72 Hours in Whistler: Gondola, Champagne Saber, Ice Room, Cornucopia Preview


Eat. Drink. Be Merry.

Last weekend, we journeyed to Whistler, B.C. Canada for the first time in our lives. We’ve been to Vancouver, Canada plenty of times before but in the back of our minds, had always thought that Whistler was too far. Little did we know, Whistler was only approximately 1.5 hours north of Vancouver. The total travel time from Seattle to Whistler is 4 hours (not including border wait times), which is the equivalent of traveling from Seattle to Spokane.

We will take you through various restaurants and activities you can do during Cornucopia, which will begin on November 7th – 17th, 2013.
True to its name, Cornucopia presented by North Shore Credit Union is the fall festival for the indulgent and the connoisseur. Ideally located in the majestic resort town of Whistler, BC, the festival celebrates an exemplary culinary scene and impeccable wines for every type of bon vivant. Offering a truly sensory experience, with winery dinners, interactive seminars, gala wine tastings and electric after-parties, this high-end five day showcase fulfills its mission to put Whistler on the map as the must-experience wine and food party.
Cornucopia Food and Wine Festival is the most important event on Whistler’s gourmand calendar. Featuring local and regional restaurants, chefs, producers, breweries, distilleries and wineries, Cornucopia emerges as the West Coast’s premier resort-based epicurean extravaganza. Seize opportunities to learn from industry professionals, be involved with demonstrations, sip, sample and savour some of the offerings of BC and beyond and bask in the breathtaking beauty that is Whistler and the Sea to Sky.
NOTE: The festival’s events’ servings of wine will be one and a half to two ounces per glass. Maximum legal consumption is two ounces per hour. Tasting etiquette tip: swirl, sniff, sip & spit. Cornucopia encourages the responsible consumption of alcoholic beverages.
LIQUOR LAW: Due to Canadian liquor laws, persons under the age of 19 (this includes infants, children and teenagers) will not be permitted in the Whistler Conference Centre during Cornucopia nor are they permitted at any event located in the Whistler Conference Centre.

To get to Whistler, we drove through Vancouver, passed the Lion’s Gate Bridge, and then headed on the Sea to Sky Highway, which, by the way, is most aptly named. You know you’ve reached The Sea to Sky Highway when you see water touching sky, that is, if it weren’t for the gorgeous blue mountains that stood in the way.  🙂  It should be noted that the speed limit for the Sea to Sky highway is 80km per hour, which should not be confused with 80m per hour! 80km per hour equates to about 50 miles per hour.

NOTE: 1KM = 0.621371 MILES

Our 72 hours of fun at Whistler quickly flew by.  Below are more photos of our amazing experience, which also serves as our recommendations for those who will be visiting Whistler.

We checked into the The Westin Resort & Spa, a stunning property located in the heart of Whistler. You are in walking distance to everything: Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, the Whistler Bike Park, Whistler Golf Course and the Village.FACT: Twice named the #1 ski resort hotel in North America by Condé Nast Traveler.

After we got settled in, we walked downstairs to Aubergine Bar & Grill which will be transformed into a new restaurant concept called Grill & Vine (scheduled to open for the winter season), a local twist on traditional favorites with an extensive wine program that highlights wines by the glass.  The restaurant will be led by Chef Executive Bradley Cumming who will oversee the kitchen at Grill & Vine.

Born and raised in Vancouver, who is fiercely passionate about using fresh and local ingredients. His culinary philosophy replicates a simple approach in his dishes, allowing the natural flavors of food to express themselves. The Grill & Vine’s signature items will include a Woodstone hearth oven featuring artisan pizza and breads, a selection of small plates, and “Simply Grilled” farm to table local selections.

The new concept of Grill & Vine will have open space that is sleek, simple, clean and fresh.  The 105-seat Grill & Vine was designed to be sophisticated enough for the discerning visitor, yet approachable and free-spirited enough to become a social hub for everyone. A comfortable lounge area with soft seating will be sure to entice couples while long communal wood table tops will please families and groups. A new all day Grab & Go will be incorporated into the restaurant with Starbucks® espresso coffees and a variety of snacks to go.

The restaurant’s menu will be complemented by an extensive wine program that includes a wide selection of Canadian and international wines by the glass, carafe, and bottle. An Enomatic Wine Preservation System will be a main focal point of the restaurant with 16 high-end and unique wines by the glass allowing guests to sample a multitude of wines with their food, including a specially prepared wine and cheese flight menu. From the Argentinian Catena Zapata Malbec to the JoieFarm Noble Blend Riesling from B.C.’s Okanagan Valley, the wine menu will offer something for everyone at a variety of price points.

The next morning, we took a short cab ride over to Nita Lake Lodge to check out Executive Chef Michael Guy’s restaurant, Aura.  If you are unfamiliar with Nita Lake Lodge, it’s another beautiful Whistler luxury hotel offering guests a wide array of refined upscale boutique hotel amenities located on the quiet pristine shores of Nita Lake. What’s great about staying at this lodge is all guests have access to free kayak and standup paddle boarding rentals!

FACT: Nita Lake Lodge is becoming the first artist inspired destination in Whistler where guests can purchase artwork throughout the space.

Here is a picture of Executive Chef Michael Guy showing his outdoor garden where he and his staff handpick fresh herbs and seasonal ingredients.

CONCEPT: Aura cooks with European nouveau flair rooted in classical culinary craft. Aura sources from local farmers, foragers, ranchers and fisheries to bring guests the best the west has to offer. Set lakeside, Aura features a private dining room and an expansive outdoor patio where diners can enjoy their meal while soaking in breathtaking views of the lake and surrounding mountains.

If you’re a fan of french toast, you’re in for a treat. Michael Guy puts his European nouveau flair into this dish that uses fresh bananas and blueberries. Plus it’s gluten free.

DISH: Banana Bread French Toast: house made gluten free banana bread with real whipped cream

If you’re hungry, this is for you.  The extra greens make up for this succalent slow cooked pork belly with fried egg that just makes your mouth water as you go for each bite.  You can find this on the breakfast menu, so keep an eye out.

DISH: Fraser Valley Pork Belly Sandwich: slow cooked pork with bacon, hot house tomato, baby arugula, white cheddar, sunny side egg & smoked tomato jam on a pretzel bun with a green salad

We picked the best weekend to come up. Why? Whistler was holding its first ever Whistler Village Beer Festival! Over 35 local, Pacific Northwest and international brews were being represented at the Whistler Olympic Plaza in the heart of the Village. It was a slamming sold out turnout with 2,500 in attendance.

FACT: Legal drinking age is 19.

As we were strolling through the Village, we noticed an unbelievable bike park on Whistler Mountain.

The Bike Park has something for every level of rider. Gentle, banked cruisers through the Coastal forest. Tight and twisty single track – perfect for intermediate riders. For the armour clad, full face wearing, 50lb. bike group there are steep rock faces, gnarly, root strewn lines, drop offs of all descriptions and more.

Make sure to go the Whistler Village Gondola, for us, it was a small bucketlister and we checked it off. You’ll be riding up the first gondola to the top of Whistler Blackcomb’s alpine mountains then switch over to the PEAK 2 PEAK gondola where you’ll see 360-degree views of the beautiful landscape high in the sky!

FACTS: 

  • It takes about 35 minutes to get up up the Whistler Village Gondola to Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain.
  • Then about another 15 minutes to ride the Peak 2 Peak which takes you to Rendezvous Lodge on Blackcomb Mountain.
  • There is an option to ride on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola that has a glass bottom; however, there is a longer wait for that line.
  • Peak 2 Peak holds world records for the longest free span between ropeway towers at 3.03 kilometres or 1.88 miles.

COST: Nov 2013 – April 2014 (Tentative dates) – Adult 19-64: $45.95, Youth 13-18: $38.95, Child 12 and Under: $21.95

No visit to Whistler is complete without an evening at the Bearfoot Bistro, and we mean that seriously! Besides having a really cool restaurant name, you can find some of the coolest experiences all at one place. Accompanied by the founder André Saint-Jacques, you can experience the Belvedere Ice Room, the coldest vodka tasting room in the world (more photos below), Champagne Sabering in a cellar filled with 20,000 bottles, Chef’s Table, Dining in the Cellar, Champagne Lounge and the Patio.

We got to try a handful of these experiences while we were there. Take a look!

FACT: 

  • Barefoot Bistro founder, André Saint-Jacques, broke the Guinness World Record for the most Champagne bottles sabered in a minute with 21 bottlenecks of Dom Pérignon in November 2005. Current record stands at 27 bottles of Pongrácz South African sparking wine in one minute by General Manager Andrew Duminy of The Bull Run Restaurant.
We joined proprietor and champagne expert André St. Jacques for a tasting of oysters and champagne. These oysters were served on the half shell with red wine mignonette and fresh lemon.
The Champagne cellar with over 20,000 bottles of the world’s best vintages.
Here is André St. Jacques showing us how sabering is done.  It’s an experience that is quite the thrill!  The technique is to gently lay the bottle resting on your hand and forearm, then by sliding the saber you hit the top part of the neck and make the bubbles flow. Tradition that dates back to the Napoloenic era, when cleanly sabering the top off a bottle of Champagne meant good luck in the battle to come
GIFT: After sabering, André will package your cork in a custom presentation box for you to take home and impress your friends with your swashbuckling skill.
HISTORY: This technique became popular in France when the army of Napoleon visited many of the aristocratic domains. It was just after the French Revolution and the sabre was the weapon of choice of Napoleon’s light cavalry (the Hussars). Napoleon’s spectacular victories across all Europe gave them plenty of reason to celebrate. During these parties the cavalry would open the Champagne with their sabres. Napoleon, known to have said, “Champagne! In victory one deserves it; in defeat one needs it.”[2] may have encouraged this. (Wiki)
Step inside the Belvedere Ice Room located inside Bearfoot Bistro where you’ll find an exhilarating flight of subzero vodka.  Just so you don’t freeze and get hypothermia, you’ll be provided a parkas with faux fur and 4 shots of vodka to warm you up. Drinking in the ice room miraculously took away the alcohol burn you normally get when taking a stiff shot plus the enhancement of flavor. No chaser necessary.

FACT:

  • The Belvedere Vodka Ice Room is -32C or -25F.
  • The Belvedere Vodka Ice Room is the ONLY permanent sub-zero vodka room in Canada.
  • Over 50 types of vodkas from across the globe.
INSIDER: Take a shot on the shot’ski (no guarantees). The Shotski is a ski with four special boot shaped shot glasses attached. The shot is taken with four people standing in a row. The two people on the ends would hold the ski and dump the shot into their mouths while the two in the middle take the shot without touching the ski – quite the experience!
What better way to top off the night than nitrogen ice cream at table side.  The subzero ice cream was smooth, creamy and light in texture.
Rewind two hours and we’ll walk you through a dinner you don’t want to miss.  Chef Tory Martindale of SIDECUT restaurant presents a three-course dinner featuring Sidecut signature dishes with Kurtis Kolt, BCWI consultant, judge, writer and educator.
RECOMMENDATIONS:
  • Canadian prime steak that’s aged 40 days and cooked to perfection on an 1,800-degree infrared grill.
  • Fresh local seafood and regional meat specialties such as Lily Creek Wild Boar Double Chop, Peace River Venison Strip Loin and Bone-in Braised ‘Kobe Style’ Short Ribs.
ABOUT SIDECUT: Entrees are served with a choice of six custom rubs ranging from Edison’s Medicine to Lemon Buddha and presented with a plate of six signature sauces for even more flavour. An extensive wine list features over 200 bottles and 100-plus wines by the glass, highlighting a wide variety of labels, from international classics to boutique British Columbia wines. Sidecut is open daily for breakfast and dinner. A sleek modern interior, colorful earth tones and an open fire provide a cozy setting for families or intimate evenings.  In summer, guests can enjoy outdoor dining on the spacious heated patio.
On our way to the farmers market, we ran into a handful of men in red heels. What was the purpose? We did a little digging and here’s what we found.The purpose of the Sea to Sky Walk a Mile in Her Shoes fundraiser/pledge was to stand up for the prevention of violence against women.  This event was spearheaded by The Howe Sound Women’s Centre Society which promotes women’s equality and the empowerment of women and their children.
More information on this cause: http://hswc.ca

Waling through the one of many Farmers’ Markets located in Whistler, we explored our options in fresh local produce from the Pemberton Valley and beyond, with tasty artisan foods, local artists, and entertainment. The market is open twice a week throughout the summer, the perfect place to find food for a picnic or a unique present for someone special.

We were in good hands for dinner as Executive Chef James Walt maneuvered his way at the Farmers Market to pick fresh ingredients to incorporate in our dishes. More details at the bottom of this post.

RECOGNITION:

  • Recognized by Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper as “one of the top seven chefs in the country shaping the nation,” Executive Chef James Walt continues to inspire both his contemporaries and his guests, creating compelling regional cuisine based on local, sustainable ingredients.
  • His impressive career has included stints at some of B.C.’s leading restaurants and prominent appointments including Executive Chef to the Canadian Embassy in Rome.
  • Chef Walt prides himself and his menus on local provenance, and has built strong relationships with Pemberton Valley’s farming and ranching community.
  • Chef Walt was the first and only chef in Whistler to receive an invitation to cook at the celebrated James Beard House in New York City – not once, but three times. Under his leadership, Araxi was recently awarded ‘Best Whistler Restaurant, Gold’ by Vancouver Magazine in 2013.
  • Araxi also holds the current ‘Best Whistler Restaurant’ title for the Georgia Straight Golden Plate Awards as well as the WHERE Magazine ‘To Dine’ Awards. Both the restaurant and chef have also received high-profile exposure in recent years on Gordon Ramsay’s hit reality show ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ – and the cookbook was recently honoured with a nomination for the prestigious James Beard Foundation Book Award. www.araxi.com
What better way to spend the afternoon than at a marTEAni workshop and tasting.  Located on the lobby level, open for lunch, après-ski, cocktails and dinner daily. The Mallard offers an award winning selection of single malt scotches, martinis, hot drinks and beer from British Columbia and around the world.

If you’re interested in attending this event, it will be available this year at Whistler Cornucopia on November 9th from 3PM-5PM, you can RSVP here.

LOCATION: The Mallard Lounge at Fairmont Chateau Whistler

We’re about to get down and make some tea infused Martinis with our Mallard Mixologist.

You can order up an assortment of freshly baked scones with hotel-made jams, petit fours and finger sandwiches——incredibly yummy!

On our last day here, we had the honor to try Canada’s leading chef, James Walt’s restaurant Araxi.  We’ve heard amazing things about Araxi, so we were incredibly excited to spoil our palates here.  Now, we’ll take you through the dishes paired with the fresh ingredients picked up at the Farmers Market from earlier.
ABOUT ARAXI: Araxi is recognized worldwide for its excellence in food, wine and hospitality. One of Canada’s leading chefs, James Walt continues to inspire both his contemporaries and his guests, creating compelling regional cuisine based on local, sustainable ingredients. Already, Araxi’s newly released cookbook—available at the restaurant and all fine booksellers—has won multiple international awards, as well as a prestigious nomination from New York’s James Beard Awards. Situated in the heart of the village square since 1981.
CORNUCOPIA: Last year, Araxi unveiled an incredible dinner called “Big Guns: Icons of the Wine World” during Cornucopia in 2012 which featured a spectacular collection of highly rated, rare and collectible wines.
MENU: Araxi Executive Chef James Walt created a bespoke seven-course menu that showcased the excellence of Canadian produce, with standout dishes including Wild Mushroom and Local Beef Cheek Ravioli topped with generous shavings of White Alba Truffles. Guest will be treated to a parade of striking flavours such as Northern Divine Caviar, White Grace Cheese from Salt Spring Island and a tasting of Pemberton’s six varieties of Famous potatoes from Across the Creek Organics. Each course will be carefully paired to these exceptional wines.
This year, Araxi will be doing something special as well, details have not yet been released, but you can check in on the Cornucopia website for the full schedule.

The Vancouver Island Albacore Tuna was the first dish that was presented to us. We are both sushi fanatics and when we saw the tuna, we were eager to take our first bite. The tuna was far beyond any that we’ve ever tasted. It was perfectly seared and melted in our mouths. It was seasoned and topped with ponzu and cucumber pearls that went significantly well together with the tuna.
1st Course: Vancouver Island Albacore Tuna Tataki with cucumber and ponzu pearl and fresh herbs.

The next dish that came out was vibrant in color and beautifully plated.  The fresh handpicked tomatoes  from the Farmers Market combined with the sweet peppers and drizzled spicy chili sauce made this dish an absolute favorite.  The crunchy outer layer of the crusted zucchini and the soft home made ricotta was exquisite.

2nd Course: Root Down Farm Zucchini Blossoms stuffed with Moonstruck’s White Grace cheese and house made ricotta local sweet peppers and Jesse’s tomatoes.

This next course truly brought out the raw talent of Chef James Walt.  As a fan of chowder, this spoke to the inner foodie in both of us.  Each element of this dish was cooked perfectly. The warm globe carrot chowder had a sweet taste that complimented well with the light, clean tasting halibut.

3rd Course: Roasted Garlic Crusted BC Halibut, North Arm Farm sweet corn and globe carrot chowder with basil and local chanterelle mushrooms.

As we were cranking through the dishes, we were getting really excited about our main course.  Both the rabbit and duck were both cooked by a method of cooking called Sous-vide.  The cooked meats were cooked to perfection. Light pink in the center and darker around the perimeter.  As you cut into it, the juices start dripping on the plate.

Main Course: Duo of Organic Rabbit + Duck, Yarrow Meadow duck breast and rabbit saddle rolled with pork cheeks, Root Down assorted beets and grilled baby onions.

TECHNIQUE: Sous-vide (/suːˈviːd/; French for “under vacuum”)[1] is a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath for longer than normal cooking times—72 hours in some cases—at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking, typically around 55 °C (131 °F) to 60 °C (140 °F) for meats and higher for vegetables. The intention is to cook the item evenly, and not to overcook the outside while still keeping the inside at the same “doneness”, keeping the food juicier. (Wiki)

We’ve decided there’s always room for dessert even if you’re full.  This is a dessert you’re going to have to order before your 1st entree because they might run out… After one bite, you’ll be in paradise.

DESSERT: Black Forest Cake, layers of dark and white chocolate mousse with brandied cherries.

This is a great dessert to pair with an expresso or a light coffee.  This dish didn’t last too long.
DESSERT: Napoleon of Fraser Valley Berries, raspberries and blackberries tossed in lavender syrup.

Hope you enjoyed our 72 hour adventure, if you have any questions or would like a few recommendations, feel free to drop us a tweet @charleskoh.  Please leave us a comment if you enjoyed the post!

All photos reserved. Credit to Charles Koh.

Written by Charles

Charles Koh founded EatSeattle, and has continued to use his expertise as editor-in-chief to guide the website’s growth over the last five years. Koh’s experience focuses on digital marketing and social media, and has been a part of several companies, some of which he created, specializing in both areas over the course of his career. Koh was previously with Google and Zagat where he helped expand and grow communities worldwide.

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