Alpina Restaurant at the Villa Eyrie Resort has garnered its share of acclaim from visitors thanks to its exquisite culinary fare and picturesque mountain top location. Drawing from the bountiful fare of the Saanich inlet region, the inspiration from its menu comes from a different source via two Chefs from across the Atlantic. Executive Chef Mario Gross and Executive Pastry Chef Matthias Conradi bring their Germanic heritage to the table in their unique alpine west coast cuisine.
From the Black Forest to the Island
Chef Gross brought a wealth of experience to Alpina when he accepted the role to lead the restaurant. As an apprentice, he built his skill set at the Michelin-starred Relais & Chateaux and Der Alpenholf in the Black Forest and Munich respectively. A three-year stint at the one-star Wine & Tafelhous in the Mosel region saw him earn his first Head Chef position, a testament to his work ethic and talent. “My experience from Europe is that you have to go slow, step by step,” he says, remembering his days learning in a competitive environment where other head chef hopefuls were eager to rise straight to the top.
With an employment offer that would require leaving Germany and his beloved horse, Chef Gross moved with his then wife-to-be to a new and frigid environment: Edmonton, Alberta. Adjusting to his new home meant new challenges, like learning English, but also presented the opportunity to continue his development at the renowned Hardware Grill under owner Chef Larry Stewart. It was a referral from a colleague that led to him to consider and accept his first Executive Chef role at luxury BC resort Villa Eyrie.
The stalwart chef has since become acclimatized to his surroundings and his dynamic loyal new team. “They are following me into the fire,” he remarks, thankful for their willingness to bring a cuisine uncommon to the region and adapt it to the landscape of the resort.
On the first evening of my visit to Villa Eyrie, I joined Villa Eyrie’s general manager Alexander Fischer-Jean for dinner. Together we enjoyed an amuse-bouche with walnut meat, crispbreads, and enjoyed the lead dish from the newly launched Fall/Winter menu—a Zucchini Spaghetti inspired by a personal recipe of Fischer-Jean’s wife impeccably recreated by Chef Gross.
The dish is prepared with a grillato sauce, baby gem tomatoes, Italian chickpea fries, and a stimulating level of fresh garlic. Lovers of the heady bulb will not be disappointed with this fresh gluten-free take on such a time-honoured pasta. With herbs plucked from a greenhouse, mere steps from the kitchen, the aroma of the dish was intoxicating.
Welcome to the West Coast
Conradi brings a well-honed skill set from training around the world. After working in Germany, Abu Dhabi, and Switzerland he flourished at several reputable restaurants on Vancouver Island. He developed his craft in Tofino at the Wikaninnish Inn under Chef Rodney Butters before launching and operating the Patissier Conradi for three years. Most recently he was a member of the culinary team at the Sooke Harbour House, renowned for their farm-to-table food service.
Throughout this journey, Chef Conradi worked to perfect the baking of fresh buns and bread-like his signature sourdough rye bread, a staple of Alpina’s German-inspired cuisine. His philosophy towards baking often challenges shape and form, and he is known to deconstruct and re-assemble dishes using unorthodox methods. An avid sketcher, he regularly develops elegant drawings of his recipes before making them and often looks to the natural bounty around him as inspiration. His ample, yet judicious, application of edible flowers and herb blooms, creates visually stunning dishes.
After an early morning wake-up, I challenged the in-room Nespresso machine to brew a cup of coffee strong enough to wake me—a solid two hours before my usual. On the balcony of my suite above the Tuscan Spa, I watched a pair of swallows swoop as they caught breakfast for the chicks that were discreetly tucked under the eaves. I sipped in solitude, slowly shaking off the fresh-air sleepiness, and anticipating the first meal of the day.
Sufficiently caffeinated and appropriately dressed, the driver delivered me and my appetite to Villa Principale to the Alpina Restaurant. After a refreshing mimosa, an array of warm plates appeared accompanied by Chef Conradi, who took great delight in presenting a morning repast that pushed physical boundaries with a bounty of plantbased ingredients—a majority sourced locally from the Cowichan Valley.
The cornmeal waffles were crunchy on the outside, wonderfully chewy in the centre and were accompanied by spicy maple syrup and a trio of toppings: housemade agave granola, dark chocolate ganache, and field berry compote. À la carte sides of delicately sliced fruit, grilled red peppers, and crispy herbed potatoes brought a desired savoury element to the table.
The following morning Chef Conradi presented plantbased granola pancakes topped by a slice of coconut milk and vanilla bean panna cotta; creatively repurposed from my previous evening’s dinner. As we spoke, he shared his pleasure to have created a dish that would be enjoyed a second time—a sustainable dessert! The hearty pancakes were sweetened with maple syrup, and the toppings were again stellar: chilli-glazed cherries, a tart berry puree, sugar-coated blueberries, and another which was devoured before making it to the pancakes—possibly sweet-pickled shredded apple and radish.
The new menu’s alpine identity is so wonderfully intertwined with the essence of the Island and its abundance that it creates a genuinely unique dining experience. This September, Alpina Restaurant is indeed bringing a new perspective to west coast dining.
Read more about Alpina Restaurant and Villa Eyrie Resort in our resort and cocktail stories!
- Coleman Pete is a contributor for EcoLuxLuv Communications. Coleman writes about menswear, design, and culture, and can be found combing through vintage clothing racks or reading in one of his favourite cafés in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. Read more by Coleman at OverdressedNW.com.
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