Percy Whatley serves as corporate chef for the western region of Delaware North Parks & Resorts, as well as executive chef of The Ahwahnee, Yosemite National Park’s AAA four-diamond, historic national landmark hotel. Delaware North operates The Ahwahnee and other lodging and visitor services at Yosemite under a contract with the National Park Service.
Whatley, named to the corporate chef position in August 2010, oversees aspects of food production along with human resource recruitment, training and professional development for Delaware North’s culinary operations at Yosemite National Park, Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite and Wuksachi Lodge at Sequoia National Park.
At The Ahwahnee, where Whatley has served as executive chef since 2005, his menus reflect the best in California’s seasonal produce, sometimes drawing inspiration from Italian, Middle- Eastern and Asian culinary styles and techniques. He has strong relationships with regional farmers to procure local and organic ingredients.
He also oversees culinary operations for several major annual events at The Ahwahnee.
For more than 25 years, The Ahwahnee has played host to more than 30 winemakers and multiple tasting moderators, all leaders in the wine industry, during Vintners’ Holidays, an annual, four-week event held in the fall. Whatley is responsible for writing menus for the gala dinner, pairing courses according to the wines each vintner is highlighting. This unique style of wine and food pairing is reversed so that Whatley creates a menu around the individual flavor profiles of each presenting wine. Whatley uses his extensive knowledge of viticulture to complement the subtleties of each wine with unique California cuisine.
Since the first Christmas at The Ahwahnee in 1927, The Bracebridge Dinner has been heralded as a Yosemite institution. A 17th century English holiday musical pageant featuring The Andrea Fulton Chorale is intertwined with Whatley’s seven-course, themed menu via a procession-style service for 350 people.
Each January, The Ahwahnee hosts its annual Chefs’ Holidays event with 24 guest chefs from around the country. Guest Chefs have included James Beard Award winners and nominees, “Top Chef” contestants, “Next Iron Chef” contestants, and Food & Wine magazine Best New Chefs,
among others. Whatley plays host to these chefs, aiding them in executing culinary demonstrations and a five-course gala dinner for up to 250 people.
Under the guidance of Delaware North Corporate Chef Roland Henin, a certified master chef, Whatley passed the distinguished ProChef Level III exam proctored by The Culinary Institute of America to obtain dual certification – for both ProChef Level III and as a certified executive chef.
Twice Whatley has been selected as a semi-finalist for the prestigious Bocuse d’Or USA competition, which identifies an American team of chefs to compete for the United States in the prestigious Bocuse d’Or World Cuisine Contest in Lyon, France. The U.S. competition takes place before a live audience with semi-finalists being judged on taste, presentation and kitchen organization. In 2010, Whatley received the coveted Best Meat Presentation award.
Initially arriving in Yosemite in 1989, Whatley’s culinary career began as a cook at the hamburger stand in Curry Village, site of the park’s first lodging facilities dating back to 1899. He used Yosemite’s seasonal employment opportunities while earning an associate’s degree in business management from The College of the Redwoods in Eureka, Calif. He returned to Yosemite full time in 1994 to work at The Ahwahnee, holding multiple kitchen positions, including chef de partie.
In 1997, Whatley graduated with honors from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Soon thereafter, he returned to The Ahwahnee as sous chef, honing his creative skills by developing special entrées and appetizers for the cultured palates of Ahwahnee guests.
In 1999, Whatley became the executive chef at the Wawona Hotel near the south entrance of Yosemite. In 2002, Whatley assumed expanded responsibility for all aspects of food production, dining room service and catering at the Wawona Hotel, including elaborate weddings, banquets and lawn barbecues. His wine and food pairing expertise became significantly enhanced when he was also assigned a major role in the selection of the hotel’s wines.
Whatley returned to The Ahwahnee for a third term in the fall of 2003 as the interim food and beverage manager. He soon accepted the position of executive sous chef and began the use of organic and sustainable ingredients, which allowed him to be a major contributor to Delaware North’s GreenPath® environmental management program.
Check out his Delaware North Yosemite Chef Profile here
Read Chef Percy’s blog about the road to becoming a certified master chef.