News for the Hospitality Executive
Resort Vail Under the Leadership of General Manager
Hans Willimann and the Executive Chef Jason Harrison
August 25, 2010 - Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is set to expand its
Rocky Mountain collection with the opening of its newest property: Four
Seasons Resort Vail. Located in the alpine community of Vail Village, the
resort is scheduled to open this December under the leadership of General
Manager Hans Willimann and the culinary expertise of Executive Chef Jason
Harrison. The 121-room resort, which also includes a Residence Club and
Private Residences, features an 11,000 square-foot, spa focusing on high-altitude
therapies, an all-season, outdoor pool, and a full-service, dedicated Ski
Concierge to ensure guests maximize their time on the slopes.
“Detail is the most important thing in whatever I do. I try to see
Arriving in Vail was like returning home for the 31-year Four Seasons veteran. Raised in Zurich, he fell for alpine skiing as a youngster, schussing down the slopes of Northern Italy and Switzerland. He also developed an early passion for good living courtesy of his father, a bakery owner with a thing for fine restaurants. “I loved snail and ox tongue, as well as quail, pheasant and venison from my father’s hunting trips,” he recalls. “Grandfather owned a cheese shop. I guess that’s where I learned that the smellier the cheese, the better.”
There was travel, too, and plenty of it: with his brother through Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, North Africa and South America, and in the Alps during compulsory Swiss military service. Stationed in Thun, Willimann ran mobile bakeries, moving fresh bread and butchered beef through the mountains – a plum assignment for a future hotelier. And yet he never saw his calling as a career: “I simply wanted the best job in the world – to be a GM.”
After joining Four Seasons in Toronto, Willimann took a long, flat road to the Rockies, including a 20-year stopover as general manager of Four Seasons Hotel Chicago. In a convention-geared market, he created a standout, inspiring a wholesome atmosphere through which employees delivered world-renowned service. Upon his departure in 2009, Willimann had retained a stunning 45% of his original staff while earning a reputation for community involvement that had him known affectionately as Mayor of Chicago.
Willimann is overseeing a world of considerations in Vail, from a menu of restorative dishes at Flame Restaurant to a four-storey, full-service Ski Concierge next to the slopes. Though he may curtail his usual 20+ days of skiing in the coming years, nothing will keep him off Vail Mountain: “When the sun is shining and the groomers are rolling, I’m going to rock.”
“I learned the value of local ingredients in the Canadian Rockies.
It’s not easy to find
Actually, Harrison’s passion started on the playing fields of Ottawa. A “team sports fanatic” who’s into hockey and football, he fell for the fast pace and comparable camaraderie of the kitchen at a young age. At a superior’s encouragement, Harrison enrolled in culinary school and focused his talents on hands-on cooking. “It’s rare to find a kitchen that puts attention into every detail. I’ve spent my career seeking hotel restaurants that do the same.”
And so Harrison’s career path progressed from one highly rated kitchen to the next, with postings in St. Louis, Atlanta, New Brunswick and the Canadian Rockies. His most recent assignment as Executive Banquet Chef cooking à la minute in Las Vegas seemed to embody every element of his career. “Vegas is the most competitive place you’ll ever live – if you’re doing something best, everyone will try to top you,” he says, noting that creating 5-diamond-level dishes for 3,000 is no easy task. “You have to be creative to pull that off. I’ve learned to adapt challenging culinary concepts by making them functional.”
Vail has a lot of room for Harrison to flex his talent. His goal is to create seasonal menus with product grown within 100 miles of the hotel, including regular chef’s tables plucked from a farmers market down the road. Après skiers reinvigorate with bite-sized, stick-to-their-ribs appetizers like foie gras sliders, while Flame Restaurant delivers the steakhouse concept with just enough inspiration from the peaks outside. “In a small town like Vail, it’s important to consider what the locals like, but I can’t serve elk, bison and caribou every day. International travellers want dishes they recognize, and that’s Four Seasons comfort food.”
Heading east has opened up a lot of possibilities for Harrison beyond the kitchen. Look for him on defense on the local recreational hockey league, as well as careening down the slopes with confidence.
|Also See:||Black Diamond Resorts-Vail LLC Breaks Ground on $200 million Four Seasons Resort and Residences in Vail, Colorado, Includes 120 Hotel Rooms, 16 Private Residences and 19 Fractional Units / December 2005|