Meet the woman who helped transform ski-lodge cooking 

Shelley Adams's elevated ski cuisine led to popular Whitewater Cooks cookbook series

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAVID GLUNS - NEW LOOK COOKBOOK Shelley Adams' popular Whitewater Cooks cookbook series emerged from the elevated ski-lodge fare she served out of the Fresh Tracks Café at Whitewater Ski Resort in Nelson.
  • Photo by David Gluns
  • NEW LOOK COOKBOOK Shelley Adams' popular Whitewater Cooks cookbook series emerged from the elevated ski-lodge fare she served out of the Fresh Tracks Café at Whitewater Ski Resort in Nelson.

After Shelley Adams completely transformed the dining menu at Whitewater Ski Resort, her husband Mike, who owned and managed the ski area, had a favourite joke he liked to break out.

"He would always go, 'Remember the days when the people came to Whitewater for the skiing and the great management, and now they come for the food?'' Adams recounts with a laugh.

Although those comments were made with tongue planted firmly in cheek, there's no denying the impact Adams has had on the culinary offerings at the small Nelson resort—and for that matter, the B.C. ski world at large.

When the couple took over Whitewater in the late '80s, Adams put her years of experience in catering—she was a regular on Vancouver movie sets—to good use, overhauling the menu at the resort's First Tracks Café. Her down-to-earth, home-cooked dishes became the talk of the resort, with skiers and boarders from far and wide repeatedly asking for her recipes at a time when ski lodges served almost exclusively heavy, greasy pub food.

"I knew I couldn't go from fancy-pants wedding catering and movie-set cooking to cafeteria-style food," Adams recalls. "I just decided to change it and do a nice restaurant ... like you would find in Vancouver."

Slowly but surely, she found ways to tweak the menu. She sourced the best quality ingredients she could find, and elevated the café staples to a more gourmet level. Instead of a classic burger, Fresh Tracks began to serve a "Fancy Pants Burger" made with prosciuitto and gogonzola. If that wasn't to your liking, you could also find a lamb burger with tzatziki, a popular Moroccan chicken burger, as well as a delectable homemade veggie burger (well before they became a staple of kitchens everywhere).

"I kept the basic things on the menu, like burgers and chilli and fries, but I kind of kicked them up a notch," Adams says. "I think people were so shocked that you could go somewhere, have the ski food you love to have that's kind of indulgent, but also have something like a really good chilli that was completely homemade—even the stocks."

Adams also snuck in more healthy, vegan fare on the menu, like her Glory Bowl, a hearty bowl of brown rice topped with beets, carrots, toasted almonds and a creamy tahini dressing that has become something of a viral sensation among recipe traders online.

"It was funny, because it was not common ski food and people just went wild for it. They are still completely addicted to it," she says.

By the mid-2000s, Adams' food was in such demand that friends convinced her she should release her own cookbook. In 2007, the first Whitewater Cooks cookbook was released. Since then, her line of five cookbooks—a sixth is in the works—have sold around 250,000 copies, and she also has a line of sauces on the shelves at Whole Foods.

Adams believes it's the homespun, approachable vibe of her cookbooks that have made them so appealing to both skiers and non-skiers alike.

"The recipes are really friendly and doable and they look real," she explains. "We do all the photography at my house ... because I actually make it, take it out of the oven and then we shoot it right away. None of it is styled or shellacked—it's all taken right away. I use my own dishes. The recipes are really simple; there's nothing scary about them. You read them and think, 'Oh, I could make that.'"

Although she sold the rights to her first cookbook to Whitecap Books, Adams has since self-published each subsequent book in her series, which gave her a level of control she relishes.

"When you choose to self-publish, everything in your entire book is up to you," she says.

Having to cover her own design and printing costs, Adams knew the venture would be risky—but she encourages other entrepreneurs to take a leap of faith on themselves if they truly believe in their product.

"You know that you love it and you know that other people will love it, so start small," she urges. "Don't be afraid of an investment; if you're totally sure of your product and you know that people are going to love it, then do it—take the risk."

Adams is presenting on Thursday, March 21 as part of the Re/Form Conference in Squamish. The theme of her talk is "Building an Empire."

For more information on the event, visit reformconference.ca. To learn more about the Whitewater Cooks line of cookbooks, visit whitewatercooks.com.

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