March 09, 2007 Features & Images » Feature Story

Behind the Scenes 

A cook’s perspective on the chaos and the teamwork that takes place in a five-star hotel kitchen

By Alison Lapshinoff

Outside, large, wet flakes fell, covering the Sea to Sky Highway in a deadly, white blanket. On the long, winding road that hugs the rocky coastline from Vancouver to Squamish before turning inland for the mountainous climb to Whistler, traffic was at a standstill. For kilometre after kilometre, bright pairs of headlights punctured the inky blackness, their voyage thwarted by some unseen obstacle ahead. Somewhere near the back of this long line of traffic were two buses full of tourists, fresh off the plane from Britain, and they were going to be late for their banquet at one of the many luxury resorts in Whistler.

Oblivious to the troublesome weather, the cooks at the five star hotel buzzed around the kitchen with the single-minded purpose of being ready for a busy dinner service. The hood fans droned monotonously overhead as meaty smoke lazily wafted out of the convection oven where veal bones were roasting. In a large, stainless steel kettle, over 80 litres of chicken stock simmered quietly, waiting to be skimmed. The executive sous-chef worked cheerfully, seemingly unconcerned about the fact that he, alone, was responsible for putting out an elaborate banquet for nearly 100 hungry British tourists. His manner was relaxed as he meticulously lined roasted root vegetables diagonally in a long hotel pan, and proceeded to crust his mustard-smeared lamb racks with a mixture of crushed pinenuts, bread crumbs and fresh herbs. All was going smoothly in the banquet kitchen.

On the hot line, where the food is prepared for the restaurant and lounge, the lunch cook was wearily removing his mise en place and returning it to the walk in cooler in preparation to finish his shift. As he tiredly departed, the dinner cooks swiftly moved in. Pans of steaks, chicken breasts and fish fillets were whisked out of the walk-in and set in the small fridges on line while trays of blanched vegetables, fingerling potatoes, wild mushrooms, vegetable purées and chopped garlic and shallots were set on ice, all within arms reach for dinner service.

Distracted for a moment, I glanced up briefly from my chiffonade of parsley. My station was at the centre of the hot line, my back to the stove. To my left, Christine stood next to the grill, her job being the daunting one of grilling all the steaks ordered to the correct temperature as well as preparing all the accompanying vegetables and starch. She strained to lift a heavy tray of scalloped potatoes out of the oven before opening the rotisserie where a large, juicy rib-eye lazily rotated, waiting to be released from its bonds. Drawn by the aroma of roasted meat, one of the servers approached to express his appreciation and drool unabashedly. Christine smiled modestly and rolled her eyes in my direction before running off at the sound of a timer to pull the Yorkshire pudding out of the convection oven.

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