Cuisine that Says 'Canada'
Images by Joern Rohde
What is Canadian cuisine? In a country of so many diverse regions, cultures, traditions and even nations, it is almost impossible to pinpoint defining foods that represent our collective history. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun trying. To celebrate the country’s 150th ANNIVERSARY, we’ve asked some of Whistler’s top chefs to tell us about the most Canadian plate that they’ll be serving this summer — and why it says “Canuck” to them.
ARAXI RESTAURANT & OYSTER BAR
Smoked Sockeye Salmon and Side-Stripe Shrimp with Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Wild Rice and Mustard
When Canada grows up and develops a distinct culinary identity, it will be our “ingredients that define us,” says James Walt, executive chef at Araxi. “We don’t have long traditions, but there are certain things we grow that are the best in the world.”
What sort of ingredients? Well, when Walt served as executive chef to the Canadian Embassy in Rome (in 2004), he always kept his kitchen stocked with many of those showcased in this light, highly textured seafood feast: Smoked sockeye and side-stripe shrimp (“Our super-cold waters on the West Coast makes them such high quality”); cooked and puffed wild rice (“I don’t know of any other country in the world that grows it”); mustard in an apple gel and maple vinaigrette (Canada is the world’s largest producer of mustard seed); and a deliciously creamy, tangy buttermilk panna cotta.
Pair it with: Harper’s Trail Riesling Vibrant and super-fresh, with notes of apple.
604-932-4540 | araxi.com
SIDECUT MODERN STEAK + BAR at Four Seasons Resort & Residences Whistler
Venison Osso Bucco
At first bite, venison osso bucco — a wild game meat native to this region, but primarily farmed these days, slow-cooked in a rustic Italian braise — might not seem obviously hunted, gathered or foraged to represent the theme of the restaurant’s special summer Kanata menu. Kanata is an Iroquois word for “village” or “land” that was adapted to become the country’s name.
But when Chef de Cuisine David Baarschers adds three-sisters succotash (made with corns, beans and squash), sweet-fritter-style apple bannock and sticky juniper sauce, the dish becomes a well- rounded nod to the local First Nations that had a strong hand in influencing the early culinary development of this luxury hotel.
Before Sidecut became a steakhouse, opening Executive Chef Scott Dolbee worked closely with the local First Nations community to launch a Four Seasons’ catering partnership with the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre across the street. On early restaurant menus, Dolbee often put his own spin on traditional ingredients, such as deep-fried oolichan with chipotle aioli and herring roe kelp splashed with warm champagne vinaigrette.
“Like him, we’re trying to use typically Canadian ingredients in modern ways,” Baarschers says of the feature menu, which will also include citrus-confit salmon and Quebec maple sugar pie.
Pair it with: Red Bridge Red, Orofino Winery Juicy Bordeaux-style blend with soft tannins and a hint of spice.
604-966-5280 | sidecutwhistler.com
GRILL & VINE at The Westin Resort & Spa Whistler
“This dish starts in the Prairies, but it goes across Canada, from coast to coast,” Executive Chef Brad Cumming says of this carpaccio plate that showcases the country’s vast yet complementary regional diversity.
The quick-seared, thin-shaved bison is a free-range, grass-fed variety farmed just east of the Alberta Rockies. “It’s an amazing red meat that is extremely lean — less fat than halibut — and packed with nutrients. It has more Omega-3s than salmon. It’s pretty awesome when you think that this animal was on the edge of extinction, but has now made a recovery.”
He adds local blueberries macerated in red wine and lightly pickled shimeji mushrooms that are cultivated in the Fraser Valley.
Over the top, he shaves aged white cheddar from Cow’s Creamery on Prince Edward Island. “It has creamy texture with bits of crystal, almost like Parmesan, and some good aged funk.”
And to finish, a drizzle of Highwood Crossing canola oil from Alberta. “Canola gets such a bad rap, but this is organic and cold-pressed. It’s a little lighter than olive oil and really lets the bison speak.”
Pair it with: Tightrope Viognier Smooth, lingering depth from extensive vineyard thinning and barrel fermenting.
604-935-4344 | grillandvinewhistler.com
Dungeness Crab and Albacore Tuna with Thai Nam Jim Gel
“The great thing about Canadian cuisine is that it really can be anything,” says Melissa Craig, executive chef at the Bearfoot Bistro. For many chefs like her, Canadiana foods are defined as those that are personally memorable and have local meaning.
Of all the local seafood that B.C. has in abundance, Dungeness crab is one that takes Craig back to her childhood on Vancouver Island, when her father would drop his own traps and boil it up in seawater for special occasions. “It’s so sweet, with such a dense texture. I much prefer Dungeness to Alaskan king crab, which is way more salty and has a stringy texture.” Here, she pairs it with salt-cured albacore tuna, which also has a lovely soft texture.
Mango is replaced by peaches, apricots and other juicy stone fruits from the Okanagan Valley as those fruits come into season.
Thai nam jim gels add a touch of spiciness. British Columbia’s large Asian population has had a huge influence on local cuisine, Craig’s cooking included. “It has so many pronounced flavours,” she enthuses. “There is nothing subtle about it.”
Pair it with: Tantalus Riesling Fresh acidity bursting with spicy notes, stone fruits and tropical aromas.
604-932-3433 | bearfootbistro.com
THE GRILL ROOM at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler
Pemberton Meadows Dry Aged Ribeye
It takes a brave chef to showcase a plain steak as the standout feature item on her Canada 150 Menu, available all summer. “I’m from Calgary,” explains Executive Chef Isabel Chung. “I couldn’t not put beef on the menu.” Beyond provincial patriotism, Chung is confident that this dry-aged ribeye is the best she’s ever tasted. We wholeheartedly agree!
The Red Angus cattle are naturally raised in nearby Pemberton Meadows, where the animals live outdoors, roam freely, and are fed an additive-free diet of home-grown hay, crushed oats and barley. The sides are dry-aged for 35 to 40 days by Two Rivers Specialty Meats. Dry aging improves the beef by breaking down the connective tissues and proteins, making it juicy and tender.
“They haven’t shared their secrets,” says Chung, “but this is the best dry-aging program I’ve ever seen in Canada. We’ve tasted it against Canada Triple A, Snake River Wagyu and USDA Prime. Nothing beats the flavour.”
Indeed. After a sizzling char in the Fairmont’s heavy-duty Montague Broiler, which sears the meat from top and bottom, the fat melts into liquid and the tender, caramelized beef oozes with sweet, nutty flavour. If this makes you feel too much like a caveman than a proper Canadian, you could always add the restaurant’s cedar-smoked steelhead trout salad.
Pair it with: Anarchist Mayhem Bold, full-bodied merlot with dark blueberry, plum and smoked meat notes.
604-938-8000 | fairmont.com/whistler/dining