Preserving Summer for Winter

Preserving Summer for Winter

By Nikki Bayley / Images By Joern Rohde

Nick Cassettari, Melissa Craig, Aaron Heath, James Paré

Humans have preserved food since the beginning of time, capturing the full energy of the sun to dehydrate herbs, fruits, meat and fish or, in cold climates, using ice to freeze so that we could survive barren winter months. Sure, we have year-round access to almost everything now, but nothing can beat the taste of local produce preserved at the height of its deliciousness! Blessed with an abundance of seasonal roots, fruits, berries, and game, talented Whistler chefs work hard throughout the summer months to preserve B.C.’s bounty and bring a taste of sunshine to winter plates. Whether it’s using traditional techniques handed down through generations or harnessing the best modern methods, you can enjoy the flavours of summer, even though the snow is falling.

604-938-1879 |

Caramba! Restaurant
Pan con Tomate

Locals know it as a Whistler institution. For more than 20 years, Caramba has been serving up a family-friendly, pan-European menu, which takes in everything from wood-fired pizzas and heaped plates of tasty al dente pasta to juicy duck confit and crisp patatas bravas. “We like to keep things simple and casual,” says James Paré, Caramba chef and co-owner. “With simple, you can’t hide behind anything. It has to be good.”

As a child, Paré remembers summers spent in the Okanagan on his grandparents’ cherry orchard. “My grandma canned everything: peaches, plums, apricots, pears — you name it. She used to make a rhubarb-strawberry jam that she just called a ‘stew,’ which she served with ice cream, and it was just so good!”

Those simple flavours carry through to Caramba’s kitchen, and when Chef James wants to capture a taste of summer in the heart of winter, it’s pan con tomate that he turns to. “We get beautiful tomatoes from Lillooet. I’ll can these, and they are so delicious in January or February. We make a natural sourdough loaf as our table bread from a blend of our two sourdough starters ‘Cindy’ and ‘Tina.’ I use sliced day-old bread with salt, pepper and a dash of olive oil, pop it in the Panini press, and it comes to life. Then I give the crisp toasted bread a quick stroke of Russian garlic, a rub with that perfect juicy canned tomato, and I finish it with olive oil. You take one bite and it wakes up your palate, taking you straight back to summer. It’s the opposite of comfort food. This is hopeful food — summer is coming!”

604-932-2582 |

Alta Bistro
Rabbit and Pork Belly Rillette

“Growing up in Australia, I guess I didn’t see the need for preserving,” says Executive Chef Nick Cassettari. “At that time, the restaurant trend was for planes flying in amazing ingredients from around the world. But when I got to Alta Bistro, I learned about sustainability and preserving those flavours of summer into winter.” For a late starter Cassettari has blossomed into a master of saving seasonal flavours, working hard throughout the year to bring guests flavours preserved at their prime, starting with spruce tips in spring through to mushrooms in fall (“I have a crazy library of awesome things which we pull out in winter, and they have an amazing fresh vibrancy!”).

Although Alta uses many modern techniques in its culinary program, this rabbit-and-pork-belly rillette dish has its roots in traditional preservation methods. “This is borrowed from the past,” says Cassettari. “The intention is keeping food for hard times. I really appreciate that. Peasant-style foods have made a comeback and they are delicious; but back then, they had no choice but to put the time in.” The depth of flavour here starts with a five-day brine to cure the pork-wrapped rabbit, which then takes an overnight sous vide. Next, the confit meat is shredded, and all the fat and cooking liquid are used — not a piece is wasted — then it’s canned in traditional style, using fat to seal the jars to keep it stable and fresh to use for months ahead. Served with pickled and fermented vegetables, a compote of late-season apples and pears, and complemented with five-day-fermented crabapple mustard, and sourdough and rye crackers, this incredibly tasty rillette showcases a multitude of preservation methods and pays homage to the past’s blending of old ways with modern techniques.

604-962-9011 |

Basalt Wine + Salumeria
Chicken Liver and Bacon Mousse

 Ask Chef Bill Grimshaw to describe Basalt’s restaurant style and he gleefully chuckles, “We’re all over the flavour map; we love local, seasonal, Indian and Asian flavours, and sometimes Italian or French too. My Sous Chef Venita Wong and I design menus together, and it’s all just about the food that we like to eat that everyone else seems to enjoy too.”

Although Basalt is best known as a wine bar and salumeria, it also has a full-service menu that refreshes with the seasons approximately seven times a year, depending on what’s available from local farms. “We do preserve as much as we possibly can,” Grimshaw says. “It’s really all about the size of our kitchen, though; we’re quite small. Veneta came back from the Okanagan this summer with 25 pounds of Italian plums, which we pickled, and they just featured on our fall menu in a sauce on a coconut-braised pork spring roll.”

Although the Basalt menu changes often, there’s one dish that’s been a feature since they opened in 2015: their velvety chicken-liver-and-bacon mousse. “I’m the first person to say, ‘It’s time to go and do something better,’ but this one always stays, so we change up the presentation. You’ll get a sunshine taste with Okanagan cherries pickled with fall-flavoured spices such as cloves, cinnamon and allspice in a gastrique with a black pepper raisin cracker. The mousse lives on!”

604-932-3433 |

Bearfoot Bistro
Quebec Red Deer Loin with Quince Mostarda

When the leaves fall from the trees and the temperature drops below zero, Executive Chef Melissa Craig couldn’t be happier. “I love the feeling right when the weather changes. I just love to cook when it’s cold — I start to think about warm food, and I just want to be in the kitchen and around family.” Craig grew up canning with her mother, but at the Bearfoot, the preservation process is thoroughly in the 21st century: no boiling pans or steaming pressure cookers here. Instead, the team works with sous vide vac packs, which can be stored in the fridge and last forever. “It’s just better in the restaurants,” she says. “Those jars can take up so much space! And the results are the same.”

Bringing the bright taste of summer to the winter menu is a point of pride here. “I would never, for instance, serve a tomato from California. But a local Pemberton tomato, confit-in-oil since summer? That we’ll serve. That’s what we’ve always done here at the Bearfoot. We take the best and have that year-round.”

Inspiration for this dish comes from the red deer from Quebec. “It’s just the best I’ve ever had,” she enthuses. “Super lean, clean, and no one else will have it, so it’s really nice that we do.” Accompanied by puréed quince and a compressed confit quince, this dish brings a splash of summer warmth to winter’s chill.

604-932-4540 |

Late Summer Pavlova

“I grew up in a cooking household,” says Aaron Heath, Araxi’s pastry chef. “When mum made jams for the winter, the whole family got involved. Jam is still my go-to at home — blueberry’s my absolute favourite, and I’ll do a blackberry-blueberry blend too.” There are so many techniques for capturing those fresh summer flavours, and throughout the season, the team at Araxi works hard. “We’re so lucky to live here,” Heath enthuses. “Seafood from the coast, abundance from the Okanagan, and nearby Pemberton is a huge source for fresh greens and berries throughout the summer. We showcase that freshness, and thanks to preserving, we can extend those summer flavours and pull them through to our busy winter season.”

For a typical summery classic, thanks to savvy preserving, Araxi guests can enjoy those sweet summer flavours all winter long. “A lot of my preservation methods are quick and simple,” Heath confides. “I just want to use them when I’m ready to use them, so I marinated late-season plums with brandy and simple syrup, preserved jam-style apricots, and I made cherry syrup and raspberry coulis from berries which I froze at the height of their freshness.”

This decadent pavlova is topped with a crème fraiche ice cream and lightly sweetened whipped cream with the (sour) cherry on top preserved in cherry brandy and simple syrup.