Crane adds flair to on-mountain fare

Skiers and snowboarders taking a much-needed lunch break after a solid morning on the slopes have probably noticed some major changes to the on-mountain menus.

I'm sure we can all agree that there was room for improvement to the casual culinary offerings at Whistler Blackcomb. Chili, fries, pizza, burgers and hot dogs are filling foods, but they aren't exactly thrilling options, especially for our more worldly international visitors who may be looking for more flavour than just fuel from their food.

Michael Crane was appointed as new corporate chef for Whistler Blackcomb in October and with a new chef at the helm, the new menus are shaping up to be very interesting.

"The team here has done a wonderful job over the years, but what I felt is that looking at each of our restaurants... we've kind of lost our identity. We've kind of done a convoluted approach of all menu items or all people, because we've listened to our customers, which was great, but what happens is you start to see the same thing everywhere, and it doesn't really stand out."

The biggest changes have taken place in the "Mountain Market" at the Roundhouse, with the addition of new items like a naan rice bowl with mango chutney and garbanzo beans with the choice of roasted chicken, peppered prawns or tofu with vegetables and either a butter, masala or vindaloo sauce. At the noodle bowl station, hungry guests can now indulge in Vietnamese pho, which is served with traditional rice noodles in vegetable broth scented with star anise, ginger and Thai basil, with a choice of roast seasoned chicken or tofu with mixed vegetables. He's also - gasp! - taken poutine off the menu, replacing the gooey classic with yam frites served with sides of flavourful dipping sauces.

And for the first time, steak is featured on the mountain menus, with the addition of the chimichurri steak sandwich, topped with carmelized red onions. They're even offering cobb chicken Caesar wraps and a roasted pear and brie with spinach sandwich, topped with candied pecans and whole grain mustard.

I must admit, I haven't had the chance to test drive any of these new dishes yet, but they certainly sound more appealing (and healthier) than a hot dog.

Originally from New York, Crane has been with Intrawest since 2006, working with all of their resorts developing food programs. He's been in the food service industry for over 25 years, working in various roles at restaurants and hotels, and studying at the Culinary Institute of America. He also has some serious experience feeding large groups of people, having worked on three past Olympic Games, in Atlanta, Sydney and Athens.

"It was a lot of fun, and once you work on a project of that magnitude, that experience just stays with you forever."

After managing to pull off feeding all of the athletes and coaches for an event the scope and scale of the Olympics, every other project seems very manageable. As corporate chef, Crane works on standardization of food programs, works with manufacturers and suppliers to source ingredients, and helps managers implement the programs.

"When you get into big numbers in food service, you just have to break it down and do what makes sense."

But the Olympics were a very intimidating project for the chef to take on - imagine having to serve a dinner that would appeal to people from almost 200 countries.

"Obviously, being in the spotlight in a role like that you know the expectations are high at being able to deliver a lot of different items to a lot of different countries."

Clearly, here in Whistler, Crane is similarly looking to appeal to a wide range of taste buds with these dishes.

"I really tried to focus on some authentic ethnic cuisine as well as looking at what we're doing and what we've done well, but maybe being able to execute it a little better."

But he also wants to create a distinct brand and type of cuisine for each food service location.

"We have fine dining restaurants, casual serve and quick serve restaurants, including our satellite (locations) and coffee shops, so the diversity of our business is what I think interested me."

That said, beloved menu items like the Crystal Hut's waffles and BBQ at Dusty's won't be going anywhere - Crane knows better than to mess with a good thing. They're keeping "sacred cow" menu items, but making sure that they are only found at select locations.

And while they've launched the new food program just in time for an influx of international visitors for the Olympics, Crane points out that the changes are here to stay.

"We want our food service to be talked about as much as the ski experience."



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