There are moments of perfection that happen when something pure is left well enough alone. We see it in the natural balance of unskied bowls and old growth forests, and when hungry we see it in plates of lovingly prepared food.
Sitting lakeside at Cure Lounge & Patio at Nita Lake Lodge with a house-made charcuterie plate on an uncomplicated Whistler afternoon is the definition of the good life. The lounge, part of a trinity of the hotel's culinary pursuits that includes Aura Restaurant and Fix Café & Deli, was designed to complement a homegrown fresh beverage and food culture. Every one of the smoked, cured meats on the charcuterie platter is made on-site by Aura chef Owen Foster with input from chief of beverage Hailey Pasemko and executive chef Tim Cuff. It's playful - one of the salamis is made with Surly Blond, a big, Belgian-style beer brewed by Victoria's Philips Brewery. Another is infused with jalapenos and black garlic. There's smoke cured Fraser Valley duck breast, elk venison salami with blood orange, spicy dry capicola and a braised veal tongue that hints at tangy roast beef. Many of the meats arrive full bodied in the kitchen before being parceled, ground and infused with seasoning - much of which is grown in the hotel's rooftop gardens.
"You can take the same pork chop and with a grinder, some salt, a length of time and a drying room you can turn it into 14 different versions of that same cut of pig, it's pretty fun," said Foster, formerly of Mission Hill Family Estate Winery in Kelowna, Shangri-La Hotel in Vancouver and the Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler. "Light-handed would be a way to describe much of our menu, but charcuterie is definitely not light handed... it's a processing of food but it's a processing in a really archaic way - it's the purpose of something - it's to use the whole animal and to preserve it for a later day and in the process you get this amazing palate of change."
Served with a basket of house made bread, crostini and a number of relishes, chutneys and marinated vegetables, the charcuterie plate runs at $10 per person.
Cure's food menu is not the only thing that's infused with all that's grown on the hotel roof's extensive sky high network of vegetables and herbs. Drink director Pasemko planted 28 herbal varieties to beef up her cocktail roster, which includes homemade bitters, syrups and infusions (though she also does classic recipes for those who prefer them). Working closely with Foster and Cuff, Pasemko, who cut her teeth at the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino and Stage and Café Brio in Victoria, helps guide pairings to ensure each guest's meal is properly accentuated with the right martini, wine, beer or spirit.
Cure's menu is light and a good introduction to what's available at Aura - a traditional European restaurant that bases its menu around seasonal vegetables, weekly herbal blooms and whatever delectable fantasy came to Foster's mind while wending through the garden.
"Unlike other restaurants where meat becomes your focal point and everything else is complementary to the meat, for us it's the other way around," said Nita Lake's new owner, Ram Tumuluri, who owns a chain of Ayurvedic spas in India, South Africa and Germany. "It's what we can get vegetables-wise and everything else is to complement. So the meats that you see are complement to the vegetables that we get during the season, so it's a different approach to the meal and the portions are smaller and it's more interactive and it's more visual and it's about creating and enjoying it."
Foster's simple salad of Dungeness crab marinated in a slack tarragon and celery vinegar served with scallops, heirloom carrots, tomatoes, radishes and tiny sprouted lettuces was summer on a plate and a hyper-local example of what Aura and Cure do best - allow their base ingredients to shine, rather than drown in heavy dressing. The salad was followed by the brined loin of lamb and Okanagan-raised flat ironed beef finished with fresh garden thyme and served on green pea puree with Pemberton roast potatoes, roast whole mushrooms, Nava turnips, fresh chick peas, roasted pearl onions and jade and watermelon radishes - another example of well balanced flavours that support, rather than overwhelm one another.
"There is definitely an outcry from people who want to see this kind of food and I love doing it, personally," said Foster, who has had the same culinary staff since opening Aura last year (a relatively rare phenomenon that points to a collaborative, satisfied mind-set in the kitchen). "It's genuinely more fun and usually when you're having more fun the food ends up being better."
Aura offers a year-round, three-course special for $49 (and if you're local, ask about a discount). Though the lodge's esthetic is sophisticated, no dress code is required.
Tumuluri said Nita Lake Lodge aims to grow 80 per cent of its vegetables within three years, something that will be possible with a geo-thermally heated greenhouse to get them through the winter months. The lodge is also designing an aquaponic component to raise its own fish.
For more information, go to www.nitalakelodge.com.
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