People literally come from around the world for Cornucopia. One of those global visitors is Alex Gubbins, who has come from Sydney, Australia, to do a guest chef appearance at Alta Bistro.
The story of how Gubbins came to be in Whistler for Cornucopia definitely reinforces how networking can really take a person places. Gubbins connected with Alta chef Nick Cassettari through a mutual friend.
Explaining this requires a little of the background story. Australia is key to how Gubbins was invited to be a guest chef.
The tale starts with Cassettari telling Jess Smith of Watermark, the company responsible for producing Cornucopia, that he wants to do an Australian-themed dinner. Cassettari, who is from Australia, asks Smith, another Australian import, if she knows any young chefs back in the homeland who might like to come to Whistler and work with him during Cornucopia.
Smith connects with Gubbins, who has just gone back to Sydney after a three-year stint in Italy, and asks her if she knows of anyone who might be interested.
Gubbins has a few ideas but Smith emails and suggests Gubbins take the opportunity herself.
"So, Nick emailed me, I just replied back to him and that was it," Gubbins says in a telephone interview from her hotel room at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler just 90 minutes before her first planned face-to-face meeting with Cassettari.
"Every time I've spoken with him on the phone it has been pretty good so things seem to be getting along," she says.
By the way, Gubbins doesn't hesitate to share that she fits the requirement that the guest chef be a young person at her young age of 27.
In the years since graduating from high school in Sydney she started in a restaurant kitchen and quickly got herself into a culinary education program that included an apprenticeship under three chefs in Sydney.
She explains that her father lives in Italy and was part of the lure to leave Sydney for the pasta-loving European country.
While in Italy she worked at a two Michelin starred restaurant in Tuscany for a year. She learned to speak Italian in quick order while living and cooking in Tuscany.
"It was a challenge to learn the language," Gubbins says.
"I was the only girl in the kitchen. Ten boys in the kitchen and me. I knew they were talking about me I just didn't know what they were saying."
There were enough people around her that spoke enough English for her to survive in the kitchen full of boys.
At the end of her stint in Tuscany she returned to Sydney for a season. Then she went back to Italy and worked for a company that had a host of establishments, including a food kiosk by the beach in Sardinia. Gubbins worked long days at the kiosk serving breakfast, making take-away lunches then preparing four-course dinners in the evening for up to 30 people.
She describes it as very trying but a "really good experience" as well.
Gubbins says working in Italy gave her a whole new appreciation for the use of locally produced food. It wasn't unusual for local farmers to bring their artichokes and other produce to the restaurant. The produce was well received and used with thanks.
"They would bring down deer that some of their friends had shot and we would serve them in the restaurant," says Gubbins of one owner she worked for. "It is a nice environment to work in but unfortunately they are quite limited with their flavour profile. So it is a little bit stifling after a while when you try and introduce other things and it doesn't happen."
Where she worked in Italy, there wasn't a significant amount of vegetable variety though the produce was grown in the area, Gubbins says, which was really good.
She came away from Italy with three key things; an appreciation for the simpler things, good kitchen skills and understanding of a new language.
Now she finds herself cooking in Whistler on another global adventure for just a few days with her old Australian friend Jess and her new Australian friend Nick.
Gubbins and Cassettari will be preparing a 10-course tasting menu that will bring together Australian and British Columbian produce using modern French and Australian cooking techniques, with a hint of Italian influence.
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