Despite his family name, Howe Sound chef Jim Bland's food is anything but.
The executive chef at the picturesque Furry Creek Golf Club's Sea to Sky Grill is dedicated to serving elegant, but accessible, West Coast fare that highlights the region's abundance of quality ingredients.
But the 35-year-old cut his teeth not at the scenic restaurant overlooking Furry Creek's iconic 18th hole, but in the trenches of some of Whistler's most renowned fine-dining establishments.
Like so many chefs before him, Bland had to start at the bottom and work his way up, washing dishes and tending bar to help pay his way through university in his native England. At 21, he got his first experience in fine dining, and soon after completing his geography degree, decided it was time to make the move to the mountains. Bland spent the 2002 ski season in the now-closed Crab Shack, grilling up steaks and shucking countless oysters for the boisterous clientele.
"I had a great time working at the Crab Shack," Bland admits, "it was one long party really."
Even in Whistler, every party has to come to an end, and after an extended honeymoon to Europe with his wife, Bland would return to the resort in 2007 to work as a sous chef at the renowned upscale Italian eatery, Il Caminetto Di Umberto.
It was there that Bland would expand his culinary horizons, working for one of the most reputed — not to mention well attended — establishments in Whistler.
"Moving over to Umberto's I hadn't really done much in the way of Italian before, I'd done a fair bit of French cooking back home, so it was definitely interesting to jump in and learn some new stuff," he said.
"Obviously, Umbertos' gets a great reputation and does very high numbers — I mean I was working the grill during the Olympics and that was pretty intense. We broke the record the first weekend of the Olympics; I think we did 421 covers and it wasn't just pasta people, they were there to dine and each eat four or five courses."
And while he enjoyed his time in Whistler, the hustle and bustle of the typical resort restaurant just didn't make sense for the father of two, spending long nights sweating in the kitchen while his family was 60 kilometres down Highway 99.
"Obviously Whistler's very high paced, high volume," Bland explained. "I really enjoy the fine dining side of things, but I have two children now, and it's just not a terribly family-friendly environment.
"If you're going to make the decision to have kids, you're either going to go wholeheartedly, or you're going to let someone else raise them."
Now, Bland is home by dinner on a good night, and gets to spend more time with his son and daughter in the winter when the golf course is closed. But that doesn't mean the chef isn't committed to offering guests a memorable experience at one of the most beautiful dining settings B.C. has to offer. Take the Sea to Sky Grill's legendary holiday brunch service as a prime example: for this customers make the pilgrimage to Furry Creek for a gastronomic and bountiful buffet that leaves them feeling full and fulfilled.
"We do a great spread I think; We've got seafood, hot stuff, tons of salads, more breakfast items, a carved ham and omelet station," Bland said.
And what's more is that unlike many restaurants and hotels that charge you a small fortune for their special brunch services, the Sea to Sky Grill offers a breakfast feast fit for a king at a pauper's price of just $30.
It's also become something of a tradition for the restaurant's loyal clientele to bring their families for the embarrassment of culinary riches — although you'll have to book a table for you and yours well in advance as the brunch is now only served on Easter Sunday, Mother's Day and Father's Day.
"We have people that've been coming here for years, and years, and they start bringing their kids, and then they grow up and start bringing their kids," said Bland.
"It really is a great experience."
Whether you're hitting the links, or indulging your appetite, Furry Creek is all about delivering great experiences.
Thai Crab Cakes
1 lb crabmeat
1/4 each of red and yellow peppers, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
1 inch of ginger, finely grated
1/2 jalepeno pepper, diced
handful of cilantro
1 lemongrass stick, finely grated
zest of one lime
1 cup Panko crumbs, plus more for coating
"We serve it with a simple mango salsa of diced mango, red onion, lime juice, jalapeno and cilantro," chef Jim Bland said. "The cakes are pan fried then finished in the oven, plated with a small side salad and the salsa on top but you can easily make smaller ones and deep fry them as a cocktail item or put three of them in buns as a slider appetizer. They also make for a pretty good base for eggs benny."
Finely dice peppers, onions and jalapeno.
Finely grate garlic, ginger, lime zest and lemongrass and chop cilantro. Add to vegetables and place in fridge.
Carefully pick through crabmeat to remove any shell.
Add crabmeat to vegetables and spices, then mix in egg, and 3/4 cup of the Panko.
Check consistency and add more Panko if necessary.
Portion with 2oz scoop.
Add portioned cakes to Panko dredge and form a coated cake. Refrigerate immediately after mixing.
Panfry each cake on medium heat for two minutes on each side, or until golden brown.
Finish the cakes in the oven for three to four minutes at 375.
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