Chefs of the West: Neal Harkins, Executive Chef, Whistler Conference Centre

Neal Harkins, Executive Chef, Whistler Conference CentreRaised in a large family kitchen with European roots, Neal Harkins’ love of cooking started at about four years of age when he played sous chef to his grandmother and quickly learned the heart and soul of hearty home cooking, traditional recipes, and respect for market ingredients. Harkins understood that sitting around the table isn’t a meal – it’s an experience.

As Executive Chef of the Whistler Conference Centre, Harkins sticks to a culinary philosophy that is simple, while at the same time creating menus that are innovative, fresh and local.

“Our philosophy behind our 2012 menus is one focused on a ‘rustic’ feel and look,” Harkins explains. “Letting the ingredients do the talking – such as the brightness of our local root vegetables. I personally find Pemberton’s purple potatoes, local Jerusalem artichokes and purple carrots to be very versatile. And the presentation is more memorable.”

Even though Harkins has hung his chef’s hat up and down the Pacific Northwest and into San Francisco, he always returns to Whistler, where his current duties have him overseeing the bustling conference centre kitchens as well as hosting unique VIP events and interactive cooking classes.

Still, Harkins doesn’t let his hectic schedule get in the way of providing banquet and catering guests with the memorable dining experience they’re looking for, even with the inherent challenges of working in a conference centre milieu.

“The Whistler Conference Centre introduces new menus every year to ensure we are keeping on top of the food and beverage trends while meeting the needs of our clients. This also allows us to be creative, adding a personal flair to the menus each year. Perception about “convention food” is slowly changing as we demonstrate that while it is produced in large quantities, it can still be fresh, creative, delicious and well-presented. We are able to present options to our meeting planners and show our expertise without sacrificing quality or experience. We do not compromise on quality, whether you have a group of 50 guests or 1,200.”

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