Travel Tips

Rocky Mountaineer: Train Travel for Foodies

mountaineerOne of the best ways to cover a lot of ground and take in the scenery is by riding the rails. Contributing writer Lilit Marcus shares a train trip she recently discovered: The Rocky Mountaineer. While travelers don’t sleep on the train overnight, this Canadian train line takes you through from Seattle into the Rockies, and, as a bonus, chefs manage to serve exceptional food prepared in tiny spaces while on the move. Read on to discover more about her experience as well as a recipe for one of her favorite dishes. 

The Rocky Mountaineer is one of those iconic trains, like the Orient Express or the Trans-Siberian Railroad, that any transit geek has on her bucket list. But unlike the other trains, the short routes (two or three days through the wild beauty of Western Canada) make the Rocky Mountaineer ideal for a train novice.

Unlike some other long-distance train routes, Rocky Mountaineer trains don’t offer sleeping berths. Instead, you do your travel during the day and stay (more like crash) in hotels at night. This is good news for people who want to be somewhat more independent—and it’s even better news for Internet addicts who don’t want to go entire days without checking their email. Some of the train’s cars have outlets for people who want to work or watch DVDs on their laptops, but there’s zero WiFi and limited cell service thanks to the remote areas traveled.

chefsAs they say, the journey is the destination, and Rocky Mountaineer fulfills that ethos beautifully. The hosts, who serve food and drinks on board the train, are also trained in storytelling along the way and point out the significance of various landmarks. But there’s also plenty of time to sit and take in the sprawling, beautiful scenery, which includes the plains and Rockies. If the Rocky Mountaineer is a bucket list item for you, then it’s worth investing in the most-expensive GoldLeaf level, if only for the food. Chefs prepare fresh, original meals from mushroom soup to poached eggs to baked salmon daily in a kitchen on a moving train car. How has this not been a Top Chef challenge yet?

Executive Chefs Frederic Couton (left) and Jean Pierre Guerin have helped develop the company’s food philosophy. They source healthy ingredients from local vendors throughout Canada, with an emphasis on British Columbia and Alberta, the provinces that the train goes through. Don’t be surprised to see Montreal-style smoked meats, Northwestern spotted prawns, Spring Island mussels, and other Canadian delicacies utilized on the menu. Because of dietary restrictions, chefs prepare three choices—including at least one vegetarian option—for every meal. There are usually two meals per day served on the Gold Leaf car, with snacks in between like wine and cheese.

GoldLeaf Breakfast 005But there’s more to think about in a tiny train kitchen than just where the food comes from. Every single dish, from breakfast to dessert, must pass a “jiggle test.” This means that every food item has to be put on a plate and then shaken to see if it could withstand a possible bumpy turn. For desserts, where cakes can rise high, this is a particularly fun challenge for chefs. Sometimes taller dishes will be sliced in half and served as two smaller, more jiggle-proof parts. But the conditions are perfect for crème brulee, tarts, pies, and mousse.

Although Rocky Mountaineer foodies can purchase a copy of the company’s official Eat, Play, Love cookbook on-board, they aren’t sold elsewhere. However, the company gave us permission to post one of its tastiest and most delicious recipes right here for your enjoyment. If you live in an urban studio apartment with a postage stamp-sized kitchen, a college dorm with a communal kitchen, or any place with a limited amount of space, you can be certain that these recipes don’t require tons of room. If you have a giant kitchen with tons of counter space, they taste equally delicious there as well.

In this recipe, a time-consuming “risotto” gets a Rocky Mountaineer spin by being made of barley, instead of rice. Like many Rocky Mountaineer recipes, part of it can be prepared in advance to save cooking time.

barley risotto

Creamy Canadian Barley Risotto

Serves 4

Ingredients for Barley Risotto

2 litres (8.5 cups) vegetable stock

454 grams (2 cups) dry organic barley

240 g (1 cup) shimeji (oyster) mushrooms

30 mL (2 tbsp) extra virgin olive oil

450 mL (2 cups) 33 percent heavy cream

7 g (1.5 tsp) ground pepper

120 g (1/2 cup) grated Parmesan cheese

Coarse salt to taste

Bring the stock to a boil in a large pot, add barley, and season with salt. Simmer on low to medium heat for two hours or until the barley has become soft. Add water during the cooking process if the liquid evaporates too quickly.

Strain the barley using a colander. Discard the cooking liquid, then put the cooked barley back in the pot and set aside.

Wash and trim the mushrooms, then saute them in olive oil and season. Cook the mushrooms for about five minutes, then transfer them to the pot containing the barley. Add the cream and simmer the barley at a very low heat until the mixture has become thick and creamy. Remove from heat and add Parmesan. Check seasoning and serve immediately.

Ingredients for Garlic, Parsley, and Olive Oil Emulsion

2 garlic cloves, peeled

90 mL (1/2 cup) extra virgin olive oil

30 mL (2 tbsp) lemon juice

60 g (1/4 cup) fresh parsley, trimmed

Fine sea salt to taste

Place all the ingredients in a high-speed blender. Blend on a high speed until very smooth. Refrigerate.


Spoon the risotto into the center of a soup plate. Drizzle some garlic, parsley, and olive oil emulsion on top and finish with shaved Parmesan. Garnish with seasoned micro greens.

For more information about train travel, check out:

By Lilit Marcus for Peter Marcus is a New York City-based travel writer and tea addict. Her first book, Save the Assistants, was published by Hyperion. You can also look for her work in the Wall Street JournalTeen Vogue, and The Forward. You can find her on Twitter @lilitmarcus.