When the Mile One Eating House team was coming up with a theme for the restaurant's latest dinner series, it was decided that iconic British Columbian foods would be the main focus. Just don't expect BC Rolls and Nanaimo bars to be the exclusive domain of the wide-ranging Night Kitchen Icon Series, which returns to the beloved Pemberton eatery this week.
"We're so lucky to have a province where we have the ocean ... and forest to forage from. There's just this huge range of products to choose from," said chef-owner Erin Kerr. "We're also such a mixing pot here in B.C. Many people aren't Canadian, so in my mind, that's always what I think of as food from here. If you think of some of your favourite food from Vancouver, it's probably Chinese food, shawarma or something like that."
With a Japanese sous chef and four cooks hailing from Morocco, Mile One exemplifies B.C.'s diverse makeup to a tee. It's also why Kerr has infused Thursday's menu with a handful of dishes inspired by the vibrant cuisine of the North African nation. Alongside a sourdough mushroom toast, fresh Albacore tuna with housemade bacon and burnt tomato and a prawn carbonara made from ancient grain noodles courtesy of the Cowichan Pasta Company, the menu will also feature Moroccan meatballs made from Hanceville Cattle Company beef (the ranch run by Mile One's former owner, Randy Jones), and "Moroccan crepes" for dessert, which Kerr describes as similar to pancakes, except made with semolina flour and slathered in honey, butter and olive oil.
"They're really good," noted Kerr, who said she ate her "body's weight worth" of the rich dessert while visiting the port city of Tangier with a friend in November. It was there that she also got to meet one of her recently hired cooks, Oussama Mssari, before he made the long trip to Pemberton to begin work at the restaurant.
"We actually ended up staying with him and his family while he was there," Kerr said.
"Oussama's mom tried to kill me by feeding me so much ... It was cool to see how they actually eat and cook things. She sent us home with a couscous pot and we had to put it in our backpack at the airport because it wouldn't fit in my luggage."
Like several restaurants in Whistler, Mile One has relied on a recent influx of skilled Moroccan chefs to the Sea to Sky to fill staff shortages, thanks to former Whistler Blackcomb VP Joel Chevalier, whose company, Culinary Recruitment International, has brought in more than 50 chefs from the country since the fall of 2018.
Unlike other entry-level cooks in the corridor who may only be in town for a season or two and largely view restaurant work as a way to supplement their lifestyle, the Moroccan chefs are typically here for the long haul, hoping to build a lasting career, Kerr said.
"It's a lot different than most of the workers who are here to ski and snowboard and who have to work to survive; that's not why [the Moroccan chefs] are here. This is why they came here," she added. "They're so excited. They try to volunteer their days off to me all of the time. 'I can come in to help on Tuesday.' I'm like, 'No, go do something.'"
For the 29-year-old Kerr, who worked her way up from sous chef to take over Mile One back in 2018, it's important to give her staff the freedom to explore their own culinary passions.
"As a young cook, that's all I wanted. All I was pushing for was to be creative and show my take on food," she said. "I love to give that to my staff [even though] they are sometimes a little timid to take it."
This week's instalment of the Night Kitchen Icon Series is set for Thursday, Feb. 6, and follows about every three weeks after that. Tickets are $49.99 a person. To book a seat, email email@example.com.