Whistlerite in the White Spot-light

When Melissa Craig walked through Whistler village in her chef's whites, she used to hear the occasional murmurs of "Bearfoot Bistro" from people she passed. But these days, she's overhearing more mentions of "White Spot," which really isn't surprising given the high-profile ad campaign she's signed onto.

A Red Seal Certified Chef and executive chef at Whistler's Bearfoot Bistro, the 29-year-old's modern cuisine has captured Craig the title of Canada's best chef at the 2008 Gold Medal Plates competition. And just this year Vancouver Magazine named the Bearfoot the best restaurant in Whistler, elevating it from Silver designation for the first time in nine years.

She's just getting settled back into the swing of things at the Bearfoot after spending the past year traveling around the world to cook in kitchens in Hong Kong and China, Europe, Quebec, and Ottawa.

But most recently, Craig has stepped into the limelight as a consulting chef with the casual food chain, White Spot, teaming up with Executive Chef Chuck Currie and Chef Leo Canapi to create the new "Tastes Like Spring" menu.

The opportunity literally came to her doorstep when the president of White Spot wandered into the Bearfoot one afternoon, introduced himself to Craig and asked if she wanted be their next "celebrity chef."

"I didn't know what to say... I thought about it for a couple weeks, and I called Rob Feenie, and I talked to Umberto (Menghi) to see what they thought of it, and they had a great time, they had a great experience," Craig said, referring to past chefs who have worked with White Spot before. "It's a respectable company."

After a bit of research and contemplation, Craig agreed to come on board as White Spot's new spokesperson for one year.

She started out by helping to develop recipes to distribute to the 68 locations worldwide, which was a far different process for the high-profile chef, who is usually in the driver's seat of the creative culinary process.

All of the dishes are fresh, simple and inspired by things that Craig personally likes to prepare and eat, like Greek salad.

"(Currie and Canapi) played around with it, they came and hung out with me for Cornucopia. They watched me cook and I fed them, so they kind of got an idea of my style," she explained.

They came back to her with 12 menu items, six of which she approved: Champagne Prawn Risotto, Prawn & Amorosa Tomato Pizza, Santorini Salad (with or without char-grilled lemon herb marinated chicken), Mediterranean Chicken Burger, and the Sukiyaki Beef Rice Bowl, with prices ranging from $8.99 to $16.99. Hell, they even managed to sneak the Bearfoot's signature, champagne, into one of the dishes!

Each of the items was tested in key stores for a few weeks before its added to the fresh sheet menu. Then, at the beginning of April, the finalized menu was launched. And so far, it's been a great success.

"It's supposed to be one of the best selling fresh sheets that they've had," Craig said, "The chicken sandwich is like one of the best selling items ever."

On top of the menu development, you may have spied Craig on television, or even on a billboard or two, promoting White Spot.

"I was interested to see how they were going to promote me, too, because Feenie -obviously Feenie is the celebrity dancing chef and Umberto is from Tuscany - so they were going to play with the fact that I'm a girl, for sure," Craig said, smiling.

The portrait they painted was of a young, female celebrity chef, the 2008 Canadian culinary champ.

"When we did the (first) commercial, it took all day! It took ten hours and I did probably 100 takes of 'hi!' and they picked a blooper!" she said. "At least its natural."

There are plans in the works for another commercial soon, so keep your eyes peeled to the TV for Craig's familiar smiling face.

An extra scoop

Dine out for the doggies (and kitties) of Whistler next week, as the local animal shelter, Whistler Animals Galore (WAG) hosts a special fundraising "spay-ghetti and no-balls" dinner, featuring music, entertainment, a 50/50 draw and, of course, a delicious pasta feast, courtesy of Cracked Pepper Catering.

Other local businesses, like Rosalind's, Lucia Gelato, Whistler Happy Pets, Blackcomb Liquor Store and Whistler Beer have also chipped in to make the evening a success.

The dinner is set to take place at Spruce Grove Field House on Friday, June 12 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are just $25 apiece, and are available at the WAG office on Nester's Road.

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