Just another link in the chain?

"Chain" is considered to be a bit of a dirty word by many in the restaurant industry, synonymous with uninspired dishes, inferior product and so-so service. And that can certainly be the case, with some chains.

In case you haven't noticed, chains have been popping up all over the place in Whistler in recent months: we've added a White Spot and a Bread Garden, Milestones has just reopened in the Upper Village, and a Dairy Queen/Orange Julius is on its way. While I, quite frankly, prefer to support locally-owned small businesses - and some franchises are locally-owned business - they seem to be few and far between these days. And while that may be a case of the chicken-or-the-egg, I think we should still be giving these chains a fair shake: most of them offer consistent quality and more and more are doing their best to integrate regional products into their menus.

Earl's is doing its part to prove they're different than the vast majority, cooking with fresh, high-quality ingredients, and taking care with each and every dish. Last week, they took a few locals behind-the-scenes on a fam tour of sorts, to show us what goes into their food - literally and figuratively. They allowed us lucky few to sample some appies, mains, dessert and drinks (they even let us into the kitchen to whip up a little something).

The evening started with an impressive round of appetizers, including spinach dip, fresh-baked breads, prawn and mango roll, and shrimp ginger gyoza. Head chef Travis Bailey stepped out of the kitchen and took the time to explain his dedication to quality ingredients: they buy Granna Padano cheese from Italy, rather than importing a cheaper parmesan, make all their sauces and bake all of their breads in-house, and use extra-virgin olive oil - the first and best pressing of the olives. And interestingly, they also bring in visiting chefs who specialize in ethnic cuisines (Japanese, Mexican, and Indian) from time-to-time to help educate their own culinary teams on the authentic techniques and tastes.

Next up, we donned aprons and ventured into the kitchen, where another chef, Stefan, led us through the prep of two of their popular entrees: a Cajun chicken salad and chicken Hunan Kung Pao (my go-to item on their menu). While we waited for our chicken to brown up, we also learned that Earl's brings their cooks up through the ranks, educating them on all stations in the kitchen, even sending them to Vancouver to complete their culinary training, eventually. It's nice to know that there are companies out there that are still investing in their employees, their most valuable resource, and creating a close-knit family and team.

After we'd worked up a bit of a sweat in the kitchen and sampled the fruits of our labour, we returned to the dining room and were presented with impressive plates of entrees to share: a thick and tender rack of ribs with coleslaw and warm potato salad; and top sirloin steak, served medium rare with a spicy peppercorn demiglaze and a six-ounce side of prawns, roast veggies and fluffy garlic mashed potatoes. Bellies sufficiently stuffed, the Earl's crew wasn't done yet. The icing on the cake was, well, the cake. More specifically, a slice of warm, house baked gingerbread cake served with a scoop of vanilla bean gelato, roasted apples and a caramel drizzle.

Food snobbery be damned - these guys know how to put up a proper spread, and there's still a story and cast of characters behind this "chain." You just have to look past the label and take the time to dig a little bit deeper.


An extra scoop

One of Whistler's favourite fine dining establishments is putting their champagne on ice in a big way this weekend, as the FIBT World Cup rolls into town.

The Bearfoot Bistro is hosting a posh VIP lounge at the Whistler Sliding Centre during the three days of the Viessman FIBT World Cup bobsleigh and skeleton events, offering up a bottle of Moët & Chandon or Belvedere vodka and a warming cheese fondue each of the three days, as well as a catered bar and menu for purchase alongside incredible views of Thunderbird Corner and the finish line, all in the comfort of a heated lounge. This VIP lounge package also includes a decadent three-course tasting menu created by none other than Executive Chef Melissa Craig on an evening of your choice during the competition.

For $400 per person, the VIP FIBT treatment can be yours between Thursday, Nov. 25 and Saturday, Nov. 27. For more information, visit www.bearfootbistro.com/worldcup.



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