Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Iconic Whistler chef Melissa Craig leaves Bearfoot Bistro to go back to where it all began

After two decades spent elevating the resort’s fine dining scene, the award-winning chef is returning to where she cut her teeth, Sooke Harbour House
Bearfoot Bistro Executive Chef Melissa Craig left the restaurant this month to return to where her career began at the Sooke Harbour House.

After two decades at the helm of one of Whistler’s most decorated destinations for fine dining, Bearfoot Bistro Executive Chef Melissa Craig is leaving the restaurant to return to where her vaunted career began.

The award-winning chef is leaving the village restaurant to go back to Sooke Harbour House, where she cut her teeth as a young chef just starting out. With family on the Island, and husband André St. Jacques—Bearfoot’s founder who left the restaurant in 2021—assuming the role of managing partner at the Sooke luxury eatery, the move made sense. But that doesn’t mean it was easy.

“It was very emotional. After 20 years, it was the hardest decision I’ve ever made,” said Craig. “I’m going back to where I started. My family’s on the Island, and there’s an opportunity for Andre and I to do something together.”

Known for her penchant for elevated, indulgent cuisine drawing on the finest ingredients from B.C. and around the world, Craig initially came to Bearfoot as something of a prodigy in Canadian cheffing circles. After graduating from culinary school, at the age of 20, she became the first woman to win the Canadian National Apprentice Competition. She finished her apprenticeship at Sooke Harbour House on the Island, before a season spent as sous-chef at the B.C. luxury fishing resort, King Pacific Lodge, and a stint in Australia, cooking and travelling along the way.

Upon her return to B.C., she was offered the executive sous-chef position at Bearfoot, and quickly rose through the ranks, first as chef de cuisine and then, within a year, as executive chef, no small feat for a 25-year-old.

The accolades continued for Craig in 2008, when she was crowned the country’s top chef at the Canadian Culinary Championships at just 28 years old. The win cemented Craig’s status in the national culinary landscape, along with the frenzy of the 2010 Winter Olympics, when Bearfoot pumped out breakfast, lunch, and dinner to well-heeled international guests for 17 days straight, with barely a moment to breathe, let alone sleep. (“It was madness,” Craig told Montecristo Magazine in 2011.)

But the reserved Craig was never much one for the spotlight. You get the sense the many accolades she’s earned mean far less than sending her loyal regulars home happy, with a belly full of her inventive cuisine, along with the ample time she’s spent mentoring Bearfoot’s kitchen crews to be the best cooks they can be.

“I’ve realized it’s all about the team you surround yourself with and I’ve had such a wonderful team over the years at Bearfoot,” Craig said. “I’m going to miss the Bearfoot. I’m going to miss my team, which is my family. For a lot of people in Whistler who don’t have family, we are each other’s family.”

One of those family members is Dominic Fortin, the former executive pastry chef at Bearfoot, who left to oversee pastry for rival restaurant group, Toptable, which operates Whistler’s Araxi, Bar Oso and Il Caminetto. Now, similar to Craig, Fortin’s career is coming full-circle with a return to Bearfoot as its culinary director.

“He was definitely my first choice,” Craig said. “We’ve worked together for so long and even after working together, we talk every day. He’s got the leadership skills, the right temperament, and we communicate all the time, so he’s going to help me, I’m going to help him. It seems like a very natural best-case-scenario progression.”

Fortin starts in his new role Aug. 15.

Marc Des Rosiers, Bearfoot’s director of marketing communications, said the restaurant is “very privileged” to have had Craig at the reins for as long as it did, but that Fortin is well equipped to carry on her legacy, given his experience and friendship with the chef.

“Everything we do will honour Melissa’s legacy,” he said. “We shouldn’t be expecting a lot of change to begin with, because it’s the same team in the kitchen and Dominic knows what the Bearfoot Bistro is all about, so he’s going to continue the great work Melissa did.”

Craig returns to a much different Sooke Harbour House than when she was first there. Long considered one of Canada’s best hotels, the 28-room waterfront resort and fine dining restaurant was purchased by Frederique and Sinclair Philip in the 1970s, becoming known for its locally sourced food grown on the property along with its quality wine cellar. But the Philips later faced financial troubles and became embroiled in a lengthy dispute with Tim Durkin, representing SHH Management Ltd., and SHH Holdings Ltd., who had initially agreed to buy the hotel before backing out of the deal. Durkin was eventually ordered to pay the couple $4 million and was ordered deported from Canada.

Real estate investment firm IAG bought Sooke Harbour House in 2020, shortly after the pandemic began, in a court-ordered sale prompted by a foreclosure. The company then offered the property for sale for $13.3 million in September 2022, but it did not sell. Since then, the property has undergone significant renovations, both to the interior and exterior, including the addition of a large patio area for outdoor dining.

“I am very excited for this new chapter and project,” Craig said.

As the upgrades near completion, ownership is targeting late fall or early winter for reopening.

Craig said, while the vision for the reimagined hotel and restaurant is still being formulated, “it will be respectful to what it was and sticking very Canadian.”

Learn more at