Champion of the sunchoke and the salsify 

Executive chef Vincent Stufano likes to cook and cooks what he likes — as much as possible

In this age of chef as celebrity, it’s refreshing to cross paths with one who has climbed to the top of the kitchen and has no illusions about why he’s there. The Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s executive chef Vincent Stufano didn’t choose his profession because of the limelight, but because of the limes and the lamb and the crones and everything else he loves to cook with. And Vincent loves to cook, more explicitly to cook food for people to eat – as opposed to, say, cooking for food stylists at glossy magazines or for TV cameras.

If you were part of Cornucopia’s Chef’s Trip to the Farm session, you would have experienced Vincent’s work at its finest. Sunchokes and crones and salsify from Jordan Sturdy’s North Arm Farm spoke for themselves alongside the likes of pine mushrooms and veal and rabbit – in all, a multi-course celebration of fall.

He would have told you how he buys thousands of pounds of pumpkins from North Arm – the pumpkins the bears don’t get first – and you would have oohed and aahed over such details. But you likely wouldn’t have known that the same weekend, Vincent was also ensuring that 700 delegates attending the Liberal convention at the Fairmont were well and properly fed, as well as co-ordinating the Gold Medal Plate Dinner, a.k.a. Olympic fundraiser that same weekend.

So here’s a short sampling from a self-styled cook, who’s been at it for 30 years and hasn’t burnt out yet, who supervises some 80 chefs at the Chateau, and who would rather cook a roast at home and be with his family than explore the latest dining hot spot.

GB: Be a philosopher for a minute – what’s your approach to food?

VS: I don’t think it’s anything earth shattering. For me it’s making sure you work with a quality product all the time. And it’s very important to understand the product – because I see this so often – they have all this beautiful, expensive stuff but they don’t know how to put it together. It’s either overcooked or poorly seasoned, you know what I mean? So you don’t enjoy it much. To me it’s important to really understand what I work with, to have a strong knowledge of the food.

I read a lot, and I always preach that to my apprentices, to keep reading and learning. Just being on the job daily is fine because that gives you the motor skills and the techniques and all that. But the knowing why, the why, why, why – why am I doing it this way? Why do we get this product this time of year? Why are different kinds of salmon prepared different ways? Knowing your foundation is incredibly important.

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