Ski Resort Food Deserves Better. How One Chef Is Upping the Game
After hitting the slopes, your typical fare at a ski resort leans toward comfort food: think burgers, pizza, french fries, and beer. But Jodie Rogers, director of food and beverage at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah, wants to change that. She believes that hungry skiers deserve delicious but thoughtful food. If that means global ingredients, she goes for it. An extra garnish on the soup? Of course. Personalized toppings on their famous turkey chili? That shows it’s more than just a bowl of chili.
Since taking the helm in 2015, Rogers has been working to elevate alpine cuisine. Think savory macarons with house prosciutto. Grilled guinea hen is served over house-made gnocchi, tossed in a smoked Gouda sauce. Local Utah lamb rests on a bed of foraged mushrooms and huckleberries. Rogers loves pairing her food with cozy wines like Port—which reminds her of her childhood in Australia—or wines from alpine regions, such as Alsace, France. She’s been mentoring her team of executive chefs to take the idea and run with it—including those chefs who leave her nest, employing the same idea at neighboring resorts to improve the cuisine in the category, not just at Deer Valley.
Fortune chatted with Rogers on all things après-ski, from what goes into “the Deer Valley Difference” to how personality and teamwork inspire everything she does.
Fortune: What was the food like when you arrived at the property?
Rogers: The food was, and still is, fabulous in my mind. The focus on food and beverage was a founding principle in Deer Valley’s development by our founders, Edgar and Polly Stern. They came from a hotel background and believed that the ski vacation should mimic that of a hotel visit. They dreamed of providing a luxury hotel experience by combining first-class guest service, luxury accommodations, and gourmet food with skiing.
I have learned that we can all make great delicious-tasting food for hungry skiers, but not everyone knows how to really look at the details of how the whole process evolves. It is the small things that make us great. My kids can serve a soup to anyone, but if they serve me that soup with a garnish, I feel the love and thought that went into that. We think about that all the time here in the kitchens! The expectation is to take a recipe or dish idea, then we give it the Deer Valley Difference by adding our personality to finish it off. Take our famous turkey chili and how we serve it to our guests for lunch. It is hot on the line, and as part of its service, every guest is asked if they would like it with salsa, sour cream, cheese, or onions. Therefore, every bowl is personalized; it’s more than just chili.
As you said, it’s the small details that make a big difference. How has that helped you elevate the cuisine at the resort?
The menus at our now 14 restaurants still reflect our opening menu. However, I feel privileged to be working on updating it to a more global elevation. I have opened up avenues for us to be more worldly. I was used to using different ingredients in Australia versus here, so for me to do my best, I need to source those ingredients. I don’t take “no” for an answer from our vendors. It was hard work, but also exciting when we had a win.
One memory of my first year as executive chef was to buy a multitude of Australian bush foods. Seeing the gleam in the chefs’ eyes as they tasted the wattle seeds, lemon myrtle, and bush tomatoes was so rewarding for me. We even used the paperbark at Seafood Buffet to wrap the barramundi. Guests were so curious, and it made me want to strive to surprise our guests while allowing the staff to learn. I want our guests to come for the food and then go skiing—just don’t tell our mountain operations director.
Beyond your native Australia, where do you look for inspiration?
The key is the team. Not one person can be a success if they do not have a passionate and skilled team behind them. I have a connection with the history, but I have also traveled and worked around the world. The only way to stay ahead in food and beverage is by being open to crazy ideas and listening to your staff. It’s important for all our chefs to think globally and give it the Deer Valley Difference. Growth and collaboration are the best way to mentor, in my opinion.
In 2017, we were acquired by Alterra Mountain Company, and now we are part of a larger ski resort company with 13 sister resorts. I am excited to learn from them and benefit from best practices. I hope we are the exception in skiing food as a whole. Having so many skilled and educated coworkers gives me energy to strive.
As if 14 restaurants were not enough—and a lot of staff to oversee—you also work on the resort’s meetings and events as well as manage the beverage program. How do you execute your mission in those areas?
We have a full corporate sales staff and banquet department that pull off hundreds of events and weddings each year. We have a full-service bakery open year-round; they even do all the wedding cakes. In addition, we feed our large staff daily. Between our staff and guests, we can be serving 10,000-plus lunches in a day! And that’s before we even get started on dinner.
I have extended the boundaries for staff so they can be a part of Deer Valley without black-and-white rules all the time. Gray areas are where we all collaborate to make it the best experience for guests, but also where we become educated on how our decisions affect the entire Deer Valley vacation.
The passion found in our kitchens is just as strong in the beverage program. Our assistant director of food and beverage, Clint Strohl, formed some great basic guidelines for how we choose and pair our beverage program with the food. We do a lot of tasting, wine courses, and education explorations. We allow the managers of the restaurants to show their personality with their final choices.
Where do you see the future of food at ski resorts?
Deer Valley is more than just the restaurants on or near our slopes. We strive to be a leader in food in hospitality in general—not only in ski resorts. We want to be innovative, and we do this by really knowing and understanding our guests [as well as] listening to our dedicated staff.
I hope that I can set the new standard of food offerings that not only considers taste, presentation, and love but has a story behind it. It shows our support for farmers, fisheries, sustainability, and that we all give back as much as we take. We need to educate our children on where the food comes from as much as how to enjoy cooking it and eating it to sustain a healthy lifestyle.
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