At first glance, the menu at Whistler's Alta Bistro—French-inspired bistro fare with a Pacific Northwest spin—seems clear. Alberta elk tartar, for example, is described as coming with duck-liver parfait, red Belgian endive, smoked shallots, molasses rye toast, and a flare of cocoa nibs. “Then this comes out,” says Chef Nick Cassettari, proffering a short glass jar layered with foamed, emulsified, sous vide, geléed, and pulverized ingredients. The creation is topped with something that looks like snowy sawdust but is actually a powdered, dissolves-on-the-tongue concoction of duck fat, crisped duck skin, and the cocoa nibs. The toast? It’s already embedded in the meticulous construction. After receiving assurances that this is, in fact, what they ordered, diners “take one bite, say ‘My God,’ and then it’s gone.”
Welcome to molecular gastronomy, mountain style. Also known as modernist cuisine, culinary constructivism, cocina de vanguardia, and even the science of deliciousness, this progressive approach uses precise techniques of food chemistry (and specialized tools) to create innovative, flavor-intensive dishes that quite literally interact with the chemistry of one’s mouth. “It’s intelligent cooking and cooking with passion,” says Cassettari. More often found in food-centric cities like New York, Chicago, and L.A., modernist cuisine is getting new shape when applied by a handful of leading-edge ski-town chefs to fine mountain food. See what’s bubbling up in the beaker, er, pot, at high-country restaurants in North America and across the pond.
Chef >> Nick Cassettari
Where >> Alta Bistro, Whistler, B.C.
Whistler’s best new eatery spins artful flavor tales punctuated with details like fried sage and dehydrated pistachio dacquoise. Cassettari, 28, designs a new prix-fixe, diner’s choice menu each month. Every course offers four options based in classic French traditions but rendered in thoroughly progressive style. Artful cocktails, an Enomatic system of excellent wine pairings, hip alpine-meets-modern decor, and walls disarmingly stocked with preserves round out the experience.
Also pleasing: The three-course meal costs just $29.