Saturday, 8 June 2019

Pastry Chef Extrodinare: Julien at Au Comptoir

Au Comptoir: The Pistachio Mille Feuille with fresh Raspberries
Most people pick restaurants based on what they want for their entree, but me on the otherhand, I make my decision solely based on the restaurant's dessert menu! Dessert is life and life is too short to not indulge yourself. Vancouver's dessert scene is phenomenal, but one restaurant has always caught my attention: Au Comptoir. 

Au Comptoir's Executive Pastry Chef, Julien, also noticed my infatuation of everything sweet. Before I knew it, I was seated across from the man himself with a sampling of his creations on the table between us. 

Chef Julien is a classically trained pastry chef from Paris, France and after working 2 years in Singapore, Chef Julien made his way across the Atlantic Ocean to Vancouver, BC, Canada! Despite only calling Vancouver home fo 2 years, Chef Julien has acclimated well and is barely indistinguishable from the local hipsters. He sports a classic dad hat, circular wire-framed glasses and an eclectic collection of tattoos that any hipster would be envious of. The only thing that gives Chef Julien away is his to die for French accent - in my opinion, the French accent only makes him more hip. 

Being the resident pastry chef at Au Comptoir, Chef Julien focuses on perfecting traditional French desserts. Truth be told, I have always gravitated towards desserts made by pastry chefs trained in France. 

"I think every desseert and cake has a beauty of their own, but for mine, I try to put all the love I can into them. But of course, its the details - Details is what makes the difference"

In France, the internships, for lack of another word, are ROUGH. It is long gruelling hours of endless work and nothing short of perfection is accepted. An example from Chef Julien's training is when he asked his mentor to teach him how to do chocolate lettering using a parchment paper cone: A Paper Cornet. His mentor agreed, but to no surprise, it would have to be on Chef Julien's own time. So every single day, Chef Julien would stay an extra 15 minutes to practice folding paper cornets and piping chocolate lettering. Chef Julien would even practice at home using toothpaste! Practice really does make for perfection! 

Now I could not leave Au Comptoir without actually trying some of Chef Julien's offerings and he did not disappoint bringing out his favourite four desserts. 

The Chocolate Fondant is a warm chocolate cake that is popped into the oven to order. 9 minutes later, the Chocolate Fondant arrives at your table with a molten centre of 70% dark bitter Tropillia Valrhona Chocolate. The gooey chocolatey goodness pairs perfectly with the big scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream and bitter caramel sauce. An excellent dessert for all the chocolate lovers at the table! 

Au Comptoir Executive Pastry Chef Julien
The Tartelette Façon Tatin is filled with house-made crème fraîche and caramelized apples. Of the four desserts, this was my least favourite. I usually love caramelized spiced apple desserts, but this one was a little underwhelming in flavour when compared to the other desserts. The crème fraîche layer in it though was divine!

Of course, every French restaurant must have a Lemon Meringue tarttelette on their menu. Au Comptoir's version did not disappoint and dare I say perhaps even my favourite Lemon Meringue tart to date. Most places are unable to balance the tartness of lemon against the sugar, but Chef Julien really achieved the perfect play of sweet and sour. 

I saved my favourite dessert for last: The Pistachio Mille Feuille with fresh Raspberries. A decadent rich pistachio pastry cream is sandwiched between house made puff pastry and is finished with fresh raspberries and a coulis. I appreciated the fresh lightness of this dessert and it was on the less sweet end of the spectrum which I prefer. 

Despite being restrained to classic French desserts, Chef Julien has still managed to bring his own flair in terms of both flavour and presentation. The mille-feuille is served on its side, so the pastry cream faces upwards and he has opted for fresh fruit in place of the usual fondant glaze. The meringue on the lemon tartelette is expertly piped in a mesmerizing spiral before being hit with a blowtorch. The smallest change of presentation brings new excitement to classic French desserts we have all come to love and enjoy. 

Chef Julien is only just getting his start in Vancouver. He recently helped Au Comptoir secure silver in 2019 Van Magazine's best dessert category. 

Before I finished up my afternoon of desserts with Chef Julien, I wanted to know what flavour he really hopes to work with in the future. Perhaps we are meant to be best pals because he belted out:

" Matcha! I love matcha!" 

Thank you for having me over for a lazy afternoon of conversations over desserts. I am certain I will be seeing more of you in the future Chef Julien! 

BYES




Au Comptoir Desserts: Tartelette Façon Tatin on the left and the Lemon Meringue Tartelette on the right
Au Comptoir: Chocolate Fondant
Au Comptoir: Lemon Meringue Tartlette 
Au Comptoir: The Pistachio Mille Feuille with fresh Raspberries

Friday, 7 June 2019

Pods, Pines and Pools: 24-Hours in Whistler


Every now and then, we just need to escape our chaotic big city lives. Whistler might be best known for its Snowboarding and Ski Scene, but it also happens to be a spectacular spring and summer getaway. In my case, Whistler was perfect for my Girls Trip! The Ski and Snowboarding slopes are just 120 KMs North of Vancouver in the Sea-To-Ski Corridor. This trip up to the mountains came at the perfect time because I really needed to disconnect from my busy work life. Despite being a short 24-hour mini trip to Whistler, we were able to pack in several amazing activities. 

PINES - Get Outdoors

The first activity on our itinerary was a Forest Bathing Walk with Canadian Wilderness Adventures. Forest Bathing Therapy has been proven to be a powerful healing tool which can help alleviate stress, and boost happiness, energy and your immune system. In Japan, it is a revered form of preventative medicine on which several research studies have been conducted. 

Canadian Wilderness Adventures took us on a walk through Whistler's old growth forest in which trees have been estimated to be as old as 1,000 years old! Our guides, Mike and Allan, took us on the Medicine Trail, a spiritual part of the forest which has been blessed by the local indigenous elders. Forest Bathing Walks are not necessarily for everyone as it can be a little "hippie." 

We were encouraged to clear our heads and focus on our five senses: Touch, Smell, Hearing, Taste and Sight. To feel our lungs fill with fresh untainted air, hear the symphony of the rushing water and watch the subtle fluttering of the leaves in the air. It can be difficult to slow down and accept this invitation to be in the present. Thank you, Allan and Mike, for sharing the Medicine Trail and the untouched beauty of the old growth forest with me. 

If you desire adventures with more thrill, Canadian Wilderness has activities that will satisfy your wild side.  They offer ATVs, Electric Mountain Bikes, Canoeing, Axe Throwing and offroading in a Porsche Cayenne! I am very much interested in getting behind the wheel of a slick German-engineered Porsche Cayenne and taking it through the outback woods of Whistler - Next time!


POOLS - The Spa

The Scandinave Spa in Whistler is ICONIC; yet yours truly had never been before! Nestled within a spruce and cedar forest, the Nordic-inspired spa offers 20,000 square feet of outdoor pools, saunas, solariums, steam rooms and hammocks. Patrons are encouraged to follow the cycle of HOT/COLD/RELAX to fully experience the benefits of hydrotherapy. 

We were given soft plush white bathrobes which made me feel super bougie. The locker room and showers are spacious, but more importantly to me, very clean! There were signs all around the spa outlining the hydrotherapy cycle. 

For HOT, the recommended time was 10 to 15 minutes. After letting your muscles relax, blood vessels dilate and increased blood flow to your skin, muscles and organs, the next step was to take a 15-second plunge in chilling cold water. The cold is TOUGH. My entire body instantly contracted and caused my breathing to become shallow, but once I stepped out of the cold pool, a calmness swept through my entire body. I felt more relaxed than when I was in the HOT water. Good thing the RELAX stage comes after the COLD. I padded my way up the steps to Hammock Heaven where I hypothetically should have spent 10 to 15 minutes blissfully asleep. I say Hypothetically because unfortunately, being the antsy anxious individual that I am, sitting still and doing nothing is very difficult for me. I noticed other spa-goers had brought along books to pass time during the RELAX stage. Next time, I am definitely bringing a book with me too. 

A few things to take into consideration when visiting The Scandinave Spa:

• Sunglasses: it is outdoors and if you are sensitive to the sun like me, sunglasses are a must!
• SILENCE: talking is frowned upon. All patrons agree to maintain the silent environment and if you think you can whisper, it is only a matter of time before the "shush police" catches you!
• Time: give yourself ample time to really enjoy the hydrotherapy experience. You will want to go through the cycle a few times and perhaps then lounge up in Hammock Heaven for a little longer. 
• NO Electronics: Electronics are NOT permitted inside the spa. Scandinave Spa strives to make all guests feel comfortable and at ease, so please be respectful and leave your phones in your locker. 
• Spa Buddy or Book: Probably more for individuals like me that are constantly antsy and have a hard time being still for long periods of time. I will probably enjoy the spa more if I have something to do or a friend who will at least keep me some company. 
• Slippers: 2/3 of the spa is outdoors, so protect your feetsies from the scorching hot pavement by bringing some slippers with you! If you forget, the spa does have some for purchase. 

Food

On this trip, my tastebuds were spoiled with mouthwatering dishes. We dined a total of three times at three distinctly different dining establishments. 


Thunderbird Cafe
Located in the basement of the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) is the Thunderbird Cafe. Indigenous-inspired dishes using local ingredients are served at the Thunderbird Cafe. I recommend the Veal Chilli with fresh Bannock - a traditional indigenous bread that is soft and doughy, a perfect accompaniment to the rich nourishing chilli. Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to explore the indigenous art that is showcased at the SLCC. 


Alta Bistro
Dinner was at Alta Bistro which is situated in Whistler Village. Do you know what the word "Bistro" means? A bistro typically has a menu that changes to incorporate fresh seasonal ingredients and a stellar wine list that showcases lesser-known local wines that are affordable. Speaking of wine, Alta is the first restaurant in Whistler to feature the premium Enomatic wine-serving system, which in layman's terms means the fancy machine preserves the integrity of the wine till the last drop in the bottle. I prefer simple food, so Alta's fancy cuisine was a little too out there for me. Also, I no longer enjoy meat as much as I used to and the vegetarian options at Alta were limited. It just was not for me. I do recommend Alta Bistro for wine lovers because they really do have a spectacular selection of wine by the glass. 


The Living Room
The next morning we had breakfast at Pangea Pod Hotel's cutely named "Living Room" restaurant and cafe. Their breakfast game is one point! Healthy, simple and exploding with flavour. For me, having a nutritious start to my day is important, so if it is not obvious already, I fell in love with Pangea Pod Hotel's food! 

I had the Eggs Benedict, but I wanted it with raw spinach which they happily accommodated. The hollandaise was luscious and buttery. I rounded out my breakfast with the Pangea Power Smoothie. A delicious blended concoction of mixed berries, banana, greek yogurt, honey, almond milk and toasted almonds. I really loved the Pangea Power smoothie - gurly approved!

PODS - Accommodations


We stayed in the heart of Whistler Village at the Pangea Pod Hotel. I only have praises for Whistler's first and only pod hotel. This blog post has gotten a bit long, so I am going to cover my Pangea Pod Hotel experience in my next post!


BYES

Disclaimer: Complimentary Media trip courtesy of Serena PR, Tourism Whistler, Destination BC and Pangea Pod Hotel. All opinions and content are original and my own.