Join Me for Two Delicious Days Across the Stunning Canadian Rockies Aboard Rocky Mountaineer
Traveling across the Canadian Rockies from Vancouver to Banff is a breathtaking sight to behold with brilliant terrain changes and blanketed snowcapped rocky peaks all along the way, and of course, view a variety of wildlife viewing along the way. The drive there is certainly spectacular, however, imagine if you left the driving to the train conductor and food preparation to a skilled French chef and his team, and you could just sit back in comfy recliner seats with a clear dome above your head to view the majesty of the Canadian Rockies every minute of the journey – What a journey it would be and what a memorable journey it truly is. And for foodies, it makes it all the more special!!
This past year, I had the opportunity to join in on this renowned train excursion aboard Rocky Mountaineer’s “First Passage to the West” route, one of four routes which start from the Rocky Mountaineer exclusive state-of-the-art train station just outside Vancouver. We were welcomed by the entire crew to piano music and an introduction to our rail journey by the conductor and the team, followed by an inviting Bagpipe serenade. Upon boarding these beautifully appointed train cars we were immediately immersed into two full days of luxury rail travel through Canada’s West and on through the impressive Canadian Rockies with an evening stay in Kamloops, ending up after our 2nd day of the sojourn in breathtaking Banff and Lake Louise.
Our voyage aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, which is the only passenger rail service on this historic route passes through lush Fraser Valley, spiraling tunnels, seven mountain ranges and a pass by Craigellachie, which is the spot where the last spike on the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven. From the outdoor viewing platform and the unparalleled panoramic views from our seats, we all had the opportunity to our set eyes on a large grizzly bear fishing for dinner along the river right next to the train tracks and the grand Eagle’s nest perched high upon one of the train towers passing by. A true highlight!
There isn’t a moment you aren’t in complete awe of the ever-changing vistas constantly emerging all along this spectacular historic route. Sit back relax, indulge and let yourself be ultimately pampered in first-class style by the top-notch team aboard Rocky Mountaineer whose sole mission is to do nothing more than to provide you with the best experience and service possible. Our group traveling was seated in Gold Leaf Service, one of two classes of services offered, though you can’t go wrong with either as both are exquisite. As they say – you choose from “Perfect” & “More Perfect”.
The Rocky Mountaineer experience is like taking the National Geographic Channel and melding it with the Food Channel giving you a delicious blend of spectacular photographic nature vistas along with amazing Five-Star Dining spiced with a flare of the luxury of the Orient Express. It doesn’t get much better than this.
As a part of our daily journey, we started the day’s excursion with a refreshing “Welcome Aboard” toast along with introductions of the crew and beautiful descriptions of our upcoming experiences for the day. In addition, to add to the exhilaration of the exploration, we were enticed by the food offerings for the day’s journey. We knew right then, we would certainly not go hungry or thirsty either.
For dining, there were two seating’s each day for breakfast and lunch. We had the first seating on day one in the beautifully appointed plush dining car booths along the along with the expansive picture windows overlooking the beauty of Western Canada as we cruised along, noshed and talked about the amazing day to come. When we were seated in the second seating the next day, we certainly didn’t get peckish, as we nibbled on freshly baked scones with fresh berries, hot out of the trains’ on-board ovens to keep us going to our breakfast seating.
The Rocky Mountaineer Welcome to Breakfast: Welcome to the GoldLeaf Service dining room! From the Coastal Waters of BC to the wide pastures of the prairies, the breakfast you are about to enjoy is a culinary tour of Canada. As you enjoy your meal, please look up and take in the beauty of your First Passage to the West journey. We promise, no one will take your plate away. Cheers, RM
The Rocky Mountaineer cuisine is orchestrated under the helm of their award-winning Executive Chef Jean Pierre Guerin and his talented culinary team in the galley aboard the train. There are several galleys on board for both the Gold Leaf and Silver Leaf services. Jean Pierre is absolutely charming and is not shy about spending time chatting it up with the guests onboard, except when he is hands-on at the helm of orchestrating the daily culinary presentations. He has been with the Rocky Mountaineer for over ten years and is known for his talents creating mouthwatering fusion cuisine. During his impressive career as a well-known chef, he has created meals for Princess Diana, Meryl Streep, and former President Clinton.
Chef Guerin explained, “Cooking on board is not difficult, however, we have to take everything, including the kitchen sink. We don’t have the luxury of stopping for anything. We have to take 2-3 days of supplies. And when I say supplies that’s not just the food but the expertise – the chefs have to travel with us. Everything has to be super well organized aboard the train. You have to know where everything is. Each season we do a brand-new menu depending on fresh seasonal offerings.”
Breakfast always begins with coffee, juice and Chef’s seasonal fruit creation with a freshly baked treat. The delightful menu includes their ever-popular and absolutely delicious Eggs Benedict with two poached eggs and Montreal style smoked beef on a toasted English Muffin, topped with tarragon hollandaise. I’d go back just for that!!
Another breakfast treat was the Spinach, Feta and Egg Soufflé with roasted Yukon Gold potatoes, and smoked farmer’s sausages. The Blueberry Pancakes were out of this world with traditional Canadian Maple syrup. Then, of course, there is the Smoked Salmon Scramble – a scene-stealer with roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes, crème Fraiche, smoked salmon, and a crispy tortilla. So many lovely choices. And that is just to name a few of the delicious delights on the morning menu. Be sure to save room for lunch…
There is always a mid-morning munch in between breakfast and lunch along with a selection of hot and cold beverages, perhaps a mimosa is on your agenda or sample one of their “Caesars” – a traditional Canadian version of the Bloody Mary.
For lunch, we headed back down from our domed vista car to the dining room where it was beautifully set in white linen adorned with decorative flower arrangements. The aromas floating out of the galley kitchen sent a mouthwatering invitation to yet another amazing meal created by Chef Jean Pierre Guerin.
Being a Napa Valley Foodie and Wine Lover, the luncheon presentation yet again did not disappoint! Their wine selections offered varietals from the Okanagan wine region in British Columbia and were delightfully paired to perfection with the afternoon’s luncheon selections. Any Napa Valley wine enthusiast would certainly concur. They were pouring two varietals from Sumac Ridge Estate from their Vineyard Collection, an unoaked Chardonnay and a Merlot. Also from Jackson-Triggs Reserve Selection, we were offered a lovely Sauvignon Blanc and a luscious Cabernet Sauvignon.
Lunch began with a Forest-Fresh Mushroom soup, followed by a Baked Cherry Tomato Salad. The “Alberta Short Ribs” is a popular favorite on the lunch menu. The Smokey Mushroom Burger made with AAA Alberta beef on the pretzel roll is another popular item on the menu. There are 6 delightful entrees to choose from each day. And lunch is always followed up with a delightful dessert. The Decadent Dark Chocolate Pistachio Brownie is absolutely heavenly.
For 2018, there is something new on the Rocky Mountaineer travel menu which is a 10-day package for foodies, The First Passage to the West Culinary Exploration. You will feast on wine-paired gourmet meals every day while touring Rocky Mountain Peaks. There is even a Panoramic Helicopter Flightseeing excursion.
Rocky Mountaineers Famous Short Ribs
Rocky Mountaineer offers something for everyone from 2 days to 10 days. Check them out at www.rockymountaineer.com
Executive Chef Aaron Meneghelli of Farm Restaurant
Farm Restaurant at Carneros Resort and Spa
We recently had the opportunity to have an intimate one-on-one with Carneros Resort and Spa’s energetic and super busy chef, Aaron Meneghelli. With Executive Chef Aaron’s role running all of the food and beverage programs at the resort, it is amazing he has time to come up for air and always with such a motivated and inspiring mantra. I have had the pleasure of watching him shine over the past several years with his growing culinary program, he is certainly a chef to keep a keen eye on.
Executive Chef Aaron Meneghelli
During our visit, we were impressed to observe and learn more about all of his epicurean accomplishments throughout the resort and his future plans for upcoming events at Farm. In addition to FARM – the resort’s signature restaurant, Chef also oversees The FARM Pavilion, Boon Fly Café; the Hilltop Dining Room, the upscale prepared food space at MARKET, the culinary organic garden, all catering and room service, and the Carneros Supper Club series.
Bubbles and Amuse-bouche at Farm Restaurant
Revered as one of Napa Valley’s top restaurants, FARM at Carneros Resort offers guests an elegant dining experience, casually luxurious with inviting indoor and outdoor seating. The glass windowed kitchen gives the dining guests the visuals of the constant creative energy flowing through FARM’s impressive kitchen. Chef Menghelli creates an ever-changing seasonal dining experience sourcing from neighboring purveyors and the resort’s culinary garden. Their deliciously diverse menu offers a seasonal five-course tasting menu with optional wine pairing and a page full of wonderful Farm-to-Table a la carte offerings as well.
By popular demand, Returning in the Fall they will re-launch their popular dinner series – the Carneros Supper Club held on the picturesque knoll at the Hilltop Dining Room blanketed with panoramic views over Napa Valley and the Carneros region vineyards. Chef Aaron partners with local winemakers for the evening dinner events. He creates special menus that pair with the wine being showcased for their special dining soiree’s, all inspired with seasonal produce and Aaron’s gift of inventing his delightful gastronomic creations.
Gardens at Carneros Resort and Spa
After having a lovely afternoon chat with Chef Aaron, we were then graciously escorted into the inviting FARM dining room to the cozy booth adjacent to the fireplace, and we were sent off on a journey through the menu for the next several hours of delighting in the various dishes presented to us to savor.
In addition to being hands-on in the kitchen, Chef Aaron likes to be hands-on with the dining guests. It is not uncommon to see him walking about the dining room visiting with the tables, chatting with patrons about their dish or just wishing a warm hello. Our evening was much like that as Aaron presented himself with each arriving dish that we were served. He took the time to describe the vision he had in creating each dish, the various local ingredients and the flavor profile all of which were paired specifically with the wine selections by FARM Sommelier Anthony Donahue.
A Chat with Chef Aaron
What was your inspiration to get into the restaurant business and train to become a chef, where did you go to culinary school? “I went to culinary school in SF at California Culinary Academy starting mid-1999 after finding college to be unfulfilling. I had cooked on and off again since I was 17, working in restaurants among other random jobs while moving a couple times between 19 and 23. I always found my days at work in the kitchen to be enjoyable and I was able to find that I was good at it. There is a competitiveness and intensity that you don’t’ see anywhere else and that has always been exciting to me. I think that accompanied with my family experience of always being around a table were my biggest inspirations to start this career. My mom and grandmother were good cooks and I enjoyed the food, but it was the time at the table at my grandparents’ house that I always think of.”
During your formal training, how did you know what direction you wanted to take with your career as a chef? Looking back at my days in culinary school I don’t think I ever really knew what direction I wanted to go with this career. My thoughts were more towards a restaurant rather than a hotel, I didn’t think I would ever work at a hotel, but I have spent almost 13 years between 2 top-notch resorts in the Napa Valley.
Tell me a little bit about your growing up in the Napa Valley The town of Napa was a good place to grow up. My dad worked with Robert Mondavi for the first 30 years of my life and my mom worked with the school district at El Centro elementary, so there was good involvement with a few areas of the town. Napa felt quiet growing up as much of the tourists that visited went up-valley and did not spend any attention on the town of Napa as they do now.
What inspires you when you are creating new menus and new dishes, where do you source all of seasonal ingredients? The season needs to be the first thing to inspire the menu. I always want to be sure that we are pulling our ideas off of the produce list and we plan our garden to be able to support this. We use a number of local growers and producers for eggs, dairy and produce. Our proteins are coming from locals as well when available, for example, we always have duck on the menu from Sonoma Poultry.
During the Napa Floods, how did your business get affected? Describe your hands-on efforts in giving back to the community during the fire crisis. When the fires occurred, we evacuated the hotel that first night around 3am and we were under mandatory evacuation for 12 days. October is usually one of the busiest months of the year for a lot of businesses in Napa and Sonoma, so this was a devastating way to end the year. We had groups cancel well into 2018 because the impression was that the entire valley burned down, so why come.
I had family and friends that were very close to the fires and displaced from their homes, some of which lost everything. Watching this happen around my hometown was hard and I felt helpless at the beginning, but that quickly turned into motivation. We had lost power for a couple days, and with 8 walk-in refrigerators on the property, I had a lot of food to deal with. So, we started to reach out to different community organizations that were involved with getting food and supplies out to those who needed it. We spent the next week delivering food to fire departments, Salvation Army, 3 different churches, police station, and a few others to get prepared and raw foods to the town. It felt good to be involved, but it was a painful time to watch some really close people to me go through something that tragic. We later held a fundraiser where we closed FARM and had a large dinner event and were able to raise $20K to donate to the Napa community fund.
What are your responsibilities as Carneros Resort & Spa? I oversee all culinary and stewarding operations on the property with a direct lead to the front of house management as well.
What do you envision with taking the culinary program at Carneros Resort & Spa to the next level We are currently going through a lot of remodeling on the property, the spa and all the rooms have been renovated and we will do some upgrades at FARM. The food will continue to change with the season and we focus on not repeating with the same dishes.
What motivates you every day? My wife and my daughter! All day… every day! I work a lot, and they support me and allow me the opportunity to be in this role and commit as much of my time as I need to make this a successful operation. I usually bounce ideas off of them for food or any changes I want to make around the property. They keep me grounded while keeping me jumping for more.
Is there a philosophy or mantra that you live by? Work hard…play harder. I don’t like to say no when I have the time to be out of work, I am usually on the go!
Where do you see yourself in ten years, 20 years? Good question…hard to say, I have a lot of ideas and this career is ever-changing, so who knows?
What are you most thankful for? I have been blessed with a great family and a lot of tradition. I have also been able to make a lot of great relationships and I value that very much. There is a blurred line between friends and family and I feel it is important to keep as many people close to you as possible.
Here is a selection of the summer dishes on Farm’s Menu:
- Truffled Burrata – spring leaves, house-made rye, fig leaf oil
- Octopus Terrine – scallion vinaigrette, daikon, potatoes, chorizo
- Chilled Pea Soup – white chocolate crème Fraiche, pickled rhubarb, English peas
- Truffle Tagliatelle – burgundy truffle, manchego, beech mushrooms
- Liberty Farms Duck – red quinoa, soubise, blackberries, ramps
- Alaskan Halibut – crushed English peas, fume, pork belly
A Tasting Menu of Cherry
- Torched Hamachi – cherry aquachile, fennel, yuzu snow paired with J.J. Prum ‘Whelener Sonnenuhr” Kabinett Riesling, Mosel 2014
- Braised Sonoma Duck Agnolotti – corn puree, cherry, duck cracklings, smoked corn foam paired with Domaine Les Cantates, Chignin-Bergeron, Savoie 2012
- Glazed Pork Belly – Carolina gold rice, tart cherry, peas paired with Artesa Estate Reserve Pinot, Carneros 2014
- California Squab – turnip, cherry glaze, braised greens, porcini mushroom paired with Selene Frediani Vineyard Merlot, Napa Valley 2013
Featured Cocktail: Cherry Whisky Smash – buffalo trace bourbon, lemon, cherry, mint leaves