Chef's choice: Fairmont's Laurent Bernard on afternoon tea 

click to enlarge Sweet stuff The Fairmont Hotel's head pastry chef, Laurent Bernard, creates a range of rich snacks daily for the hotel's popular afternoon tea.
  • Sweet stuff The Fairmont Hotel's head pastry chef, Laurent Bernard, creates a range of rich snacks daily for the hotel's popular afternoon tea.

Afternoon tea has returned to the Fairmont's Mallard Lounge for the summer.

Running every day from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m., patrons can enjoy a variety of pastries, a long tea list, as well as a lovely view of the mountains from the upper village venue. "It's really popular," says Laurent Bernard, the hotel's head pastry chef. "I think (people) like the social aspect of the event. If you don't do other activities (in Whistler) you just go for the tea. It's an experience."

Bernard and his team prepare the pastries for tea daily. At a recent media event, which kicked off the return of the seasonal social, reporters were spoiled with a tiered display including fresh baked scones with Devonshire cream, marmalade and strawberry preserve. Another spread featured savoury snacks like cucumber pinwheels, duck steamed buns, ham and cheese turnovers and shrimp salad sandwiches, as well as a bottom tier of lemon-glazed pound cakes, vanilla eclairs and a hazelnut chocolate operas.

The tea list, meanwhile, features old favourites (earl grey, orange pekoe) along with unique offerings like ice wine (described as "deliciously fresh and piquant white grape flavour with hints of exotic fruit that pleasantly linger on the tongue"), marple maple ("beguiling, sweet character with velvet caramel notes") and a curious concoction called bubblegum tea that tastes as sweet as it sounds and won over at least one reporter in the crowd, despite the fact that it's aimed at kids.

Bernard, whose work can be found on the top and bottom tiers of the afternoon tea serving platter, says his goal is to give the tea time favourites a local angle. "We put a little twist since we are in B.C.," he says, pointing to the hazelnut in the chocolate opera as an example.

Bernard has been the pastry chef at the hotel for nearly a dozen years. Hailing from the mountains of Albertsville, France (the location of the 1992 winter Olympics, he points out) he moved to Canada to pursue his career. He landed first in Toronto, but that relocation was short lived. "I'm not a city guy," he says.

He was drawn to Whistler for its mountains and similarity to his hometown. "The Fairmont is a great place to work," he adds. "I love B.C. It's a great place to be. Even if I wanted to move, there aren't that many pastry chef jobs in Whistler."

He wasn't, however, the only one in his family. "My dad was a pastry chef," he says. "He opened up his business the year I was born. He taught me how to be a pastry chef."

While he isn't exactly sure how his father felt about his career move, it certainly helped kick start his interest in creating pastries at an early age. "He was so strict with me," Bernard says. "He was not the kind of guy who would tell me, 'Good job,' but I'm sure he was proud."

To an extent, he adds, creating pastries requires an innate level of talent. "It's not like cooking," he says. "Skill and knowledge is really important, but what will make the difference is the talent. You have it or you don't. You have to present things to look good."

An example: "Your writing skills when you're writing in chocolate. Some people will make it and some will write like chicken scratch. Of course you can learn, but it's as if you're born with it."

Working with chocolate and sugar are the most challenging aspects of his job (though after so many years, it's become much easier, he adds).

His favourite type of pastry to make? "I love to do wedding cakes," he says. "They're always fun because they're always different. The size, the shape, what they want on it. It's always interesting... It's high pressure because the brides only have one day and they want it to be perfect, so you can feel the pressure. They have to trust you because they never see your work, they see pictures."

Luckily, preparing afternoon tea is a much more relaxed task. Tea will be running throughout the summer for $32 per person (along with a $16 children's menu). Reservations are available. For more information and to see a full menu visit www.fairmont.com/whistler/dining.

Speaking of Fairmont Chateau Whistler Resort

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