagus is peeled and cooked sous vide with a nage (vegetable stock) to poach slowly in the bag, which makes it just tender with a little crunch, then throw in crispy ginger for some sweetness.” You don’t often see white asparagus, but Labute is a fan, as he used to grow it on his farm in Ontario. “White asparagus is the same as green; it’s covered so the sun doesn’t get to it, making the chlorophyll react. It’s crazy how fast it reacts to light. You can grow it under a bucket or heaped under earth, but as soon as it gets light, within 24 hours, it turns green again.”

As for his at-home flavour combo, Labute grins, “OK, I’ve been making this for years, and people think I’m crazy. I have a thing where I make an omelette, then add maple syrup and chili sauce. Don’t knock it! It’s a French-Canadian thing; the sweetness and heat work so well together. I promise you, it’s really good. Try it with Holy Duck chili oil. Made in Vancouver from duck fat, chiles, and crispy garlic, it’s amazing!”

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