A TALL ORDER IN WHISTLER
Photo: Courtesy of Bearfoot Bistro
In Whistler, the clamorous crossroads of global mountain culture, an unending cycle of snowstorms and symposia lure masses of humanity through some 100 drinking and dining establishments. In this lift-tower Babel, creating a restaurant with the merest note of authenticity is an accomplishment. But there is, incredibly, a restaurant that so precisely reflects the character and collective energy of this place that it has become definitive — the essence of “Whistler dining.”
The Bearfoot Bistro is an understated 160-seat room with all the hallmarks of a five-star restaurant, minus the pretension. In Whistler, this wedge of European sophistication pounded into the Pacific Northwest and populated by itinerants hell-bent on playing hard and partying harder, the Bearfoot is known as much for unbridled bacchanal as it is for the award-winning creations of executive chef Melissa Craig. When you find bamboo cones of tender king-crab claw topped with soy-infused pop rocks in the same room as women body-painted with the mountain’s ski runs, you can be sure the next few hours will be memorable — if not transcendent.
“It’s all about experiences here,” says André Saint-Jacques, Bearfoot founder and mastermind of nefarious events like the world-renowned Masquerave. With his penchant for “the bubble,” the kinetic Quebecker is the longtime Guinness Book of World Records-holder for the most champagne bottles sabered in a minute (that would be 21), and a major attraction of the Bearfoot’s busy champagne and oyster bar is Dom Perignon by the glass. Of the 96 occasions the Bearfoot appeared on television during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, a solid portion included gold medalists sabering 6-litre Moët & Chandon in André’s 20,000-bottle wine cellar. With 2,100 labels on display (and some truly impressive vintages carefully hidden away), western Canada’s largest cellar is an attraction unto itself. Maybe it’s the bobsled hanging from the ceiling or André’s endless font of stories: stories of wine auctions, of Picasso-autographed labels, of tippling with the likes of Vladimir Putin, or fond memories of his good friend Robert Mondavi.
No matter how deep into debauchery your night of fine dining might descend (and it can go full fathom five here), everything begins with 34-year-old Craig, the much-decorated chef who has commanded the Bearfoot’s showroom kitchen for nine years. The British Columbia native takes clear pride in sourcing her refined West Coast cuisine from the province’s abundant ingredients — Fraser Valley duck, Canadian Rangeland buffalo, and Peace District lamb; vegetables, fruits, and cheeses from the pastoral reaches of Vancouver Island and nearby Pemberton Valley; and the bounty of the nearby coast. Vancouver’s proximity makes it easy to maintain the quality of Pacific fish and shellfish to which Craig adds Asian influences and the kind of molecular whimsy that yields dishes like tuna toro tartare with watermelon-rind kimchi, jalapeño-puréed edamame, and sesame yuzu vinaigrette. When the snow descends, sourcing shifts and inspiration follows. “In winter, it’s all about getting the best ingredients possible, which sometimes means digging around,” notes Craig, who is looking forward to Scandinavian reindeer now that her supply of Canadian Arctic caribou has dried up.
Craig makes sure that no matter how much fun you’re having, you can’t forget you’re in one of the country’s best restaurants. Dessert is one experience that snaps you back to that reality. Backed by signature chocolates and ice cream created at table in the swirling vapors of liquid nitrogen, executive pastry chef Dominic Fortin rolls out creations like hemp-seed brittle, pea ice cream, and maple mushroom crème brûlée. For the stalwart, this often follows a parka-laden trip to the vodka room, an ice-block chamber lined with ultrachilled bottles of the world’s best grain and potato vodkas, where guests are led through a sampling of distillation scenarios.
A night at the Bearfoot is always memorable, often staggeringly so. But if the Bearfoot is simply the most polished version of the Whistler ethos of eating well, drinking quality, and making it to the lift on time, it’s André’s vision of adding fun and frolic that makes it a little slice of the heaven mountain-goers seek. And speaking of heaven, is there anything he’d take with him? André doesn’t hesitate. “A 1966 Dom Perignon.”
* Masquerave is a legendary food and wine event with an “element of eroticism.” It returned last year after a five-year hiatus. Bearfoot Bistro, 604/932.3433. bearfootbistro.com