In the Kitchen With: Isabel Chung, Fairmont Chateau Whistler

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Isabel Chung learned early on to value simplicity. “My guiding principles are to buy the best you can and treat that food with respect,” she says. “We’re enhancing the experience and educating our diners every time we send a dish to the table. Whether I’m making a casual street-food style dish or creating a winemaker’s dinner, these are the ideals that I litmus test against.”

As executive chef at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Chung’s goal is to create individual identities for each of the resort’s seven restaurants. “We want to create a feeling of being in a standalone restaurant. In terms of styles, we do an upscale Pacific Northwest with a focus on fresh and local; a four-diamond steakhouse where proteins are in the spotlight; a casual-dining spot that highlights barbecue; and our lounge, which does the best apres experience in town.”

Since Chung’s focus is on fresh, local foods, she’s forged deep relationships with local producers and farmers, such as North Vancouver-based Two Rivers Specialty Meats, which supplies 45-day dry-aged rib eye. “They’re amazing and bring unique items to the table.”

Chung remembers cooking with her parents from a young age. “I looked forward to the weekends when they would be home and we could cook in the kitchen together,” she explains. “Some of my earliest culinary memories include learning how to make wontons, spaghetti and, surprisingly, poisson en papillotte. I was probably the only student to have a working knowledge of poisson en papillotte prior to starting culinary school.”

But it was during her time at the University of Alberta that her interest in cooking really took off. “[My roommate] Kassia had German heritage and her parents owned a cattle ranch. Her grandparents would bring us cases of fruit at harvest time,” Chung says. “My favourite memories were of weekends spent making apple pies, or [learning] about traditional German dishes.”

After her first year of university, Chung decided cooking was her passion and enrolled in the professional cooking program at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. After graduation, she began working at the Delta Bow Valley in Calgary as second cook. She later moved to the Fairmont Chateau Whistler as sous chef in charge of of banquets and subsequently restaurants. In 2013, she took a position as executive sous chef of the AAA Five-Diamond Fairmont Olympic Hotel, Seattle before returning to Canada and the Fairmont Chateau Whistler in 2015, where she oversees The Grill Room, The Wildflower Restaurant, the Mallard Lounge, the Portobello Market & Fresh Bakery, The Chalet and The Clubhouse at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club.

“I’ve been incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to make so many meaningful connections that have stood the test of time,” Chung says. “My first chef de partie that I worked with at the Delta Bow Valley remains a dear friend to this day. He really taught me what it meant to be detail oriented and quality driven.”