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Resurrecting the hotel kitchen

Vincent Stufano leads a staff of 70 at the Chateau Whistler

Cooking trends, theories and reputations come and go, but one of the more ridiculous theories that bit the dust recently was that a serious chef would not work at a big hotel longer than he or she had to before striking out on one’s own.

One presumes the theory gained some credence with the decline of many of the world’s famous hotel restaurants and the emergence of many celebrity chef owners. But many of those famous hotel restaurants have been winning back their Michelin stars and favourable reviews by modernizing their menus and paying the big bucks for chefs to lead hotel dining into the 21 st century.

Fortunately for the Fairmont Chateau Whistler Executive Chef Vincent Stufano, never subscribed to the theory that big hotels would reign in his talents. He loves leading and training a staff of over 70 in his kitchens at the Fairmont.

"I need the insanity of leading big teams and the diversity you get in working in big hotels," he says. "There is no way you can be a food snob, nor do I see why a chef should ever be one. I have no problem at all jumping on the food line and cooking chicken fingers and fries to designing and cooking for a seven-course, tasting menu. It’s all food and you have to cook everything to the best of your ability."

Not that Stufano is adverse to a little three-star Michelin guide experience, as he spent a month cooking at the Gavroche in London a couple of years ago.

"It was incredible to see the lengths the owner went to keep his three stars. A new carved ice sculpture every night. The finest crystal and silverware, throwing out pieces if they got scratched. And the food was incredible, finest ingredients you can imagine. But the expense! You can’t make money if you’re going to try and keep those standards. It’s mostly an ego trip if you want to do a restaurant at that level and I don’t have to be in the limelight like that."

Stufano has recently passed his silver anniversary in the chef game, but he still pulses with a huge, restless energy that the Executive Chef position demands – steaming out of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s flagship restaurant, The Wildflower, restlessly drumming his fingers on a lobby chair, saying hello and offering encouragement to his staff, before charging back into the fray, leading his team of cooks in preparing a banquet dinner for 500 that night.

Stufano got his start in 1977 as an apprentice under a French chef, Daniel Rigolet, in Victoria, before moving on to the Hyatt and the Pan Pacific in Vancouver. After a stint at L’Auberge in Vancouver, Stufano had a real wild life and cooking experience as head chef at the Dunsmuir Lodge on Vancouver Island.


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