At a place like The Fairmont Chateau Whistler, fruits with blemishes aren’t fit to be set out for buffets or placed on diners’ plates. And even with the fruit that does make the cut, there are leftovers — strawberry stems, for instance, with a bit of berry left on them.
These may seem like damaged goods and remnants, but they’re perfect for creating vinegars — and that’s just what the luxury hotel is doing with them.
“The interest for me is looking at the dish and seeing how far back I can go to take care of whatever ingredients are going into it,” said Jason Mitchell, sous chef at The Fairmont Chateau Whistler.
In the past, he had used fruits and herbs to infuse vinegars, but it wasn’t until last summer that he began fermenting from scratch at the hotel, crafting completely custom-made creations that can go from rooftop garden to tonight’s menu.
Along with his desire to get as close to the root as possible in creating his meals, Mitchell wanted to reduce waste.
“Take the pineapple, for example,” he says. “You have a core you cut out of a pineapple, and there’s really nothing else to do with it — you can’t make it into a compote, but it’s the perfect element to make vinegar from. It’s a bonus product; for just the cost of a little bit of sugar and water, you can turn it into a nice pineapple vinegar.”
Visitors of the Fairmont are the beneficiaries of his kitchen experiment, enjoying vinegars created from strawberries, pineapples, plums, nectarines, pears, cherries, lemons, and grapefruit. These house-made vinegars are primarily used as the base for salad dressings. Unlike many specialty fruit vinegars that often taste more like just plain vinegar, these have an intense fruit flavor that balances nicely with the vinegar.
While you may have to make a trip to British Columbia to enjoy Mitchell’s concoctions, you don’t have to be a sous chef to try making your own.
“I encourage people to try it at home because it’s a simple process that you get a great product from, and it’s surprising how easy it is really,” Mitchell says.
Creating Your Own Fruit Vinegar
Ready to try it yourself? Here’s how it works, according to Mitchell:
Start with fruit that has no mold or rotten spots, then rough chop it up or mash it. For every 1 part of fruit mix you have, use 2 parts of water, and for every quart of water, add a quarter cup of sugar.
Mix everything together and put it into a non–stainless steel container — plastic or glass are great. Cover the container with cheesecloth to keep out flies and set it in a warm area. (Fruit flies will appear throughout the fermentation process; to keep them at bay, put plain white vinegar next to your fermenting vinegar, and they’ll collect there instead.)
Give the mixture a stir every day, which prevents mold from forming. After about 10 days, you’ll see it start to fizz — that’s the natural fermentation process.
Next, strain the mixture through a sieve, discard the solids, and re-cover it with the cheesecloth. Let it sit for about a month to six weeks. (You no longer need to stir it every day.) Check it regularly during this time to monitor its progress. You can speed up the process by adding a couple of ounces of cider vinegar, or just let nature take its course.
You’ll start to get a film on the top that looks like rubbery plastic, which you want. After four to six weeks, you should have a nice clear vinegar on top that you can strain off. From there, you can dilute that vinegar with a little water. If you want it more concentrated, bring it to a boil and adjust the acidity by adding sugar or honey. Then, strain it and bring it to a boil to make sure there are no contaminants. Keep it in the refrigerator to enjoy later.