James Walt has a singular goal. "I want to do local food with the freshest products possible," he says. Luckily for him-as well as for anyone who dines at Araxi in Whistler Village-British Columbia's farmers and fishermen are at his beck and call.
The restaurant's menu confirms it. There are oysters from Fanny Bay, chicken from Chilliwack, rabbit from Fraser Valley. Teardrop tomatoes, purple potatoes, scallops, chanterelles, salmon, duck and venison are all from B.C. If, by chance, Walt can't find his delicacy within the province, he simply reaches into a neighboring one. His Triple A strip-loins, for example, hail from Alberta, his foie gras from Quebec.
To these indigenous products, Walt applies a passion that began in his grandmother's Ottawa kitchen. "I knew when I was 13 that cooking was what I loved to do," he reflects. A few years of working in the restaurant of a family friend confirmed it.
"I enjoyed the whole life," he says. "The energy in the kitchen intrigued me." Two years at Ontario's Stratford Chef School, followed by stints at the Hyatt Regency in Vancouver and the famed Sooke Harbour House on Vancouver Island, added invaluable experience.And then the mountains called. Walt knew Whistler from skiing excursions, and longed to relocate. The key was finding the right job. Araxi was it. Now, in his third season, he is still excited by the contemporary nature of the restaurant, which is, in part, what lures a stylish crowd to the elegant, white-walled eatery.
The other part, of course, is the food. In his glass-encased kitchen, Walt and his brigade of chefs prepare lightly smoked, crisp-skinned arctic char. Rabbit is slow-cooked in white wine with juniper, morels, pearl onions and sweet peas. Tender rack of lamb is crusted with rosemary and mustard, and served with Parmesan-potato flan. Special dishes are designed to complement wines from the restaurant's 14,000-bottle cellar.
"People come because they know they're going to be wowed by something unique," says Walt. "In the winter, it's like Saturday night, every night."
Today's microbrews, crafted at ski towns across the continent, deserve more than a charred burger as a partner. We queried brewmasters at some of our favorite alpine brewpubs. Here's what they picked to pair with their favorite pours:
Wasatch Brew Pub
Park City, Utah
Superior (English-style) Amber Ale with beer-battered English fish and chips.
Pierre Jasmin Maitre Brasseur
Mont Tremblant, Quebec
The Blizzard (Wheat Beer) with a sausage sampler and sauerkraut.
Eske's Brew Pub & Eatery
Mesa Pale Ale with a "Fatty" (a burrito stuffed with chiles, beans, mashed potatoes and feta, topped with green chile turkey stew).
Jackson Hole Pub & Brewery
Snake River Pale Ale with a wood-fired pepperoni and jalapeño Pizza.