Posted by: Lisa Richardson
Whistler isn't just a world-class resort, a recreation destination and a badass playground. It's also habitat. And it is still wild habitat when you venture a little off the beaten track. Local foragers know the secret stashes of blueberries, huckleberries, salmonberries and mushrooms, and the Whistler Naturalists can even help you identify Siberian miner's lettuce and edible rhizomes like skunk cabbage root, in case you're ever caught out in the wilderness without a stash of emergency chocolate. (You mean you're meant to save that for an actual emergency?)
But you don't need to do an apprenticeship in wild-crafting to enjoy fresh food close to its source in Whistler. Local chefs are increasingly shortening the distance between fork and field, unwinding in their own market gardens.
We went searching and discovered a surprising number of green thumbs tucked in the pockets of those chef's whites.
Smell the roses, eat the flowers by the River of Golden Dreams - The Edgewater Lodge
Chef Chris Shiner has cultivated a large bed of strawberries out at the Edgewater Lodge in his chef's garden, which is also planted out with herbs and vegetables, with a second flower garden in front of the lodge featuring edible flowers and assorted perennials. Chef Shiner raids this garden regularly for lavender and to garnish salads. (Brides have also been known to dip into the garden in the event of forgetting extra flowers to decorate the wedding cake.) Cut flowers in the dining room also come from this garden. The herb and veggie garden is located next to the Lodge by the mouth of the River of Golden Dreams. “It’s on the south corner so it gets plenty of light.” The two gardens have been the chef’s responsibility and side-project for 13 years. Chef Shiner says the garden is one of the things he likes most about the spring and summer season: "I get to enjoy an entire season of fresh herbs – rosemary, thyme, parsley, Italian parsely, chives, lemon balm, tarragon, and oregano – as well as fresh peas all summer for the ravioli, yellow beans, green beans and carrots... Having all these fresh ingredients opens up a lot of possibilities for simple, clean, tasty food." Adds Shiner, “If anyone wishes to see the garden, they are more than welcome. A little slow to start this year but it’s looking better every day."
Taking rooftop gardens to greater heights – The Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain
What are benefits of fresh herbs? Whistler Blackcomb’s Chef Wolfgang Sterr says you can reduce your sodium intake as well as freshening food with flavours. He recently potted 10 mini herb gardens with his culinary staff, pots filled of chives, basil, mint, rosemary, parsley, oregano, sage and edible flowers. The project gave his young team a chance to get their hands dirty. “Now the challenge is to water and take care of the mini gardens. The plan is to grow heirloom vegetables next year. We will have to do it indoors, due to the bears and the temperatures.”
Sterr previously owned the Wildflower Restaurant in the heart of Niagara wine country, which won the Ruby award for sustainability, growing heirloom vegetables from local seed. “I wanted to bring something new to the Roundhouse and teach the kids more about food and where it comes from. Last year, we bought flats of herbs for decorating the BBQ buffets. They looked good, but we didn’t have much use for them after the week was over. I came up with this project to get the kids to think more sustainably and to understand how important it is to do our part.”
A rooftop garden on the right side of the tracks – Aura at Nita Lake Lodge
Nita Lake Lodge's rooftop garden is growing 30 types of herbs and 40 different vegetables including lettuces, artichoke, sorrel, potatoes and carrots, for the restaurant and the bar. Located right on the Valley Trail, foragers can always make a pit-stop here to quench their thirst with a herb-infused spritzer – fresh sorrel is used in the Cure Lounge’s Hanging Garden cocktail, and pickled garlic scapes spice up the house-made Caesars. An initiative of Executive Chef Tim Cuff and Aura Restaurant Chef Owen Foster, the garden is a joint effort from the entire hotel staff, including the team at Aura and Cure Lounge who all lend a hand. “It truly is a working garden,” says Chef Cuff. “It’s not just for show. Every day, the chefs go up, harvest what they need and bring it down to the kitchen where we use it, same day. We share ideas, experiment with seeds and plants and have fun with it. The garden is an integral part of the Aura’s philosophy of using fresh local food.”
Aura Restaurant features a set menu, supported by a Chef’s Special five and ten course menu – most of the garden right now is incorporated into the Chef’s daily special menus.
The Wedding Terrace that doubles as a garden - The Fairmont Chateau Whistler
The Fairmont Chateau Whistler was the first hotel in Whistler with its own herb garden, on the Woodlands Terrace, which is also a popular spot for couples from around the world to tie the knot. By reclaiming the sunny rooftop 13 years ago to create a seasonal 60 foot by 20 foot herb garden that is planned and planted carefully every fall, the Fairmont Chateau’s Executive Chef Vincent Stufano is also able to produce a supply of fresh herbs that are used in the summer and then dried for winter use. "We harvest the herbs as low to the ground as possible," Chef Stufano reveals when asked to share his herb-drying tips. "We tie them in bunches by the lower part and then let them hang with a platter underneath to catch the falling dry herbs. When the herb is dry, we shake the bunches gently, and they're ready to be used."
Plantings include oregano, marjoram, thyme, sage, chocolate mint, summer savory, chives, parsley, flat leaf parsley, rosemary, bay leaves, chervil, basil, lavender, mustard seeds and edible flowers. Lovage is made into lovage salt. Cilantro is allowed to go to seed and the seed is used to make an oil. "I like to use food that has the least amount of steps from harvest to the plate," says Chef Stufano. "When you use what's local, it's fresher, you get a better quality product and the food is more interesting. We have spent a lot of time developing relationships with local farmers so that we can tailor a menu that best features the food grown in the region."
A kitchen that thrives – The Four Seasons Whistler Resort
From the kitchens of the Four Seasons, we hear that a cultivator allows herbs to be grown inside. Currently, they’re brewing up basil, thyme, pea shoots, cilantro, sage and rosemary. Depending on the time of year and what is featured on the menu, other herbs will be grown as well. Out on the rooftop, two different types of parsley, rosemary and assorted vegetables are also cultivated.
Digging into the Whistler food-basket - a road-trip to Pemberton
Pemberton is Whistler’s fertile back-forty, and with a resurgence of young organic growers, it is increasingly supplying Whistler restaurants at every level, from eggs and greens at Moguls Café, to Namasthe ethical teas grown at Riverlands market garden, to Rootdown Organic’s vegetables at Alta Bistro.
Araxi Restaurant, a longtime ambassador for Pemberton produce, brings fine dining even closer to home this summer, hosting a series of long lunches at North Arm Farm, where white linen clad 200 person tables will be set in fields of delicious dreams. Grazers will also enjoy the Feast in the Mountains event, a wandering picnic that raises funds for Farm Folk City Folk, July 31, at Regbagliati Park.