Haute cuisine hits North American slopes
Chefs at work at the Bearfoot Bistro in British Columbia's Whistler Village. (Bearfoot Bistro)
Few things work up an appetite as much as a day spent on the slopes. Luckily for skiers and snowboarders who are sick of snacking at standard pizza and burger joints, several North American resort towns have become come flush with high-end culinary options in recent years that reflect the local region.
“Our visitors know and appreciate good food and are looking for an experience,” said James Walt, executive chef at Araxi restaurant and bar in Whistler, British Columbia. “Resort communities tend to have a high concentration of restaurants and hotels, which creates an opportunity to reach quality suppliers, giving us access to the best product.”
Mountain towns have also seen a boost in local farming and foraging thanks to the continent’s wide-spread farm-to-table movement, which has given chefs a supply of fresh ingredients to work with. Even in the cold winter months, restaurants rely on a mix of root vegetables and locally-canned produce to ensure the plates have a strong regional component as well as a variety of flavours.
The result is a food scene that is just as strong in the busy ski season as it is in the summer, with top chefs working to create innovative menus for diverse crowds all year long. So when it comes to what to eat après-ski or even pre-ski, skip the lodge cafeteria and try one of these spots, where the dishes are executed with double-black diamond skill.
Whistler, British Columbia
You do not have to be a skier to reach Christine’s, located within the 1,860m-high Rendezvous Lodge on Blackcomb Mountain, but you will have to take Whistler-Blackcomb’s Peak 2 Peak gondola to get there. The 11-minute ride is well worth it for the snow-capped mountain views (from both the lift and the restaurant) and the comfort food brunch- and lunch-only menu, which includes a wild Pacific salmon sampler, prepared tartare, smoked and candied, and eggs Benedict on toasted brioche topped with avocado hollandaise.
Start your après-ski drinks at Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler Village, where you can learn to sabre a champagne bottle in the cellar (home to more than 20,000 bottles of wine) or take a few shots of one of 50 vodkas in the Belvedere ice room. Chef Melissa Craig’s food menu shows similar ambition and creativity; try the heirloom tomato salad with charred tomato gazpacho and fresh mozzarella pearls, or the seared fois gras with plum puree and spruce oil.
At Araxi, also in Whistler Village, the dining room decorated with fresh flowers and original paintings sets a romantic background for a dinner of freshly caught Pacific seafood like halibut or white prawn risotto served alongside local tomatoes, beetroot or mushrooms. On the other hand, if a fresh steak is just what the ski school instructor ordered, sneak into Sidecut in the Four Seasons hotel, where hefty cuts of meat are accompanied by an incredible range of spice blends and specialty sauces.
The Bavarian-inspired building facades of this Colorado town belie the diversity of high-end dining options like Matsuhisa, by chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa, known for the eponymous Nobu restaurants around the world, in the recently-opened Solaris condo and retail complex in the centre of town. Start with a large carafe-sized serving of sake served in a hollow bamboo branch, order a round of tempura rock shrimp with butter ponzu as an appetiser, and as an entree, try the black cod with miso sauce or the Colorado lamb with wasabi pepper sauce.
For European cuisine that matches Vail’s exterior ambiance, the Swiss Chalet within the Sonnenalp Hotel (one of the area’s original resorts, founded by a German immigrant) specialises in European alpine cuisine. Order the Colorado goat cheese fondue or the classic wiener schnitzel with lingonberries and parsley potatoes.
After a long day cruising Vail Mountain, ski down to Larkspur at the mountain’s Golden Peak base for the decadent truffled beef larkburger served with truffle aioli and truffle fries, and finish off with a slice of goat cheesecake topped with liquor-infused cherries. Grab seat in the bar area for views of the mountain, or cosy up in the wine room, decorated with a stone fireplace and elegant light fixtures.