Bon appétit at The Canyons
November 24, 2009
When Clement Gelas arrived on Long Island in 2004, he planned to stay in the States for a year tops. He would work in New York’s fast-paced restaurants, learn the secrets of seasoned chefs, and dabble in American and world cuisine before returning to his hometown of Boege, France.
But when Gelas took a vacation to Utah, all of that changed. "I just loved it," he says in his charismatic French accent.
By 2005, he had moved to Park City and taken a job as executive chef at Wahso, Bill White’s Asian fusion restaurant on Main Street. He also worked at Grappa and Ghidotti’s before joining the culinary team at Talisker’s Tuhaye Table Café in 2008.
Last month, Gelas accepted a position as executive chef at The Canyons’ Grand Summit Hotel, a job that entails menu planning and overseeing food preparation at The Cabin Restaurant, Doc’s at The Gondola, and First Tracks Café.
Gelas’ passion for gastronomy developed at a young age. His earliest memories include picking berries and making fruit preserves at his grandmother’s farm. He decided early on that he would be a chef and made arrangements to attend culinary school.
The spirit of customer service was also ingrained in Gelas during his childhood. In the tourism-driven economy of the small village where he grew up, he says he picked up cues from the bakers and vendors who sold their goods to locals and visitors alike.
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During his five whirlwind years on the American culinary scene, Gelas has had the opportunity to dabble in international cuisine of all types and learn from some influential teachers. "Cooking is all about learning from someone else," he says.
He enjoys traveling and learning about food wherever he goes. "Being open-minded and learning from others is how you get far in this industry," he says. "The difference between a good chef and a great chef is understanding different types of food."
Gelas says it hasn’t been difficult to adjust to mastering cuisine ranging from American to Asian to Italian. "It’s not the techniques that are so different, it’s the ingredients," he says.
He takes pride in adding his own twist to every dish. He infuses French ingredients into dishes from other regions and adds unusual spices or accompaniments that diners might not expect.
Gelas says that what he loves most about cooking is playing with ideas and working with his hands in the kitchen. "That’s what it’s about," he says.
As The Canyons’ newest culinary guru, he plans to bring new elements to the resort’s menus and use local ingredients as much as possible. The key to appealing to an international clientele, he says, is using the freshest food available. "If you have quality food and produce, people are going to like it."
Gelas says his menus are based on simplicity and variety. At The Cabin, diners will find seasonal dishes and fancier fare as well as the comfort food people crave after a long day on the slopes. Those familiar with French cuisine may recognize traditional dishes such as cassoulet, quiche and pigs in a blanquette, as well as French-inspired accents including haricot vert, parmesan tuile and crème fraîche.
Doc’s, an après-ski lounge, has also added a few French twists, including cheese sampler plates and fondue. The restaurant offers a full bar and will be operating a grill this winter for hot sandwiches, burgers and more. "It’s going to be awesome," Gelas says.
In addition to altering menus depending on which ingredients are in season, the chef will offer nightly specials at The Cabin that give him an opportunity to gather feedback from customers and tweak ideas for new dishes.
With the recent construction of several new upscale hotels in Park City, Gelas says he knows that the dining competition is stiff. "We don’t want to fall behind," he says. "We accept the challenge."
Despite his original plans to return to France, Gelas says he believes he will stay in the U.S. after all. "I think I’ve found a home here," he says.
The Canyons is scheduled to open for the ski season on Friday, Nov. 27. For more information on dining at The Canyons, visit http://www.thecanyons.com/dining.html.