Resort chefs taking culinary spectacle to new levels 

Whistler home to growing trend of destination dining

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRANDON BARRETT - AL FRESCO Pemberton's stunning North Arm Farm, pictured, was home to the latest edition of Araxi's acclaimed Longtable dinner series, where over 100 guests enjoyed Executive Chef James Walt's elegant approach to locally-inspired cuisine.
  • Photo by Brandon Barrett
  • AL FRESCO Pemberton's stunning North Arm Farm, pictured, was home to the latest edition of Araxi's acclaimed Longtable dinner series, where over 100 guests enjoyed Executive Chef James Walt's elegant approach to locally-inspired cuisine.

Whistler has long been known as a haven for hedonism, a place where you can, for the right price at least, delight each and every one of your senses.

Of course, this extends to the resort's small but mighty fine dining scene, which has proven time and again that you don't have to stay in Vancouver to find the meal of your decadent dreams. More recently however, the resort's top chefs are taking their heralded cuisine outside the kitchen and into the fresh air, as customers' appetite for authentic, one-of-a-kind dining experiences grows along with their demand for high-quality, locally sourced ingredients. 

All you have to do is take a peek at this summer's culinary events calendar for the proof: in June, the Bearfoot Bistro and Whistler Blackcomb reached for the sky with an extravagant six-course meal served onboard the Peak 2 Peak Gondola; this month, Araxi will dish up three al fresco dinners as part of its acclaimed Longtable Series in Vancouver, Pemberton and Whistler; this Friday, the Westin gets in the mix with their own intimate outdoor dinner series, Wine @ The Vine, an Italian-inspired affair complete with wine pairings by Summit Fine Wines.

It's not enough anymore for the resort's top restaurants to rely solely on the consistent cuisine and stellar service of their brick-and-mortar locations. Increasingly, diners are looking for more than just a memorable meal, but a full-on gastronomic experience that they can go home and tell their friends about. Fortunately, it's a service the major players of Whistler's fine dining scene are more than happy to provide.

"As a business, I think it's very important to make sure you're at the forefront of people's minds," said Bearfoot owner and bon vivant André St. Jacques in the lead-up to the Sky High dinner. "After we do weekends like the one coming up where people are working 18 or 19 hours a day for three days straight, the staff is tired, but there's a great sense of accomplishment once the weekend's done to create these special moments for guests in their lives. It's something to be very proud of."

Araxi's award-winning Executive Chef James Walt has been heading the restaurant's Longtable Series for three summers now, and, as one of Canada's early champions of farm-to-table cooking, he relishes the chance to share the story of his food in a beautiful outdoor setting — like at Spud Valley's stunning North Arm Farm this past Saturday.

"Outdoor dining, especially something like this where you're sitting right on the farm, people find the food tastes better," he said. "People know a lot more about food these days, and with these experiences outdoors with different products, people are looking for a thrill."

Once the thrill dies down, Walt hopes diners will leave with a greater appreciation of how their food is made and where it comes from, an easy feat when the farm produce being served is just steps away from the dinner table — literally.

"It's an education," he said of the Saturday's four-course meal. "It's seeing everything in its purest form and tasting it when it's fresh. Like a carrot, it should be cooked kind of soft and creamy and you can only do that with a carrot from (a local farm), not a carrot from Mexico or Peru.

"I think it's just the next step in our evolution here in North America." 

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