A MOVABLE FEAST WITH A VIEW
Are you interested in a luxurious travel experience featuring a wealth of iconic scenery in many locations where roads do not go? Do you enjoy getting away from the maddening crowd but perhaps prefer comfort and superb service to pitching your own tent? And would you rather have your meals expertly prepared to order versus cooking them yourself over a camp-fire? If so, then let me introduce you to superbly fine dining on a train with some of the world’s best mountain scenery, an experience I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy twice in the past few years and one I fondly call “a moveable feast with a view”. Welcome to Rocky Mountaineer, the largest privately-owned luxury tourist train company in the world … and make sure you arrive with an appetite!
What defines this level of culinary exceptionalism, and how in the world does the kitchen manage to achieve it onboard a moving train? To begin this culinary investigation, I met with Rocky Mountaineer Executive Chef Jean Pierre (“JP”) Guerin. JP began our conversation by expressing his professional devotion clearly and emphatically … to consistently provide the Rocky Mountaineer guests with an extraordinary culinary experience to complement the extraordinary scenery.
Very quickly into our conversation, JP impressed me as having the talent, the skills and the drive to meet his objectives and ensure that the meals served aboard Rocky Mountaineer are consistently exceptional. Having received his training in five star hotels in France and internationally and with experience as Executive Chef for Lufthansa, he has the ideal pedigree to produce superb food for a large number of guests onboard a moving vehicle. Moreover, along with his colleague, Executive Chef Frédéric Couton who trained in Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris and Geneva, he is very much a perfectionist who sources his food and wine locally in the western Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta while maintaining a commissary kitchen for all of the Rocky Mountaineer trains in the central British Columbia city of Kamloops.
This Kamloops facility is where a lot of the magic begins as it’s here that JP has his team of 20 prepare the stocks and basic pantry items which are essential to the artistry of French cooking and which provide the incomparable flavor for Rocky Mountaineer sauces and dishes. During the winter months of the off-season, JP uses much of his time to expand his repertoire as he works with suppliers and staff to research and design new menus to please the guests of the upcoming season.
Another key component to JP’s success is his superb mastery of the techniques of cooking fabulous food-to-order onboard a train. Just think about it … haute cuisine, from a Spinach & Feta Soufflé to a seared Albacore Tuna Tataki, can be challenging enough, but imagine having to perform this artistry daily for specialty breakfasts and three-course lunches, including superb freshly baked pastries and desserts, in a tiny, narrow “galley” kitchen which is constantly moving! That is a unique talent, and I can attest to the results. Just see below …
Finally, since there are no schools for training chefs and cooks onboard trains, JP has also mastered the art of training his team of eight sous-chefs and 74 kitchen staff so that they are able to consistently replicate his culinary expertise throughout the family of Rocky Mountaineer’s galleys. JP refers to himself and his team as a “moving symphony” and he takes great pride in the fact, that the food offered onboard Rocky Mountaineer is consistently fresh, delicious, nutritious, artfully presented and cooked-to-order … a truly extraordinary experience for a moving vehicle where you might have expected most of the food to be cooked ahead of time and just reheated to serve!
There are two levels of service aboard Rocky Mountaineer, GoldLeaf Service and SilverLeaf Service. In GoldLeaf Service, guests travel in a bi-level coach which offers extremely comfortable reclining leather chairs with panoramic glass-domed windows for ideal viewing in the upper level, and an elegant dining room with open seating offering breakfast and lunch in the lower level. Each dining table features large windows providing uninterrupted viewing for the GoldLeaf Service guests. In SilverLeaf Service, guests are offered a smaller selection of Chef JP’s freshly cooked options from a culinary staff member who serves them at their seats where they have spectacular airy views of the passing scenery.
So what did I enjoy so much about the dining experience onboard Rocky Mountaineer? First of all, we traveled in GoldLeaf Service. If you can afford this crème de la crème service, I highly recommend it, but I visited a SilverLeaf Service car while the guests were eating and I saw a lot of very happy guests definitely excited by the very enjoyable combo of superb food and iconic scenery.
We spent two days on board the train this last trip. On Day 1, upon arrival in the dining room, we were offered Chef JP’s seasonal fruit creation of a freshly squeezed glass of OJ with a Fresh Fruit Kabob to enjoy while we studied the breakfast menu. Very refreshing. It will be hard to drink an OJ ever again if it isn’t accompanied by the perfect fruit kabob with fresh papaya!
For our main breakfast dish, Denis chose the Sunrise Skillet, a very flavorful and creative mixture of Yukon Gold potatoes, smoked farmer’s sausages, Canadian bacon, tomatoes and roasted mushrooms finished off in a skillet with a baked egg on top. I had the somewhat lighter dish of Spinach, Feta & Egg Soufflé accompanied by roasted Yukon Gold potatoes and smoked farmer’s sausages. Both dishes were expertly prepared and we thoroughly enjoyed the chef’s freshly baked croissants as well.
At lunch, Denis started with a mushroom soup and I had seasonal salad of vine-ripe tomatoes with fresh feta cheese and an herbed vinaigrette.
Then we moved onto the Steelhead Salmon, a fish we have long adored for its depth of flavor. Baked to perfection, it was accompanied by garlic herb jasmine rise risotto, local market vegetables, and a grain mustard seed vinaigrette. I must try to replicate that vinaigrette when I prepare the Steelhead next time at home!
Both Denis and I also enjoyed a Sumac Ridge Estate Vineyard Collection Unoaked Chardonnay that paired perfectly with the fish thanks to its slightly dry but fruity flavor.
Dessert was unforgivably delicious. Why so? Because if the chef’s delightful dark chocolate concoction with strawberries, ice cream and dark chocolate sauce hadn’t been so sinfully good, I could have refrained. But no, I ate every last bite.
On Day 2, we were greeted as we sat down in the sunny dining room with the Chef’s seasonal fruit creation of a light and delightful very ripe berry smoothie just singing out with flavor. Accompanying the smoothies was the chef’s freshy baked treat … a delicious cheese biscuit. After devouring these two goodies from the chef, I could have said that I had enjoyed a substantial breakfast, but no – we moved on. Denis enjoyed JP’s Eggs Benedict ... two perfectly poached eggs and Montréal style smoked beef – this city’s take on New York’s corned beef — on a properly toasted English muffin, topped with tarragon hollandaise.
Since I’m always sampling Denis’ food, I have to say, the tarragon really complimented the smoked beef and nicely brought out the flavor of the dish, but I was in heaven with my Smoked Salmon & Egg Scramble accompanied by roasted Yukon Gold potatoes, a crispy corn tortilla and a dollop of crème fraîche. And if all this food was not enough, the host decided that we needed to taste the Granola & Field Berry Parfait as well … which of course I did. Perfect!
If you thought that we would have been too full from breakfast to enjoy a three-course lunch, you would be mistaken. Once again, we began with soup for Denis and salad for me. Then I moved onto Chef JP’s piéce de resistance, sesame seed encrusted Albacore Tuna Tataki accompanied by house-made rice noodles and a soy garlic glaze. Amazing! Was I really eating this perfectly prepared, superb delicacy on a train?
Denis enjoyed his Maple Bacon Chicken, accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes and local market vegetables and roasted to perfection with maple syrup jus … after all, we were in Canada where one would naturally expect a tribute to the maple syrup! Once again, the host must have thought that we needed more nourishment because she brought us an additional main course of Roasted Pork Tenderloin served with a Dijon mustard sauce. Also impeccably prepared.
Wine pairings this time were for me a Jackson-Triggs Reserve Select Sauvignon Blanc with delightfu notes of gooseberry and grapefruit, and for Denis a Jackson-Triggs Reserve Select Cabernet Sauvignon. Another perfect pairing for each of us!
The chef once again hit a home run with the dessert, this time a healthy apple crumble with an oat topping, ice cream, berries and spun sugar cookies. As artistically appealing as it was delicious!
The menu doesn’t tell the entire story of what we ate and how we were inspired to consume so much food. Portions were perfect, but it was the quality and freshness of each ingredient along with the careful attention to preparation in the kitchen, including the superb quality of the sauces, which enhanced the culinary experience. The tantalizing aromas, of course, along with the vivid colors and the memorable presentation all worked in tandem, adding up to a truly impressive and memorable culinary experience. And those spectacular once-in-a-lifetime views simply put this fine dining and iconic scenery combo over the top.
If I’ve managed to pique your curiosity about traveling with Rocky Mountaineer, perhaps you have some questions …
What if a guest wants something tweaked from the menu? No problem. The friendly hosts are happy to have the kitchen accommodate any preferences it can. After all, the food is cooked-to-order and the kitchen team is well trained to cater to the guests’ needs.
What if you are hungry or thirsty in-between meals? The charming onboard hosts in the upstairs viewing coach are always available to offer you drinks and snacks from healthy to decadent. Plus wine and cocktail service starts at 11am. What more could you ask?
What about dinner? While traveling onboard Rocky Mountaineer, dinner is on your own after the train stops for the night. Depending on which route you take, there are some truly iconic hotels which will pamper you once you arrive. We particularly enjoyed the stunning Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge with its majestic views at the tail end of our Rocky Mountaineer journey.
But, after the divine eat-a-thon onboard the train, if you are like Denis and me — you probably won’t have much of an appetite come evening and so may prefer to go for a walk, visit the spa, hang out at the bar, or simply enjoy an early night.
What is so extraordinary about the scenery? Traveling through the Canadian Rockies virtually guarantees you spectacular views, view after view. As for what views you will see, well that will be determined in part by your choice of one of the four basic journeys which Rocky Mountaineer offers: (1) Coastal Passage (Seattle to Vancouver), (2) Rainforest to Gold Rush (Vancouver to Jasper via Whistler), (3) Journey through the Clouds (Vancouver to Jasper via Kamloops), and (4) First Passage to the West (Vancouver to Lake Louse or Banff via Kamloops). Based on the two superb culinary viewing voyages I’ve experienced with Rocky Mountaineer, I feel confident concluding that any Rocky Mountaineer journey you take will provide you with a most memorable “moveable feast with a view”.
One last thought … Keep in mind that Rocky Mountaineer goes through the oldest national park system in the world, that the region is protected and maintained and that the vistas are some of Mother Nature’s best work. Speaking of communing with nature! So often photographs do not do justice to a vista … you just have to see it for yourself to appreciate the true glory of the natural pristine beauty, from the rugged mountain peaks and icefields, to the lakes, waterfalls and karst cave systems. Simply stunning, and for the bulk of our journey, uninhabited by humans as far as the eye could see. But, the sighting of any non-human living creature we encountered, from a mountain goat to a bighorn sheep to a grizzly(!), always drew a big applause from the guests. Not too surprisingly, the seven parks of the Canadian Rockies have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Many thanks to Rocky Mountaineer for this unforgettable visit. As always, BonVoyageurs’ focus is on the joie de vivre we experience when we travel and all opinions expressed in our articles are our own.
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