What do wild mushrooms, elderflower, and spruce tips have in common? They’re all edible, locally foraged foods found around the Whistler Mountain area. And this is only a small taste of what is literally ripe for the picking here. With lesser-known indigenous ingredients combined with a thriving farming community, there has never been a better (tasting) time to eat sustainably and locally in Canada’s premier ski resort town, Whistler, British Columbia.
This ski town’s dining scene has come a long way since the resort first opened in 1966, leaving its original no-frills food far behind and paving a new Pacific Northwest Canadian path. With a strong emphasis on local produce and B.C. wines, Whistler’s close proximity to Pemberton, a fertile farming valley 25 minutes north, has made it easy for chefs to work with local farmers to create dishes featuring spectacular homegrown ingredients. There are three Whistler restaurants (along with their wine programs) that have raised the bar in terms of supporting and defining a Pacific Northwest cuisine: Araxi, Bearfoot Bistro and Alta Bistro.
Executive chef James Walt has long been an early pioneer of sourcing local produce, a concept he introduced and championed not only at his world famous restaurant Araxi, but across the country with his two award-winning cookbooks. Keeping his menus exclusively seasonal, he now collaborates with over a dozen farmers, ranchers, and fisheries to create his dishes and serve at his food events, such as his summer longtable series. From Rootdown Farm organic greens to Pemberton radishes, B.C. wild salmon, and albacore tuna, to Farmcrest organic chicken, Walt’s use of ingredients is thoughtful, expertly executed and a true reflection of the terroir. Walt’s exceptional food is only matched by the restaurant’s well-curated wine list, the work of sommelier Samantha Rahn who has curated a collection of over 11,000 bottles of both local and international wines. Araxi’s cellar is considered one of the best in the province.
You like dessert? Join us tomorrow night, Friday November 17th at 9:30pm, for Executive Pastry Chef Dominic Fortin’s 4-course Dessert Tasting in our wine cellar. The tasting menu will be perfectly paired with a special selection of wines from our collection. Tickets available at whistlercornucopia.com @cacaobarryofficial @cornucopiawhistler #cornucopia2017 #whistler
Based on what’s in season, chef Melissa Craig of Bearfoot Bistro combines familiar flavors with new techniques for a totally unique menu that puts local meat, vegetables, and seafood in the spotlight. Since her menu also changes seasonally, there’s always a rotation of ingredients, but Pemberton beets and potatoes, Paradise Valley pork, West Coast rockfish, and oysters are items you’ll likely see.
“It’s about simplicity and sophistication”, says Craig. “If I have a perfect heirloom tomato, I’m not going to mess with it. When the fish is so fresh, why wouldn’t I serve it raw? But I also want an element of surprise—a familiar plate that tells a new story, an invitation on a culinary journey. I love that the atmosphere here [at Barefoot Bistro] is so unique; it’s what makes the dining experience exciting for our guests. And I love that I have the freedom to do whatever I want in the kitchen.”
As for their wine program headed by renowned expert André Saint-Jacques and managed by Bearfoot Bistro Wine Director, Luc Trottier, you could say this team knows to have a good time—a quick online search of the restaurant and chances are you’ll come across a slew of photos of Saint-Jacques sabering bottles of Champagne. He was the visionary behind the restaurant and is also a wine collector, champagne expert and all-around bon vivant. As for Trotter, this is his dream job. “To take over that wine list and that cellar. It’s mind-blowing”, he says. Mind-blowing indeed; with over 20,000 bottles, this collection is the largest restaurant wine cellar in British Columbia. Thankfully, British Columbian wines don’t get lost in the sea of international wines and Champagnes—there is a substantial focus on the bounties of local winemakers.
Food for Thought
Going strong for seven years now, Alta Bistro has always been a restaurant that stuck to its guns. When co-owners Eric Griffith and Edward Dangerfield came up with the concept for Alta, they wanted to focus on sustainability, locally sourced produce, products, and ingredients, and have a carefully curated but modest wine list. Although at that time this philosophy was not necessarily the direction du jour in Whistler, they persevered and are now mainstays of the new norm. This is how not only restaurateurs and chefs want to operate and cook, but how customers and food lovers want to eat.
Australian born chef Nick Cassettari happens to be the perfect fit for Alta, arriving in the ski town a decade ago with a resume that included restaurants in Sydney and London. Starting off at Araxi under James Walt, Cassettari knew that this was the direction he wanted to take his food. With a menu full of creative dishes and an inspired use of ingredients (not to mention house-made preserves, cheeses, sourdough bread and condiments), the idea was to make what’s in season stand out, whether it be Haida Gwaii kelp, BC snapper, Squamish Valley lamb, Sydney Island venison or Okanagan cherries. Cassettari is serious about celebrating the season and region on his plates.
“Being able to use food hand-delivered from a farm down the road or foraging wild ingredients is so much more exciting than opening up a Styrofoam box that has traveled halfway across the world. I am very fortunate to have relationships with a few farmers in the area that have been able to customize their product list for us so that we are getting exactly what we want with no waste on either end and every year the list keeps getting bigger.”
And if you ask Cassettari what his favorite local ingredient to use is, his answer might surprise you.
“Helmer’s Farm Potatoes. They are always on our menu and I don’t think I will ever tire of using them. Mushrooms also are on the top of the list also as you just never know when, what kind or how many you will get. Pacific Northwest oysters and stone fruit from the Okanagan area pretty hard to beat too.”
From a small, ski-bum town with a single chairlift and steakhouse to one of the world’s top vacation destinations where the cuisine can compete with the views, Whistler’s dining scene is a (local!) force to be reckoned with.