Chef's Choice:  Alex Stoll and Neil Harrison 

click to enlarge power pony Neil Harrison and Alex Stroll are going to renovate The Pony Restaurant between Nov. 4 and 21.
  • power pony Neil Harrison and Alex Stroll are going to renovate The Pony Restaurant between Nov. 4 and 21.

One of the two famous hitching posts outside The Pony Restaurant in Pemberton is missing. That's because a pony actually pulled it out of the ground. It is currently in the repair shop and will be back standing sentinel in front of the entrance soon, says co-owner Neil Harrison.

It's a reassuring example of how the restaurant hearkens back to the village's yesteryear of frontier living and the gold-rush trail; on any given day real-live horses can be parked, their owners having a burger or a bevvy. Recently, Harrison said, eight waited outside, coming from nearby riding ranches or owned by locals.

"A lot of people stop and take pictures," Harrison says.

"Do you have to provide water?" I ask him.

"Yes. And a shovel," he says with a laugh.

Harrison, who grew up in Lincolnshire, England, and Alex Stoll, originally from Alsace in France, took over The Pony together four-and-a-half years ago. Both men trained as chefs in their respective home countries, and got to know each other on the frontline of the Whistler restaurant scene.

"We met at the Westin Resort... then we both went off and did different things. I went to a fishing lodge and Alex went to a ranch in the interior," he says. "We had the same interest in wanting to own our own restaurant and be able to do our own thing. A small percentage of chefs actually want to take on that headache."

But they wanted the commitment and the lifestyle and so have settled in Pemberton with their families.

They purchased The Pony, a restaurant that has now been a Pemberton landmark for around 19 years housed in a building that was once a CN watershed and added onto over the decades. Before that, they managed Fat Duck Cuisine together for 18 months at the Pemberton Valley Vineyard, which is now a B&B.

Harrison said: "By doing that, we worked out that Pemberton liked our style of food and looked at whether our partnership would be solid and if we could work together. A lot of partnerships fall apart but we've been working together..."

"Eight years now," Stoll said, finishing the sentence. "We're self-made men, starting from scratch."

Both are flexible in their roles as owner-managers. Harrison was The Pony's chef over the summer but he has left that side to Stoll for the coming winter, and will run the front-of-house.

They are aware they have responsibility for maintaining what is a Pemberton icon. Asked whether they moulded themselves to what Pemberton wanted or tried to get locals to respond to their styles of food, Harrison says it was a bit of both.

This discovery is reflected in The Pony today.

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