Feeding thousands a day at Winter Park Resort: Meet Executive Chef Abby Gallagher
December 4, 2018
Once snow coats the mountainside and Winter Park Resort opens its doors for the season, thousands of people flock to the slopes everyday. Whether they are skiing or snowboarding or enjoying one of the resort's other winter activities, they are all working up an appetite.
That's where Chef Abby Gallagher comes in.
Gallagher first came to Winter Park to work her begin her culinary career as a full-time cook for the Coffee and Tea Market at Winter Park Resort. Little did she know that 25 years later she would be back, but this time as the Resort Executive Chef.
"I'm working on kind of big picture at every restaurant," she explained.
Gallagher, who started in the fall of 2017, is in charge of all 14 of the resort's restaurants, as well as catering events and feeding the students at the Ski and Ride School.
Her job is not to provide the usual, intimate dining experience, but instead to feed the masses and make sure guests get a unique experience at each of the resort's eateries.
"Right now, we're doing a lot of simplifying of the menus," Gallagher said. "My theory is let's do less better, so we're trying to focus on each restaurant's brand and make what they do done well."
This season, there were several changes and upgrades to be made. There were renovations at Sunspot Lodge and another restaurant, Club Car, received a whole new kitchen and therefore a new menu.
Other changes include a pasta station and Mountaintop Apres at Sunspot and general menu adjustments throughout the restaurants, including narrowing selections to focus on what guests really wanted.
"When I'm thinking about a menu for a certain place, I'm thinking about that place, so what the brand is, who the guests are, what we think they want," she said. "Like at the Mary Jane, for example, that's really local and really Denver and really regular, so I think that's where we can do healthy burgers and vegetarian and things that are funky because I think that clientele is more oriented to that, they're more high energy skier and less beginner-oriented."
Aside from considering each individual restaurant's theme, Gallagher takes into account necessary ingredients, available staff and equipment and what will make each dish special when she plans menus.
"I think of it visually of what everything is going to look like once it's done and then kind of work backwards from there," she said. "What's the wow? There's always got to be a wow. It doesn't have to be the food necessarily, (…) sometimes it's a candy station, sometimes it's one item. We talk a lot about details and garnish and things like that."
Luckily, Gallagher knows how to cook for a crowd since she previously cooked for spa retreats and private schools, where she fed hundreds of picky kids everyday. She has also been a caterer and a wedding planner.
And with a degree from the Culinary Institute of America in New York City, she can turn food for 1,500 into a culinary experience.
"That has been my area of expertise anyway, is cooking for catered events and overall managing catered events, so how to order the food for that many people, how to design a menu for that many people, what volume you need for each thing and being able to write a menu based on our equipment and staff," she explained.
When she needs some inspiration, she turns to Asian recipes or finds ways to make a healthy version of a particular dish. Gallagher also likes to play with contrasting flavors, particularly sweet and tangy.
But, as a mom and a chef, Gallagher also likes to have fun in the kitchen. Fancy isn't her forte.
"I think what I'm good at is taking everything out of the fridge and making it up and figuring out what I can do best with that," Gallagher laughed. "I like to try new things all the time. I like to experiment."
And as it turns out, this is an excellent skill to have as a resort chef since no day is like another.
"That's what I love about my job," she said. "I say this to a lot of my team, if you ever walk in thinking you know what you're day is going to be then you're already done for. You have to know what you thought you were going to get done is probably not going to happen and it's not because I'm disorganized, it's because it's a fire putting out job."e