Whistler Chefs Share Their New Menu Favourites
By Nikki Bayley / Images by Joern Rohde
ARAXI RESTAURANT & OYSTER BAR
Executive Chef Joel LaBute
Afternoon Oysters Five Ways
It’s all change this winter at Araxi with a new executive chef, Joel LaBute, and Culinary Director and Chef James Walt couldn’t be happier. “I’m so impressed with him; he’s so focussed. He’s still young, but he’s got a great head on his shoulders, and I love that he used to have a five-acre farm with his partner in St. Catharines, Ont.” For LaBute, the admiration’s mutual. “My experience working with James has been outstanding,” he says. “He’s really supported me in spreading my wings here at Araxi and pushing forward my mountain-focussed cuisine.”
Walt and LaBute have been brainstorming winter menus and identifying a culinary theme for the year. “We’ve been trying to figure out exactly what is ‘mountain cuisine’ here in Whistler,” explains LaBute. “Indigenous herbs, the mushrooms that we forage, maybe flavours that are indigenous to other mountain regions too?” Sustainability and supporting local has always been a key piece of the Araxi story, and that’s why LaBute wants to showcase a new take on Araxi’s famous afternoon oysters. “The B.C. oyster industry seems to have had a lot of issues this past summer, but winter oysters from B.C. are the absolute best, and we want to support those growers.”
Now, as part of this exciting change-up, guests can taste their way through five different oyster varieties, three from B.C. and two from the East Coast, with five creative pairings such as a Kusshi oyster with a sea buckthorn dressing, black garlic pearls, and a crispy beer batter; a Kisu oyster with preserved mountain berries and a spruce vinegar; and a Princess Delight oyster with Vancouver Island kumquat gel and Farmer Jesse hot pepper oil. “It's not always that you have such a great boss who’s been working for the restaurant for 25 years and can provide real history and insight into what the restaurant stands for,” LaBute says. “I’m really enjoying my time here and there are great things to come in elevating the dining experience at Araxi.”
604-932-4540 | araxi.com
Executive Chef & Co-Owner James Pare
“Pizza is… everything,” intones Chef James Pare solemnly. “It’s good when it’s cold; it’s good when it’s hot; it’s good the day after…” he trails off, then roars with laughter. “What can I say? It’s simple: It makes me happy, and it’s always great!” Turns out picking a favourite from Caramba’s new winter menu was a no-brainer for Pare; it’s that year-round reliable, always-delicious number, the margarita pizza. “I can seriously nerd out over pizza,” confesses Pare. “Recently, I’ve been doing research on what kind of oven to have at home in the garden. It’s just one of my favourite things to make, at home and the restaurant: I just love getting involved in pizza!”
I could protest; this is intended to be a story about what’s new! But, dang it, he’s right. Pizza is everything, especially when it’s made with as much love and care as at Caramba. “We were on a trip to southern Italy trying pizzas,” Pare tells me. “I kept coming back to margaritas. They’re simple, but they tell you everything! What’s the sauce like? What’s the cheese like? Is it balanced? When creating a dish, you’re always asking these kinds of questions, but it’s just simplified into one wonderful thing with a margarita pizza.”
Caramba’s starts with a sourdough pizza base — no commercial yeast here (“gotta put the effort in beforehand to get the product that you want!”) — that’s hand-stretched to form the perfect rustic shape. That all-important sauce is made with taste-tested San Marzano tomatoes from California, with a little garlic, onions, and Pare’s secret ingredient — shredded carrot (“you don’t know it’s there, but it brings this wonderful veggie sweetness!”). On top, a little fior di latte cheese and fresh-ground black pepper. To finish, it’s drizzled with quality olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and fresh basil. And that first bite? Excuse the pun, but it’s a pizza perfection!
604-938-1879 | carambarestaurant.com
THE MEXICAN CORNER
Kitchen Manager Sergio Reyes
Chamorro al Pibil
Chef Sergio Reyes is on a mission to share authentic Mexican flavours and regional Mexican cuisine through his dishes at The Mexican Corner. “I’m not just cooking food, I’m cooking history,” he tells me, “my history and the history of Mexico. I want to show Canada who I am and where I came from.” Reyes and I are talking about the seasonal transition from summer to winter and how that plays out on restaurant menus. “For me, summer is all about ceviche and fresh flavours, but when winter comes around, I just want something warm and hearty,” he says. So it’s an easy choice for Reyes to pick his favourite: Cochinita Pibil, a gloriously tasty, slow-roasted pork dish that hails from the Yucatán. This creation brings a much-loved taste from his travels as a young chef.
“I tried it when I was travelling in Playa del Carmen. They make tacos with it, and it’s amazing. It’s actually my favourite dish of all time,” Reyes says. “Travel is so good for cooks and chefs, trying so many new flavours, tasting everything in the markets!” Traditionally, Cochinita Pibil is a whole roasted suckling pig, marinated in achiote paste, orange juice and lime, and cooked in a pit. Reyes recreates this dish as Chamorro al Pibil by slowly cooking marinated pork shank until it’s meltingly fall-apart, served on a bed of beans spiked with smoky pasilla chilies. It’s then brightened with zingy escabeche (pickled) cauliflower and a kale salad topped with a traditional xnipec salsa of red onions, habanero pepper, and lime juice.
The result is a spectacularly balanced dish hopping between velvety beans, tender pork, and crunchy veggies, subtly spiced and excitingly fresh. I’ve never tasted anything like this before, and thanks to Reyes and The Mexican Corner, this might be my new favourite dish of all time too!
604-962-4450 | themexicancorner.ca
JOE FORTES WHISTLER
Executive Chef Justin Starr
Jumbo Stuffed Prawns
After opening Joe Fortes at the height of Covid, Executive Chef Justin Starr can’t wait for a real Whistler winter. “The first year I was up in Whistler, I kept hearing ‘you gotta do this hike, you gotta check out this hill…’ but I was in the restaurant the whole time; any time off, I was asleep or anxious about closures,” he remembers. “This summer, it was so good to finally experience the Whistler I’ve been hearing about, and I’m so excited to get up the mountain to snowboard soon. It’ll be good to remember those old skills after the first two days of falling over!”
Picking his favourite winter menu item is a slam dunk: jumbo stuffed prawns.
Exclusively available on the Joe Fortes Whistler menu, these decadent stuffed prawns are a riff on a similar dish from their sister restaurant, Fleetwoods in Maui, that shares similar roots with oysters Rockefeller: celery, fennel, spinach, onions, and Pernod, cooked down, blended and held together with “lots of Parmesan.”
“They look really good on the plate coming [right] from the oven: golden brown prawns with a cheesy filling,” Starr says with a smile. “We have a crisp panko coating with lemon juice and fresh herbs, and so far, people really love them. It’s special for us as it’s only available in Joe’s Whistler; it’s important for us to be the same — but a little different.”
Crunchy, savoury, cheesy, and oh-so-deliciously sweet prawns, this dish offers up the whole package and looks set to become a Whistler appies classic. The winter will also bring another Joe Fortes’s classic to the mountain: brunch with piled-high plates of lobster bennies and chicken and waffles. “We can’t wait to get those delicious waffle smells wafting through the restaurant,” Starr says, laughing. “We’re really looking forward to bringing this Joe’s experience to Whistler.”
604-932-5858 | joefortes.ca
Executive Chef Melissa Craig
Foie Gras Parfait
As Executive Chef Melissa Craig expertly plates up her favourite winter menu dish, I am not-so-surreptitiously gobbling up leftover pieces of foie-infused sponge and slices of perfect-temperature duck prosciutto. No wonder this dish is a favourite; its components are ridiculously good. “I always have foie on the winter menu,” Craig says and offers me another piece of decadent sponge. “I usually serve it as a terrine or torchon, but this [presentation] is a fresh twist, and I’m really excited about it.”
Riffing on a Marco Pierre White recipe (“this is old school!”), this duck liver parfait is cooked sous vide, blended, chilled down over ice, then piped into molds to make quenelles. Instead of the traditional brioche, Craig is experimenting with a fluffy foie-infused sponge. “It’s totally me, but it’s a very fun collaboration of ideas with Asuka, my sous-chef, and Dominic, my old pastry chef,” says Craig. “We’ve been brainstorming together to try new techniques. I used trim from the foie terrine, then buzzed that with eggs, glucose, and cake flour. Then I put [the mix] through a foamer gun, and it cooks for just 30 seconds in a microwave!” The dish is finished with other pastry-inspired pieces: a cocoa nib streusel with activated charcoal, nibs, and cocoa powder, Harrow pears poached in a Moscato simple syrup with Meyer Lemon and thyme, and those glorious slices of house-made duck prosciutto. (“I can’t take credit for that. That’s all my meat guy!”)
Its separate parts are sublime but added together, this foie dish reaches new heights of deliciousness; it’s an absolute must-order for your next visit to the Bearfoot. As I do everything but lick my plate, we talk about the upcoming season. “I look forward to being inside the restaurant in the winter; warm food, hearty braised meats… it’s so good,” Craig says with a smile. Add foie-infused sponge cake to that, and I’m all in!
604-932-3433 | bearfootbistro.com