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Destination: Wild Blue

Once a week, like clockwork, chef Alex Chen hangs up his chef whites at Boulevard in Vancouver’s Sutton Place Hotel, packs up his car, and sets off for Whistler.

While the challenges of managing kitchens in two different cities simultaneously are daunting, Chef Chen finds ways to make the most of things.

The advantage that I have from the rest of the competition [in Whistler] is coming up from the city once a week I can gather product and bring it with me,” Chen explains, as we set off from downtown for Highway 99. “I have relationships in the city that a lot of chefs don’t have.”

Back in August, when Wild Blue opened, that meant packing his trunk with boxes of those peerless, and much sought-after tomatoes from Milan Djordevic’s Stoney Paradise Farm. Nowadays, with winter winding down and ocean waters still at their peak coldness, it’s all about the seafood. So a month back, he did this run with a box of live Scottish langoustines in the trunk. Then it was a monstrous two-kilo Dungeness crab. Next, rustling about in a huge Styrofoam box, a live five-kilo Alaskan king crab. This time, it’s a batch of relatively sedate geoduck clams.

“Buying seafood here,” Chen says with a shrug, “sometimes it helps to be Chinese. It’s the Chinese who are eating these delicacies.”

So too the customers at Boulevard – and now, Wild Blue,120 kilometers due north. If some take the legendarily scenic route at a leisurely clip, Chen makes haste. No stopping at Porteau Cove Provincial Park or the Furry Creek Golf Course to admire the views. No sightseeing at the Britannia Mine or Stawamus Chief. Possibly, a quick stop for coffee and a doughnut in Squamish

The scenery is nice – the coast, the mountains,” Chen allows, with comical understatement “But for me it’s straight up business. I just drive.”

Ninety minutes on, at Wild Blue, he oversees a kitchen for a 150-seat restaurant that of necessity runs differently than the one at the much smaller Boulevard. The cooking is simpler, and the emphasis is less on à la minute cookery, and more on prep–weighed to the gram. Craftsmanship still reigns. “And we do a lot of new dishes.”

Tonight, that’s a spaghetti all vongole with a twist. In place of the pasta clams, he deploys his freshly arrived local geoduck, lubricating the pasta with geoduck stock. They sell 40 that night.


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