Stefan Vagelatos: Making connections with food 

Chef brings Brew Creek Centre's guiding principles into kitchen

click to enlarge CONNECTED COOK The Brew Creek Centre's chef, Stefan Vagelatos, grows his own ingredients in a garden plot at the back of the Brew Creek property.
  • CONNECTED COOK The Brew Creek Centre's chef, Stefan Vagelatos, grows his own ingredients in a garden plot at the back of the Brew Creek property.

A small bright green stalk of garlic pokes out of the dirt, reaching up to the sky where the sun steals away any hint of winter's chill.

The ever-present sound of the onward rushing Brew Creek is muffled back here.

Though patches of snow still dot the ground, spring has arrived at the Brew Creek Centre; it's everywhere in the April air.

Chef Stefan Vagelatos walks down the small farm plot at the back of the property, past the new garlic. He bends down, surprised to find a sturdy radicchio that has lasted through the winter, pulls it free and tastes the dark red leaf.

It's bitter, he says, handing over a sample.

That may well be, but it's also a taste of things to come — fresh food from the land, flower buds getting ready to bloom, a busy season welcoming new guests.

This is what it's all about at Brew Creek Centre — connections. Connecting the food to the earth, the spirit to the person, the people to their surroundings.

Spring, in particular, for Vagelatos, is an exciting time to be cooking. Morel mushrooms can be found in forest fire areas, fiddleheads are popping up everywhere, the salmon are running.

Often he'll smoke salmon with alder or cedar from the property.

"It almost has part of Brew Creek in it," he says.

The Brew Creek Centre isn't just a place to get-away for the weekend. Rather, its mandate, among other things, is "devoted to expanding awareness, awakening human potential, and thereby facilitating collective consciousness."

Vagelatos brings that mandate from the centre's guiding principles right into the kitchen as executive chef for the past two years.

"It's along the lines of the kind of food that I want to cook," he says. "It's more 'farm to table' — looking to show people what you can do with food that is B.C. food instead of just bringing in food from all over the world and stealing flavours from other places."

Rather than see that as a something that limits his choices and offerings, Vagelatos embraces the challenge.

"At first you think it's limiting but then you start realizing how many possibilities there actually are with what we have here," he says.

"In a way it's a window to be way more creative because you're looking at doing things with flavours that people really haven't even used, don't even know what they are."

Vagelatos' training began more than a decade ago in one of the best kitchens in Whistler — a baptism of fire of sorts.

He was 20 years old when he found himself in the Rimrock Café's kitchen, working with a solid team of pros who love making food.

"That's one of the reasons why they are so good year after year," he says.

For eight years he learned "pretty much everything about food" and took that knowledge travelling.

But, as it is for so many, Whistler, which he has called home since he was 14 years old with dreams as a young ski racer, pulled him back.

He found himself in the kitchen at the Brew Creek, surrounded by the forest, 20 minutes south of Whistler, off Highway 99.

It's idyllic — a place with a secluded meditation space, meeting areas for group gatherings, accommodation for up to 70 guests. Often it's a place for corporate retreats. Other times it becomes an intimate wedding venue.

For Vagelatos, it's a different pace, a different calling, than the life and craft of a traditional restaurant chef.

"Coming from the restaurant industry where oftentimes there would be one vegetarian item on the menu, I would say most of my cooking now is almost vegetable-based," says Vagelatos.

"It's been fun because I get to experiment a lot."

Ultimately, the idea is to make that connection to the food. To eat locally- grown produce and wild fish caught from the ocean.

To be present in what we eat.

"Food, in general, has a total disconnect from people," he says. "Most people don't even know where the food comes from. It's changing, slower than I think it should. I think people need to start realizing that we can't just grow food the way we've been growing it and we can't fish the fish completely out of the ocean."

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