Curry, Fine Wine, Dining at 11,000'
Photos and words by Austen Diamond
“I know what you’re eating today,” quips a line cook at The Rendezvous before taking Fred Barbier’s order.
This is the fifth day in a row that the director of resort dining at Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort has eaten Thai curry.
“I get to eat great food every day, but it’s not always what I’m hungry for,” he says in a thick French accent, which hasn’t abated after more than a decade stateside.
Earlier in the day, Barbier took a few morning turns in the snow for fun — a rarity, despite his ski lodge lifestyle — dipping into some nice powder in Mineral Basin. You’d think Barbier would now easily settle in and devour the warm bowl of curry, but instead, after a few bites, he uses the opportunity to provide feedback to the chef. The curry recipe is being refined, and Barbier is bent on making it perfect.
Between stabs with his chopsticks, Barbier pulls out his iPhone. Using a restaurant management software app, Barbier is able to see real-time sales at Snowbird’s eateries — seven sit-down restaurants, four bars, four cafeterias, and three windows restaurants, not to mention room service and 50,000 sq. ft. of banquet facilities. Snowbird resort restaurants dish out several thousand meals a day.
Barbier notes that sales at The Summit are through the roof today. Meanwhile, sales at Mid-Gad Restaurant are down. The reason? Mineral Basin opened for the first time of the season so that’s where the skiers and riders are. The Summit, which occupies an important access point at the top of Hidden Peak, is also Utah’s highest elevation restaurant, at 11,000 feet above sea level. Business day to day at each restaurant is dictated by the mountain, the weather, and ski conditions.
Barbier and his team of managers and chefs utilize this app, and, when needed, send highly-trained staff from one restaurant to another. Employees, just like patrons, navigate the mountain via Snowbird’s Tram and chairlifts with their skis or snowboard. Similarly, Barbier gets ample turns in throughout any given workday simply by skiing to his restaurants for quick check-ins. And sometimes during these trips, he sticks around and rolls up his sleeves. Just last week here at The Rendezvous, he worked the line serving — not eating — curry to help with a ski school lunch rush.
“That’s the beauty of my job,” Barbier says. “It’s so multi-faceted.” In the past year, Barbier has spent most of his time overseeing operations for all of the Snowbird resort restaurants — expansions and overhauls and building design — including the $16 million The Summit building, the cool new renovations to Creekside Cafe & Grill, as well as The Atrium at Cliff Lodge, with more to come in 2018.
Additional — and welcomed — challenges include executing Snowbird’s expansive Oktoberfest, Fourth of July festivities, Father’s Day weekend Brewfest and barbecue competition, and more.
With skis in tow, Barbier travels from Snowbird Center to The Cliff Lodge via the Chickadee Lift. On the 10th floor, he checks in at The Aerie prior to dinner service.
Barbier completed the equivalent of a Master's degree in restaurant, catering and hotel management in France before moving to the United States. And he began his Snowbird career at The Aerie as the general manager 11 years ago. Aside from the excellent cuisine, Snowbird’s flagship restaurant still holds a special place for him: It’s where the wine is. Said another way, here, he built one of Utah’s most impressive wine collections.
When Barbier began work at The Aerie, there were 50 wines available for bottle service or by the glass. Now, there are 1,200 selections on hand. “You might say I have a passion for wine,” he says with a laugh.
With full creative control, Barbier grew the collection by leaps and bounds, covering myriad varietals, countries and regions, and more recently, an impressive vintage depth. There are so many choice wines that each one is numbered and the collection sprawls across three wine cellars at The Aerie, plus a master cellar at Snowbird Center. The wine menu must be updated daily to ensure availability.
“In our business, people come to a restaurant to have a good time and to eat good food — that’s a given — so it’s really about trying to offer them something truly special,” Barbier says. “The ambiance, the food, the wine — it all helps them have a remarkable and memorable family experience.”
As patrons settle in for the modern gastropub cuisine tonight, Barbier helps educate them in pairing a libation to drink with the bbq whiskey-braised pork shank, grilled beef tenderloin, pan-seared trout, and the like.
“Wine pairing is an abstract art,” Barbier says, “because there will be lots of wines that can complement a particular dish.”
“So our staff encourages guests to try something new, something different,” Barbier continues. “That’s when our guests will learn, and be delighted. And this is what makes for an amazing experience at the dinner table.”
Little Cottonwood Canyon
Learn more about the food and beverage offerings at Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort by visiting www.snowbird.com.