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New kids on the block

Meet the latest additions to Whistler's fine-dining scene

While the restaurant world in general is always in flux, with openings and closures the one constant in most cities, Whistler’s fine dining scene has mostly resisted the same level of change.

So, when a new player emerges, heads tend to turn, as they did late last summer when Wild Blue first opened its doors, called one of the most important restaurant openings in Whistler in a decade.

But the seafood-focused restaurant adjacent to the Aava Hotel isn’t the only new kid on the fine-dining block. In the fall of 2021, Vancouver institution Joe Fortes brought its classic chophouse vibes to the resort, and since then, has been putting its own ski-town spin on a winning formula that goes back four decades.

Meanwhile, over at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, the luxury hotel has a new executive chef at the helm, who brings a wealth of varied experience and a down-home approach that speaks directly to his Maritime roots.


Despite being the newest entry into Whistler’s fine-dining scene, there is a who’s who of familiar faces behind Wild Blue, a seafood-focused restaurant specializing in elevated Pacific Northwest cuisine.

BC Restaurant Hall of Famer Jack Evrensel, the founder of Whistler’s longest-running fine-dining spot, Araxi, brings his decades of expertise and business savvy to the venture, tapping former Araxi acolyte Neil Henderson to be Wild Blue’s partner and restaurant director, and Derek Bendig, the former Fairmont Chateau head chef who brings with him a penchant for locally sourced, sustainable ingredients, to serve as executive chef. Dedicated Vancouver foodies will recognize another name as well: Wild Blue’s partner-chef and Vancouver Magazine’s 2018 Chef of the Year, Alex Chen.

The venue is worth all the hype: an elegant, sophisticated room, with elements of blue throughout. It’s on the edge of the main Village, tucked away near the Aava Hotel.

Wild Blue’s menu combines top-shelf local and regional ingredients with a coastal flair inspired by three vastly different cuisines.

“Essentially, we’re trying to highlight coastal cuisine through three major influences: the Japanese coast, the Italian coast and the French coast—but with Pacific Northwest ingredients,” explains Bendig. “That’s the underlying concept that we’re following and, that being said, we do it all in an impeccable space with impeccable service.”

There’s plenty of versatility on the menu that exemplifies Wild Blue’s tri-coastal influences. A favourite of Bendig’s is the delicate sablefish, served with turnip, radish, maitake mushrooms and a sesame crisp, along with a roasted fishbone sauce made with Japanese bonito flakes that give you a smoky umami punch.

“It’s a stellar dish,” Bendig says. “It’s got a little bit of sweetness and a lot of savouriness, with the butteriness of the sablefish paired with a nice marinade that chars up really nice when you cook it down.”

Other favourites include the octopus, which transports you to the southern Italian coast, served with Nduja sausage and Calabrian chilies, chickpeas and braised squid ink; or the Provençal soup prepared in the classic French style, utilizing rockfish from the B.C. coast.

“We have pretty different preparations and techniques to make these things, but the menu allows us to highlight these different regions while at the same time showcasing them with the ingredients we find and love here in British Columbia,” Bendig adds.


You could be forgiven for thinking Joe Fortes would simply replicate the formula that has worked for more than 40 years at their iconic downtown Vancouver seafood and chophouse, at the Whistler location it opened in August 2021. And while the staples that Fortes is known for—large portions, classic cocktails, service that goes above and beyond, and a lively atmosphere that wouldn’t feel out of place in the white- tablecloth steakhouses of yesteryear—have largely remained at the Whistler Village restaurant, there have been a few distinctly local touches that have made it all its own.

“We wanted to make sure we could deliver the Joe’s experience, as far as food goes, to the customers in Whistler, and clearly service is fantastic at both properties, so that wasn’t really a challenge,” explains culinary director Wayne Sych. “At the same time, Whistler is a unique property. That was our goal: to make sure we could offer those signature dishes in Whistler but still put our own spin on it.”

Cases in point: the jumbo prawn stuffed with spinach Pernod and lightly coated in panko that you won’t find at Fortes’ Vancouver location. But Sych’s favourite dish—the seafood linguine, chock full of prawns, seared scallops, mushrooms and peas, slathered in a rich white wine cream sauce—is a beloved staple of both menus.

“That is a hugely popular dish at both locations,” Sych says.

Of course, you’ll also find the same renowned steak program at both restaurants, as well as its oyster menu, which is served on the half shell and features four different varieties from both the West and East coasts.

And, we’d be remiss if we didn’t highlight Fortes’ exceptional cocktail list, which, like everything the restaurant does, combines an appreciation for the classic with the innovation of the contemporary, changing with the seasons.

“Obviously we have our classic cocktails, which are tried, tested and true. But we do have some new, unique cocktails in Whistler,” Sych says. “We have a great beverage department, and they really take mixology seriously.”


One of Cliff Crawford’s main goals since taking over the executive chef role last November at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler has been to take the luxury hotel’s highly regarded cuisine and make it more accessible for the average diner.

“I like everything to be approachable,” says the New Brunswick native. “The East Coast is very approachable. There’s just a very home-style feel to it, so my approach now is not necessarily comfort food, I would say, but I definitely want it to be approachable and offer something for everyone.”

That’s not to say Crawford’s style is provincial by any means. Like a lot of hotel chefs, Crawford has spent his culinary career in a variety of locations near and far, from two seasons spent in Nantucket, Mass. to stints in Jasper, Newfoundland, Bermuda, and, most recently, Chicago.

It’s given him a depth of experience and culinary inspiration that speaks to his passion for seafood in various ways.

“I still love the East Coast seafood, but what I love here about the West Coast is that it’s similar but different,” he explains. “The oysters are different here. We have Dungeness crab here instead of lobster— crab is one of my favourite things.”

And of course, the West Coast salmon. Take the cedar-planked king salmon loin at The Grill Room served with with grilled citrus, roasted garlic and red chili.

Heading the culinary teams at the Fairmont Chateau’s five in-house restaurants, Crawford is also a sucker for the fondue at The Chalet, the hotel’s whimsical winter dining experience, as well as the sticky date pudding at The Grill Room, a recipe Crawford learned from an Australian chef in P.E.I.

“This particular recipe I happened to like a lot, and, initially, the recipe was a secret, and I’ve put it on the menu everywhere since,” he says. “I’m not sure what the Aussie chef might think about it. I haven’t seen him in 25 years. Back then we didn’t have Facebook or LinkedIn or anything. I guess I’ll have to look him up and thank him.”

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Whistler Magazine.