It has been many years since Jaime Grant last worked in Whistler, but he fondly recalls the high-pressure shifts he did at Chez Joel and other restaurants he worked in under Joel Thibault.
Grant was raised in Squamish and attended cooking school in Vancouver, initially at BC Institute of Technology (BCIT), but while in the program the cooking school moved out of BCIT and landed at Vancouver Community College. Once he finished his schooling he met Thibault and set to work for the legendary restaurateur.
"I liked working with Joel. He was a lot of fun," says Grant, while getting set to do inventory work in the kitchen at the Squamish Valley Golf and Country Club. "He was a definite character — always had a glass of red in his hand.
"He knew every regular that came in by name and they all knew him. That's why a lot of them came there," says Grant.
Grant spent four years working as a sous chef at Chez Joel then spent another winter season with Thibault at the Creekside eatery called Aviano.
"I learned a lot about the industry and making things efficient. Efficiency is probably the key to surviving in this industry," Grant says of his years preparing food in Whistler.
"Obviously, working in Whistler you learn how to work fast on the line, which is something not too many people can do who haven't worked in that kind of environment before."
The busy times were very busy.
"We'd do three hundred covers a night," he says.
"You'd have to know where everything is, how everything was cooked and coordinate your team to make sure the food was up in a speedy amount of time."
He says everyone on the kitchen team needs to be on the same page. Everything has to be simple enough that the food could go out quickly, but elegant enough that it left the customer impressed.
At the Squamish Valley Golf and Country Club the environment is less hectic.
One of the things Grant says he misses about working in Whistler Village is the way restaurants worked together.
"Often times someone will forget something, or get a run on a certain ingredient that you run out of," Grant says. "There's a camaraderie up there where if I ran out of something at Chez Joel's, I could run across to Araxi or to Caminetto."
He would just announce he was out of an ingredient, like mushrooms for example. Later, once the next food order came in, the borrowed mushrooms would be returned.
Grant is a long way from his Whistler experience now. He opted to leave the village with its high lease rates and demanding customers for the slower pace in Squamish. After 24 years as a chef and 28 years of cooking experience, his Squamish resume includes his very first kitchen job at the Alice Lake Restaurant, which later became known as the Schnitzel House Restaurant, just below Alice Lake Provincial Park. That restaurant burned down in the late 1980's and the concrete slab and restaurant parking area sits as a reminder of the fine dining restaurant that once operated just off Highway 99 on the roadway up to Alice Lake. Grant's first chef assignment was at the Highlander Hotel, which is now known as the Sea to Sky Hotel. His other stops in Squamish include The Howe Sound Inn and The Eagle's Nest in Brackendale. Grant also gave self-employment a shot in the 1990s. When he worked at Cheeky Charlie's, the owners decided it was time for them to move on.
Grant took over the little eatery on Cleveland Avenue in Squamish's downtown. The former Whistler sous chef jumped in with both feet and renamed the venture Coyote Cantina.
The restaurant industry in Squamish proved much different compared to the early days of Grant's career, when Thibault greeted his regular customers using their first name. According to Grant, Thibault was a classic front-of-house guy.
Grant has taken a page from Thibault's playbook by getting himself out of the kitchen regularly. During his pasta-night events every Friday at the Squamish Valley clubhouse he has his own regulars, including many families with young kids, who love the pasta he prepares each week and love the personal touch.
Sweat the onions in the olive oil and add the tomatoes. Let these ingredients simmer for 30 minutes.
Add the fresh chopped basil and the oregano along with the chopped garlic, cracked pepper and the honey.
Let the ingredients simmer for 10 minutes then season to taste with sea salt.
Puree and serve with pasta. Save any unused sauce for use later.
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