Having only arrived on the scene of culinary Whistler in early September, Milestone's chef Bruce Worden is off to a good start, winning the 13th annual Harvest Soup Contest.
In searching for the inspiring soup that would take the prize he had to look no further than the Whistler Farmers' Market, which takes place at Milestone's doorstep in the Upper Village.
Enter the Hubbard squash and suppliers Laughing Crow Organics of Pemberton.
"I asked them if they had an abundance of anything and they said they had this squash that they didn't know what to do with and I told them I could help," Worden recalled. "Heirloom Hubbard squashes are really thick skinned, you can't really roast the seeds and they are quite leathery. It's a dry, almost starchy squash."
Turning it into a soup meant a lot of it was used.
"It was a win-win for everyone and an opportunity to potentially put a seasonal soup on here (at Milestone's), because we won. Being a larger branded restaurant in this area, I felt like being a part of it. I'm rooted in community; I like to be part of a community as a chef. It made sense for me to be a part of the competition."
Worden had the support of his Milestone's colleagues and he went for it.
"It was Thanksgiving weekend and it was a harvest soup. Squash made sense. I was really busy, so my wife and son help me with the booth (outside in the market, during the competition), because I was busy with brunch inside the restaurant," he said.
"I asked Derek (Pasenow, Milestone's manager) if this is something we do, because I'd love to do it. I didn't know the parameters we had (as a company). He said, 'Sure.' And it all came together. Now we've got a pumpkin trophy behind the bar."
The competition, run by the Whistler Waldorf School, took place on Thanksgiving weekend, Sunday, Oct. 12.
Worden had entered similar competitions in Ontario, where he lived prior to moving out west.
"I'd done a lot of these kinds of competitions. And I enjoyed making soup. I got inspired working with them," he said.
Worden arrived from Niagara, Ontario, with his family on Sept. 2 to take charge of Milestones' kitchens.
He has been a chef throughout that region for the last 18 years; he taught at Niagara College, worked at Queen's Landing and Pillar and Post, "a lot of four and five-diamond" locations.
But before that he'd been based in Whistler.
"I lived out here for a year, I worked at Thai One On and then went to Vancouver for a year and then went home to Ontario. Then it just so happened that I was done with the area, my daughter was going to university and my son is 12 and I want to do stuff with him, and Niagara is sort of boring for that," Worden said.
"I left my heart in the mountains when I left the first time. My wife is from Yugoslavia, so she's used to hills. She's pretty stoked and excited to be out here. I'm looking forward to my daughter coming here for the summers and I'm looking to lay roots."
So now he is living in White Gold and walking to work.
"It's just been awesome. I'm looking at the snow slowly creeping down the mountains and getting excited," he said.
Worden is also looking forward to the upcoming hiring of staff for winter. He is in the middle of menu changes and preparing for the oncoming season.
"We split the menu into lunch and dinner, so it's a little different than last time. We're looking at trying to tailor some of those items," he said.
"I'm really looking forward to a busy place at the bottom of the hill; there should be no shortage of business. I looked at some of the numbers and I thought, 'Wow!'"
Worden had worked with Milestone's executive chef Jason Rosso in the past, and with a background in boutique and volume hotels Worden decided to contact him to learn more about the Whistler vacancy and about the company.
"He told me where the company is going and what they want to do, how they want to bring learning back to the kitchen. He said it's a tricky store, it's busy then it's nothing. I told him I was up for it," he said.
"I like challenges and it's fun. And I have my family behind me."
Worden is looking forward to the opportunity to enter more competitions.
"Not so much for me, but what I'd really love to do is take some people from the kitchen and put the fire into them. Get them to want to do it themselves and submit for it. Teaching for me has always been something that is close to me," he said.
Laughing Crow's Mother's Hubbard Squash Puree
Yield: Approx. 2.5 - 3 Litres
1 kg Laughing Crow's Hubbard Variety Squash
1 cup sweet Onion diced
1 Tbsp Garlic (roasted in oil @ 350° for 35min in foil)
3 stalks Celery, diced
1 cup Diced Potato (peeled)
¼ tsp White Pepper
½ can Coconut Milk
2 L Vegetable Stock
1 oz White wine (to deglaze)
1 tsp Cinnamon
¾ tsp Cumin
2 Tbsp Maple Syrup
2 Tbsp Canola Oil
Salt ( to taste)
(served either as a wonton or chopped & placed.)
1½ tsp Goat Cheese
1 Pecan half
1 piece Wonton wrapper
Yield 2 cups approx..
½ cup Cilantro
3 tbsp Garlic
½ cup onion
¾ cup Lime juice
1 t Chili flakes
1 t Salt
5 tbsp Red wine vinegar
Gather all spices, except salt and pepper, and lightly toast them together in a pan. Set aside. Peel and dice all of the vegetables separating as such: onion, celery, squash, potato and roast garlic
Finally prepare all of your other items ready for use.
Take your soup pot and on a medium high heat cook the onions and celery in oil until soft.
Add the diced squash and potatoes and cook for five minutes. Season with a little salt and pepper.
Add ¾ of your toasted spices and one bay leaf.
Once melted the spices and starches will start to stick to the pan, turn the pan down to medium and deglaze with the white wine, stir with a wooden spoon.
Add the stock to cover the vegetables by about ½ inch of liquid and simmer until the potatoes are tender. Adjust seasoning.
Using a blender or stick blender, puree soup while adding coconut milk in a steady stream, then strain through a sieve. Serve or chill and serve the following day.
For the Garnish:
If making a wonton, simply take the wonton skin and wet the edges with water. Place a small amount of goat cheese and pecan in the centre and crease the edges until sealed. Fry to golden brown.
If using a loose garnish, julienne wonton skins and fry until golden, crush pecans and add goat cheese to the soup.
Mince garlic and onion then add all ingredients.
Finely chop cilantro and fold into other ingredients, marinate for at least two hours.
Add a small amount to each soup.
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