New Chef at Holiday Valley
Head Chef Chris Ottena Brings a Banquet Background
Story and Photo By John Thomas
The new Executive Chef at Holiday Valley, Chris Ottena has an extensive background in banquet service. As we talk in the Ullr Bar in the Holiday Valley main lodge, with the Bee Gees singing in the background, he tells me about his culinary education. Unlike many chefs who lean their craft working the line in restaurants, Chef Ottena honed his skills working in cafeteria settings. Starting in high school, he began his career in fast food chains; Burger King and the like. Attending Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania he cooked in the student union. He says he became “like a sponge,” absorbing as much mass cooking techniques as he could. “There were two of us, and we’d serve 1200 kids per meal.” From there he worked for Eden Park Hospitality Group at Allegany College in Meadville PA. He worked all their catered events, weddings and banquet functions. From there he took his first Executive Chef role at the Chautauqua Institution. “We’d have kids from all over the world stay there for nine weeks, all kinds of groups.”
It was at Mercyhurst where he began to develop what he calls his “flavor profiles.” That is recipes from various regions in the world. “They called it ‘Hemisflavors,’ one week we would do Sicily, the next week we would do the Pacific Rim, one week Mexico, one week Cuba.” As far as a favorite cuisine goes, he says it’s a tossup but admits to a preference for Cuban, Spanish or even Asian. In between the institutional jobs, he worked in more standard restaurants. Working in an Italian place, the chef discovered his favorite style of cooking: sauté. “I love the speed of it. I’d run like nine burners, so I had nine sauté pans, sauces in front of me, noodles down below, just go; boom, boom, boom.”
As to what skiers might expect to see in the food at the lodges; for now, Chef Chris’ emphasis will be on maintaining quality. “We’re just making sure the quality is good, the quality of the burgers, the quality of the fries. Making sure they are getting a good quality product, seasoned well.” He tells me about an entrée he featured at the Valley a week ago. “I marinated it (a strip loin) overnight in a roasted red pepper basil pesto sauce. It was so good!” He says, looking as though he can still taste it. Then he drops a hint about some possible unique items he may bring to the service there. They included a dessert pizza “It was a stuffed s’mores pizza with melted marshmallows and caramel and chocolate drizzle over the top. People love it!” He went on to say he might bring a few of those Cuban flavors to the pizzas at the Valley.
With a talented chef like Chris Ottena at Holiday Valley, skiers will have to spend a bit more time on the slopes, working off all that great food.