Chef's Choice: Greg Garland from Trattoria 

click to enlarge CANTINA CUSINE Chef Greg Garland has seen Whistler grow and through it all he always seems to land back at the Trattoria.
  • CANTINA CUSINE Chef Greg Garland has seen Whistler grow and through it all he always seems to land back at the Trattoria.

When Greg Garland came to Whistler in 1992, the food industry landscape was a bit different.

The executive chef at the Trattoria in the Mountainside Lodge is now on his fifth stint with the Trat. This time around follows a world of experience that has taken him to Australia and back.

Owner Umberto Menghi is apparently a guy who believes in Garland despite his multiple departures.

Garland and the team at the Trattoria serve rustic Tuscan foods seven days a week and as of Saturday, Dec. 1, lunch is being served every day as well.

Now overseeing the kitchen as executive chef, Garland looks back on his early "wild west" days in Whistler fondly. Those who remember the Border Cantina might be fascinated to learn that Garland jokingly offered to take over the restaurant in 1993 when he noticed one of the owners yawning while enjoying an evening cocktail.

Garland explains from his chair overlooking the deck outside the Trattoria on a sunny fall afternoon that the Border Cantina owner at the time was having a tough time running his two restaurants. That conversation resulted in his first departure from the Trat.

"We were sitting at the bar," says Garland.

It could be the start of a really bad joke as he explains that one of his friends was a waiter and the other was a bartender.

When the Border Cantina owner said owning two businesses was driving him crazy Garland laughed and said maybe he and his friends should take it off his hands.

"Next thing I know we're buying a restaurant, the three of us," Garland says with a laugh. "It was fun. Twenty-five years old and you've got a restaurant in Whistler, a party town."

Remember the Border Cantina barber chair and the upside down margaritas served in it? Garland remembers it really well.

"It was entertaining," says Garland.

That was a long time ago and much has happened since. Garland left the Border Cantina after his back was broken in a car crash. Once he was ready to get back to work the Trattoria rehired him to do light duty work. He followed his wife to Australia for half a year while she completed her Master's degree in physiotherapy. There was also that three-year period when he was the general manager at Hoz's where he honed his front-of-the house skills. Garland also picked up some hotel experience but says he didn't really enjoy that setting and felt hotels weren't really his place.

He's back cooking pasta imported from Italy in the Trat's open kitchen now.

"It's interesting to watch people watching the kitchen," he says of the rare occasions when he gets into the dining room.

He notes that while watching his team in the kitchen is fascinating, it isn't Hell's Kitchen and there's no fear of a Gordon Ramsay impersonator blowing up at the staff every evening. That drama just doesn't work for Garland.

While it is interesting to watch the action in the kitchen as the Trat team puts together dinner for the guests, Garland says the team works so well together that there isn't a significant amount of talking.

"Everybody knows their job," says Garland. "There's communication on bills but other than that there isn't that screaming and yelling at people."

The open kitchen setting demands presentable kitchen staff members who work well in a team.

"There was a great period there in the early '90s where every place was staffed with quality employees, then there was the huge growth that the valley experienced where all of those quality employees went and started running all their own restaurants," recalls Garland.

In that period of time, he says, restaurants were hiring anyone who walked in with a pulse.

"Quality kind of took a dip," he says. "Now we're back up to where I like to see us."

His current staff and the resort as a whole are described by Garland as being filled with people who want to learn and are eager to produce great food.

After more than 20 years in Whistler Garland laughs as he points out he's another one of those people who first came to the resort for what was supposed to be just a season.

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