20 YEARS OF BE­ING BOLD AND BEARFOOT

Whistler Traveller Magazine - - TRAVELLER I CONTENT - STORY BY ALEXAN­DRA GILL IM­AGES BY JOERN RO­HDE 604-932-3433 x 1 | bear­foot­bistro.com

When the Bearfoot Bistro cel­e­brates its 20th an­niver­sary this win­ter, the mile­stone will un­doubt­edly be toasted with Dom Pérignon poured from bot­tles sliced open with a saber. The kitchen will likely serve an ex­trav­a­gant, mul­ti­course din­ner be­jew­eled with Ja­panese Kobe, Que­bec foie gras and white Alba truf­fles. The en­ter­tain­ment will be dra­matic and the fes­tiv­i­ties will be great fun. But that is all we are will­ing to spec­u­late. If there is one sure thing we have learned from this award-win­ning restau­rant it is that guests should al­ways ex­pect the un­ex­pected and be ready to be wowed. The mod­est be­gin­nings of the lux­u­ri­ous estab­lish­ment will cer­tainly come as a sur­prise to some. Twenty years ago, the Lis­tel Hos­pi­tal­ity Group de­cided it was time to re­design the Irish pub on its ho­tel’s main floor. Former ho­tel di­rec­tor Brian En­nis fondly re­calls his first in­ter­view with An­dré Saint-Jac­ques, a high-en­ergy restau­rant man­ager from Que­bec, who was mov­ing to Whistler from Toronto. “From the mo­ment I met him, he didn’t stop talk­ing,” says En­nis, chuck­ling. “I knew he had the abil­ity to talk to any­one – the pres­i­dent of the United States or the av­er­age guy – and make them feel wel­come.” The idea was to go up­scale, but they didn’t have a large bud­get. So they started with a sim­ple French bistro, paved the floor with edgy con­crete and hired artists to paint and sculpt in the din­ing room. The Bearfoot also boasted Bri­tish Columbia’s first cigar room, which was filled with trop­i­cal plants. In its open­ing year, the restau­rant had higher sales in cigars than food. Re­al­iz­ing that his in­ter­na­tional clien­tele wanted a more posh ex­pe­ri­ence, on par with the world-class ski re­sort guests had come to visit, Saint-Jac­ques soon re­placed the steak frites and work­ing artists with caviar and cham­pagne saber­ing. (Sain­tJac­ques has held the Guin­ness World Record for the lat­ter, hav­ing lobbed the corks off 21 bot­tles in less than a minute.) Over the next few years, he knocked out a wall to cre­ate Whistler’s first open­con­cept kitchen and cut a hole in the restau­rant’s floor to build a wine cel­lar, which is now one of Canada’s largest, con­tain­ing 20,000 bot­tles and 2,100 unique la­bels. He cus­tom-de­signed the cen­tral oys­ter bar, which is made from pewter and has a self-re­plen­ish­ing rail of ice. Later, when smok­ing went out of style, he turned the cigar room into Canada’s first per­ma­nent sub-zero vodka tast­ing room.

The Bearfoot ex­pe­ri­ence has al­ways been about more than just food. For sev­eral years, the restau­rant was per­haps best known for its bawdy Mas­quer­ave par­ties. Then in 2003, its culi­nary rep­u­ta­tion be­gan a me­te­oric as­cent. Saint-Jac­ques hired Melissa Craig, just 24, as chef-de­cui­sine. Within a year, she was pro­moted to ex­ec­u­tive chef. They’ve been en­gaged since 2008. “An­dré was pretty amaz­ing,” she re­mem­bers.

“She blew my socks off,” he re­calls. Much like Saint-Jac­ques, the chef was, and still is, an innovator who ex­per­i­ments with mod­ern trends (blood­or­ange “caviar,” for in­stance, or shaved foie-gras “snow”) and bold ges­tures (an en­tire tast­ing menu paired with vin­tage Dom Pérignon and 20-course-plus gas­tron­omy meals.) In 2008, Craig was crowned Canada’s best chef at the Cana­dian Culi­nary Cham­pi­onships (a.k.a. Gold Medal Plates). Her win­ning dish, king crab three ways, in­cluded co­conut-chili soup, a golden-crusted cro­quette on mango-basil purée and suc­cu­lent claw flesh gar­nished with to­biko and soy sauce “pop rocks” in a bam­boo-leaf cone. On the eve of the Olympic Win­ter Games, the restau­rant launched a cater­ing di­vi­sion that has al­lowed it to take the Bearfoot ex­pe­ri­ence out­side its walls. The events, many magnificent in na­ture, mas­sive in scope and, quite of­ten, char­i­ta­ble fundrais­ers, have in­cluded a track­side VIP lounge at the Bobsleigh and Skele­ton World Cup, feed­ing thou­sands of rav­en­ous cy­clists dur­ing the RBC GranFondo Whistler, and the epic Sky­high, a six-course fine-din­ing din­ner that took place on the Peak 2 Peak Gon­dola as the cab­ins glided 426 me­tres above the Fitzsim­mons Creek val­ley be­tween Whistler and Black­comb moun­tains. “It’s re­ally bor­ing if you don’t keep push­ing your­self,” says Saint-Jac­ques, who sees many more spec­tac­u­lar events in the Bearfoot’s fu­ture. “There is a great sat­is­fac­tion in mak­ing peo­ple feel su­per happy and watch­ing them be blown away.” So cheers to 20 mind-blow­ing years. As Saint-Jac­ques of­ten says to his guests when mak­ing a toast, “It’s good to be us.”

An­dré Saint-Jac­ques at Mas­quer­ave Event Bearfoot Bistro Wine Cel­lar An­dré Saint-Jac­ques & Cameron Chu

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