Wine Country chef Bernard Casavant honoured with VIU's Distinguished Alumni Award

June 2, 2011 - 2:15am

Bernard Casavant was surprised in 1976 when he was singled out as the most promising graduate in the Culinary Arts Program at Vancouver Island University (then Malaspina College).

He recalls that not many people had given him much of a chance in succeeding as a professional chef.

After 35 years creating distinctive Western Canadian cuisine for fortunate diners including British Royalty and Hollywood celebrities, Casavant is returning to VIU where he will receive another honour in his impressive career.

“I am indeed very humbled by the Distinguished Alumni Award,” says Casavant, Executive Chef at Manteo Resort Waterfront Hotel and Villas in the Okanagan.

Casavant will receive the award Tuesday, June 7 during spring convocation ceremonies at VIU.

Casavant credits his grandmother with encouraging him to pursue a cooking career with a strong work ethic and deep respect for the food and the people who produce it. He is also grateful to Chef Sid Pickett for his support and patience as Casavant developed his skills and creativity as a student.

“He was instrumental in my success,” says Casavant.

His own advice for culinary students: “Be passionate, cook with integrity and be patient to see where in the kitchen you are most comfortable.”

Casavant’s first job in the industry was as a prep cook at the Greenwood Motor Hotel in Port Alberni. His career path has reached great heights – literally in the case of catering mountaintop receptions for Blackcomb Helicopters at Whistler.

One of his most challenging meals, he recalls, was cooking risotto for eight world dignitaries on a mountain top with a cassette-fuelled, single-burner stove. “The weather blew in, complete with snow. I was able to finish the risotto but my ‘McGyver’ [improvisational] talents were tested.”

Casavant’s passion for food has impressed diners in many top restaurants and resorts in Vancouver, Whistler and the Okanagan. At Expo 86, Casavant was executive chef at the Canadian Club. He and his wife Bonnie have also proven to be a successful team in their own restaurant and in resorts.

The veteran chef continues to impress as he shares his love of fresh, locally rooted cuisine.

”Chef Bernard is a great addition to our Manteo Resort Management team. We are very pleased with the positive changes and increased level of food and service in the Wild Apple Restaurant and our catering program since his arrival 18 months ago,” says Heather Schroeter, General Manager, Manteo Resort Waterfront Hotel & Villas in Kelowna.

“Our guests are loving his signature 'Wine Country Cuisine', and they truly appreciate the fresh seasonal local ingredients. We are very fortunate to have an Executive Chef with such passion for local food and beverage, and his dedication to above and beyond service and mentoring his kitchen team.”

Over the years, he has cooked for royalty including Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, and the King of Dubai and entertainers including John Travolta and Kenny Rogers.

“Two people who were the most impressive were Margaret Thatcher and George Burns,” he recalls. The British Prime Minister had a calm demeanour, he says, “but you could sense the power, her drive and focus.”

“George Burns stands out because after feeding his team in a private dining room, he called me into the room and true to his nature, joked and thanked me for a fantastic lunch and then invited me to have a cigar and port with him.”

Casavant politely declined the gesture but says he appreciated it when the famed comedian let him know that he could take him up on the offer anytime he was in Los Angeles.

Casavant has been at the forefront of improving the standards of the restaurant industry throughout his career. In 1986, he was one of the first chefs in Canada to earn Chef de Cuisine certification. In 1991, he became the first West Coast-born and trained chef to represent Canada in the Bocuse D'Or Competition, France.

A member of the BC Restaurants Hall of Fame, Casavant is a founding board member of Exclusively BC, and charter member of Farm Folk, City Folk, further demonstrating his commitment to eating locally grown food and working with area farmers and producers to present simple honest food. He is a former board member of the Provincial BC Restaurant and Food Association and now sits as Director of BC Culinary Tourism Society.

Casavant continues his commitment to the development of the next generation of great chefs as a trained assessor for the BC Apprenticeship Trade Certification exams.

“I try to be as supportive and patient as Chef Picket was for me,“ says Casavant. “It truly is about our young cooks; they are the future.”

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