This iconic Western Canadian castle is home to a dozen kitchens and some serious culinary care.

fairmont banff springs

Over the course of its 124-year history, the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel has garnered a few lofty nicknames. It’s the crown jewel of the Rockies, the grand dame of Banff, Alberta’s castle. But to executive chef JW Foster, the iconic beauty of the Springs is less meaningful than the practical gifts it offers: it’s the ultimate teaching hotel. Certainly, the chef—who arrived two years ago via similar Fairmont posts in Dallas, San Francisco and at Shanghai’s famed art deco Peace Hotel—wholly appreciates the storied heritage and dramatic aesthetic of this “bucket-list destination,” as he calls it, but to him, it’s what goes on in and comes out of the hotel’s numerous immense kitchens that gives the place its singular charm and substance.

With so many moving parts—the hotel’s 12 kitchens not only serve a dozen restaurants, myriad banquets and around-the-clock room service requests, but are also home to a stand-alone butchery where whole cows are butchered and dry-aged; a bakery that makes hundreds of petits fours, pastries, chocolate bars and loaves of bread from scratch every day; and a robust intern program that turns out rigorously trained chefs—it’s little wonder that Foster readily admits to a general behind-the-scenes atmosphere of “controlled chaos.” In addition to the 100-plus-strong army of chefs on staff, Foster oversees a roster of apprentices from schools across the country. The interns are immediately consigned to chop, pickle, skin salmon, et cetera, rather than simply being told what to do—that, says Foster, “is how we create strong, dedicated leaders—chefs who are accountable and innovative.” Not to mention that “all hands on deck” is pretty much an imperative with upwards of 5,000 meals going out the kitchen doors on a busy day.

But it’s no exercise in nostalgia. Over the past two years, Foster has shaken up the old Banffshire Club—it’s now the 1888 Chop House—reinvented Grapes Restaurant, forged new relationships with small farms, ranchers and cheesemongers from across the country, and brought in Vancouver chef Vikram Vij to help create a seasonal Indian menu. The result is not only buzzing kitchens full of skillful young chefs but, more important to the rest of us, a dining experience that doesn’t seem so hotel-like.

Make some of our favourite dishes from the Banff Springs right at home:Tossed Green Fennel SaladSmoked Honey BBQ SauceVeal SchnitzelHoney Ginseng MuleThe Ultimate Butter Chicken

Click Below to Launch Our Food Tour of This Culinary Castle

In a 764-room, often sold-out hotel full of guests invited to order from an extensive room-service menu around the clock, things can get a little hot in the kitchen. Executive Chef JW Foster says they can send 250 to 300 meals up to the rooms at peak periods. €œWe like to put certain restaurant items on the menu to give the guest a chance to have the same experience in their rooms.€

Twice every day, Foster meets with several of the kitchens€™ key staff in his quest to keep communication lines open and all levels of food service in the various restaurants and, often, multiple weddings and other banquets, on track. Democratically, Foster refers to sous-chefs, sauciers and interns alike as €œchefs.€ €œThat's what they€™re training for€”it's the job they€™re already doing,€ he says.

JW Foster has headed up the formidable Springs kitchens for three years. He's devoted to celebrating Alberta's bounty and serving it up with innovation and, most of all, deliciousness. €œHow could anyone not be proud to work here?€ he says. €œThis hotel is an icon of Canada.€ A tattoo on his right forearm, inspired by a Thoreau quote his late father was fond of repeating, sums up both Foster's passion for food and his relentless drive: €œSuck out all the marrow of life.€

The Fairmont kitchens work closely with Alberta growers such as Lethbridge's Sudo Farms and Coaldale's Leffers Organics. Even closer to home, they recently put in their own 10-foot-by-20-foot greenhouse and herb-and-vegetable garden, maintained by the apprentices, on part of the hotel roof. Get the recipe at

Last summer, chef Tyler Thompson was asked to usher a new concept into the tired old space in the hotel that would pivot on his mad pickling, jarring, curing and preserving skills honed at Ontario's lauded locovore mother ship, Eigensinn Farm. He took the concept and ran with it: Grapes Wine Bar features no standard charcuterie fare€”or, perhaps more precisely, this is the best of standard old-timey hand-crafted slow-food fare, and then some.

Chef Tyler Thompson’s mandate is to cultivate skills among his staff for €œworking with the seasons, shopping local and preserving to make something new, interesting and delicious.€ With that in mind, he and his crew labour over cauldrons of boiling water for several hours a week, processing small batches of local ramps, mustard, asparagus, beans, full kosher pickles and beets. While Thompson would prefer his sealed delicacies stay under wraps for six or more months, his customers aren€™t so patient: Grapes goes through 25 to 30 jars a week of preserved fruit and veg, with dills consumed within a week of canning and, following an enforced jar-time of three months, everything else is gone within days of appearing on the shelf behind the bar.

The pickles are served with meats dry-aged in the hotel butchery and cheeses from small farms from across the country€”many of which are, says the chef, €œsourced from cheesemongers who don€™t sell to many other restaurants in this part of the world.€

If you enter unprepared, the scene in the Fairmont's butchery can be a little unsettling. For instance, on any given day, a whole bison or beef carcass might be hanging to dry in the refrigerator while head butcher Kyle Hobbs and his staff stand huddled like a surgical team over a massive slab of cow on the sterile table. Hobbs is trained in the art of precision butchering with an eye to unusual cuts, such as 1888's signature 40-ounce Tomahawk rib-eye ($138), meant for sharing and served family-style. €œMost hotels don€™t have their own butchery, but it's extremely important for a teaching hotel,€ says Chef Foster. €œIt's about going back to our roots, knowing the farms and purveyors and really being aware of where our food comes from.€

In addition to sourcing fish from Rocky Mountain Trout Farm, Foster brings in artisan beef from Alberta's Brant Lake Wagyu and Prairie Heritage Farms and whole animals including pigs, goats, lambs and bison from other producers. €œThese young chefs need to see, touch and feel the animal.€

Executive pastry chef Mark Burton's job sounds made up by a five-year-old: he invents chocolate bars. Not only that, but he churns the chocolate and sprinkles pink peppercorns and dried strawberry flakes (for instance) onto it himself before wrapping the bars in gold foil and fancy paper that he signs and dates.

Of course, Burton's coveted bars are only a fraction of the sweet story being written in the hotel's bakery 365 days a year. The chef and his staff of 22 (including three interns) handcraft more than 800 tiny chocolates a month, which guests are treated to for turndown service or served with coffee after dinner at the Chop House. They also supply pastries and bread to a total of 16 restaurants and kitchens in the hotel, produce upwards of 27,000 cookies every Christmas and bake 70 loaves of sourdough, 25 baguettes, 120 cinnamon buns and 150 croissants every week for Banff's Wednesday farmers€™ market. (Downtown at 10 a.m.; get there early. You€™ve been warned.)

In a room off to the side of the main bakery there's a mini-sweets factory where the handmade chocolate bars are made, wrapped and signed by the chef responsible for their decadent creation.

Most of the Springs restaurants are found within her granite confines, but the Tyrolean-inspired Waldhaus Restaurant looks like it was plucked from the Swiss Alps and placed on a bluff between the hotel and Bow Falls. It's a short hike down (it seems longer going back up) but upon entering you€™re transported to a world of venison, fondue and, of course€‰.€‰.€‰. schnitzel.

Make the Spring’s Veal Schnitzel at home… we’ve got the recipe on our recipe finder.

The oldest bottle is from the legendary 1961 Bordeaux vintage; the most expensive bottle will set you back a cool $5,600. The most impressive wine in the hotel's industrial-sized cellar? Probably the one you€™re sipping alongside a small plate of smoked pork belly, as skillfully recommended by one of more than two dozen servers with either WSET or ISG wine certification. Laurent Pelletier is head sommelier at the Springs (two other staff share his rarefied Level 3 certification); he estimates there are 3,000 bottles with 850 labels in 1888 Chop House alone, with another 7,000 bottles aging in the cellar.