Is This the Most Foodie-Friendly Hotel in Canada?
This iconic Western Canadian castle is home to a dozen kitchens and some serious culinary care.
Over the course of its 124-year history, the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel has garnered a few lofty nicknames. It’s the crown jewel of the Rockies, the grand dame of Banff, Alberta’s castle. But to executive chef JW Foster, the iconic beauty of the Springs is less meaningful than the practical gifts it offers: it’s the ultimate teaching hotel. Certainly, the chef—who arrived two years ago via similar Fairmont posts in Dallas, San Francisco and at Shanghai’s famed art deco Peace Hotel—wholly appreciates the storied heritage and dramatic aesthetic of this “bucket-list destination,” as he calls it, but to him, it’s what goes on in and comes out of the hotel’s numerous immense kitchens that gives the place its singular charm and substance.
With so many moving parts—the hotel’s 12 kitchens not only serve a dozen restaurants, myriad banquets and around-the-clock room service requests, but are also home to a stand-alone butchery where whole cows are butchered and dry-aged; a bakery that makes hundreds of petits fours, pastries, chocolate bars and loaves of bread from scratch every day; and a robust intern program that turns out rigorously trained chefs—it’s little wonder that Foster readily admits to a general behind-the-scenes atmosphere of “controlled chaos.” In addition to the 100-plus-strong army of chefs on staff, Foster oversees a roster of apprentices from schools across the country. The interns are immediately consigned to chop, pickle, skin salmon, et cetera, rather than simply being told what to do—that, says Foster, “is how we create strong, dedicated leaders—chefs who are accountable and innovative.” Not to mention that “all hands on deck” is pretty much an imperative with upwards of 5,000 meals going out the kitchen doors on a busy day.
But it’s no exercise in nostalgia. Over the past two years, Foster has shaken up the old Banffshire Club—it’s now the 1888 Chop House—reinvented Grapes Restaurant, forged new relationships with small farms, ranchers and cheesemongers from across the country, and brought in Vancouver chef Vikram Vij to help create a seasonal Indian menu. The result is not only buzzing kitchens full of skillful young chefs but, more important to the rest of us, a dining experience that doesn’t seem so hotel-like.
Click Below to Launch Our Food Tour of This Culinary Castle