Hard work, attention to detail, keeping up with trends behind Evergreens success
"I loved Kitchen Confidential! I couldn't stop laughing! My wife was wondering why I was laughing so hard."
And what was so murderously funny about Anthony Bourdains expose of New Yorks eateries that he slaved in for the last quarter century?
"Oh, the stories just rang so true! I don't know one chef who hasn't read that book who hasn't been either laughing their head off or nodding their head in grim acknowledgement of what can go on in a kitchen."
So explains Don Ryan, executive chef at the Delta Whistler Resorts Evergreens restaurant, on why chef Anthony Bourdain's book has been such a hit with chefs and food fans.
Bourdains expose included harrowing tales of frenzied drug use and crazed screaming at underlings which Ryan couldnt identify with. But the 14-hour days and the ulcerous pressure of staffing, ordering, preparing and serving high end meals was something Ryan knows all too well after being in the cooking business for the last 24 years.
Ryan got his start in the hotel restaurant biz at the Ottawa's Radisson Hotel, after graduating from Algonquin College with his cooking papers.
"I like staying in one place. I don't move around much," he says.
"Plus, I was on Canada's national cross country ski team. I really enjoyed that. It didn't pay much, so I had to give it up and get back into cooking."
Moving west, Ryan stayed close to two years as a sous chef at a Holiday Inn in Edmonton.
"I didn't like Edmonton that much, so when a job opened up in Banff I leapt at it."
Ryan spent six years at Banff's Rim Rock Restaurant before moving to Whistler four years ago to become the executive chef at Evergreens. Its a move that has agreed with Ryan, as he is an avid outdoorsman who can't get his fill of fishing.
"The fishing and hiking here are so awesome. Its just so full on to catch a rainbow trout as long as my arm or a fresh salmon."
In terms of his restaurant, Ryan says Evergreens has a unique niche in Whistler as it serves high end food while the restaurant itself maintains a family atmosphere.
Ryan was equally high on the Deltas commitment to quality on its diverse but traditional menu. Just a quick peruse of Evergreens appetizers is enough to get one salivating, with such fare as warm duck breast, B.C. smoked salmon served sushi style and baked goat cheese from Salt Spring Island. If you're a soup fan, try Ryans wild mushroom soup, a mix of wild mushrooms with barley and a garnish of Swiss chard that is to die for.
"I love cooking in every kind of style," says Ryan. "You have to keep up on the trends without becoming trendy. My wife is Japanese so I find Asian influences slipping into my cooking. I find myself eating a lot more sushi now, but my wife loves North American food too. She loves my shepherds pie."
While Ryan believes in keeping up with the latest trends, Evergreens main courses include a lot of traditional fare like rack of lamb, ribeye steak, tiger prawns and salmon, which Ryan is totally enthused about.
"There is nothing wrong with a having a little marble or fat running through your ribeye steak. Thats what gives it its great flavour. I wouldnt recommend having a steak every day, but once a week is great. Everything in moderation. Just like there is nothing wrong with butter. Butter is just cream and salt. You ever see all the chemicals listed on a margarine tub?"
One tradition that Evergreens dropped over the summer was their weekend brunch which featured almost every kind of fresh carved meat, fish, egg and pastry known to man.
"Yes, that was a great buffet, wasnt it?" Ryan says rather wistfully.
"Hopefully we can bring it back some day, but we had to discontinue it as the cost of the food and labour werent being met by customer demand."
While Ryan would like to bring back the Evergreens monstrous buffet, he has more than enough to keep himself busy with the day to day running of his kitchen and staff.
"My wife thinks Im nuts when I bound out of bed at 5 in the morning to come to work. I just love everything about it. I like doing the ordering. I deal with 14 suppliers and they all send me incredible food. I like doing the scheduling and staffing for the kitchen. We've got a great group of guys here. But most of all, I enjoy the cooking."
While Ryan loves being an executive chef and all its pressures and demands, he is the farthest thing from the prima donna chefs that Bourdain admires and skewers in his best selling expose.
"No, while I really admired Bourdains storytelling and his style, Im not a screamer. My dishwasher couldnt believe that I was sweeping the floor the other day. But I do whatever needs to be done. And if my staff sees me sweeping the floor then they know that they can do it too."