Passing the Spoon
Last summer, veteran Deer Valley Food and Beverage Director Julie Wilson retired, marking the end of a stellar career spanning more than three decades. In that time, Wilson played a key role in Deer Valley’s multiyear number-one rankings from the readers of SKI magazine and other organizations and influenced an industry-wide shift away from the typical burgers–fries–hot cocoa ski-resort fare. “Julie is the ultimate pro, and the fact that Deer Valley’s on-mountain dining has long been voted tops in the country is largely due to her attention to detail, not to mention her perfectionist palate,” says Linda Hayes, a longtime food and travel writer based in Aspen, Colorado. “I remember walking through the kitchen at Silver Lake Lodge with her or by the food stations up at Empire Canyon for Fireside Dining. All the while, she’d be respectfully but deliberately dipping a spoon into pots, swiping a nibble off a cutting board—tasting, tasting. That’s Julie.”
Wilson’s Deer Valley story began in 1981, the year the resort opened, when she was lured away from her post at Café Dejeuner, an upscale French restaurant in Salt Lake City, to take a position as manager of the then-fledgling Silver Lake Lodge restaurant. Her talent was recognized immediately. “It was never hard for me; I just did what I loved to do,” Wilson explains. In 1985 she ascended to the director position.
From modest beginnings, the gifted manager and chef steered Deer Valley Resort through a dizzying, 30-year culinary odyssey that saw her staff increase from 200 to 750. Under her watchful eye and guiding hand, the five-star resort opened several fine-dining restaurants, from the new Brass Tag Restaurant at the Lodges to the elegant Fireside Dining at Empire Canyon to the Royal Street Café in Silver Lake Village. The Mariposa, in Silver Lake Lodge, was named the best restaurant in Utah by the prestigious Zagat restaurant guide for “its masterful blend of classic and contemporary cuisine.”
Wilson says it’s been quite a ride. “The best thing about food and beverage is it’s a wonderfully challenging job, and you certainly never get bored,” she says. “Because of my culinary background, I was in the kitchen almost every day, side-by-side with my coworkers. The people I worked with are artistic and really outgoing people. That’s been a wonderful part of my experience at Deer Valley.”
She knew, however, when it was time to go. “In this business, you’re either in or you’re out,” she explains. “You can’t be a nine-to-fiver. I worked long days, six or seven days a week, for 30 years, and I loved it; it was my passion. I just finally got to the point that I wanted to spend more time with my family.”
Jodie Rogers, with Deer Valley for 19 years, replaces Wilson—shoes, Rogers says, that are big to fill. “Julie is a legend here at Deer Valley! I look at her not as a coworker, but as family. She was like a mom to me,” says the Australian transplant.
Wilson is bullish on her protégée. “Jodie is a wonderful friend and a very talented person,” she says. “It was time for her to move up the ladder and take it on. I’m so happy to see her doing that.”
The retired director admits it’s unusual to stay with any job more than 30 years. “It’s because Deer Valley cares about its employees, and it’s a great company to work for,” she says, noting there are several other 30-year veteran employees at the resort.
Her legacy will last, however, as will her presence. Wilson has transitioned into a consultant position with the resort. Among other duties, she’ll be working with former Empire Lodge chef Andrew Fletcher, who’s been named food and beverage director at nearby Solitude Mountain Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon (Deer Valley’s recent acquisition). “I’ll be helping him open new restaurants, advising on menus and wine pairings,” Wilson says. Other than some construction work to upgrade facilities, however, she says she doesn’t anticipate major food and beverage changes at Solitude, a seasoned resort beloved by locals.
As for Deer Valley’s food and beverage services, will Wilson’s departure mean changes on this side of the Wasatch? “Absolutely not,” insists Rogers. “Deer Valley’s restaurants are a well-oiled machine that I’m going to let run.”
Wilson says she’s looking forward to spending more time at home. “This was my first Christmas off in 35 years,” she says, “and I’m looking forward to my first Fourth of July family reunion in a very long time.”