By Nicole Fitzgerald
Trying to get Jack to talk about the history of Araxi prior to the Whistler restaurant’s 25 th anniversary was futile.
He’s a man of action, always moving forward, not wanting to dwell on the past or rest on previous accolades.
While he is a long standing member of the James Beard Culinary Foundation, the proprietor of the Top Table Restaurant Group’s four restaurants and recipient of the 1998 Restaurateur of the Year award, what the Montreal native is most famous for among these parts is the never-ending stream of renovations Araxi undergoes.
Change, forward thinking, always on the go and betterment are the founding bricks of the award-winning, internationally renowned restaurant.
“I try not to get too sentimental about it,” Evrensel says of the anniversary. “The one thing I believe is living in the moment. In a way, every person and moment we’ve experienced over the past 25 years has contributed to who and what we are now. In many ways, (the past) doesn’t matter, because this moment matters. When a guest walks in at this moment, that is what we are. I’d rather talk about this moment. We certainly don’t live in history. We appreciate it and it adds to who we are, but it’s today that counts.”
Today the restaurant that opened 25 years ago amongst ski bums and Tapley’s beer jugs is one of a handful that sets the standard for fine dining in Whistler.
Vancouver Magazine has rated Araxi Best Restaurant in Whistler seven consecutive times. The Times of London raved, “Unquestionably the best Restaurant in Whistler!” The National Post declared it “The embodiment of elegance,” and Vancouver Magazine praised “Right away you have the feeling they take food seriously here.”
Evrensel does take his dining very seriously. However, it wasn’t always that way.
It wasn’t until the Montreal native traveled to Napa, in the first year Araxi’s doors were opened, that he discovered the art of fine dining. Back in the early 1980s, even Vancouver’s dining scene was extremely green, making Whistler Village, population one restaurant in 1981, greener than the evergreen forests surrounding it.
“I can still see a rendering of what the village was going to look like,” Evrensel recounts of looking at the preliminary sketches. “I fell in love with the picture; the idea of what Whistler was going to become. It showed beautiful architecture, people skiing down a hill, wandering the village. This is a place I could live in. It sounds exciting. That’s been the spirit of Whistler for a long time.”
The restaurant grew up in a construction zone, a.k.a. Whistler Village, among what council dictated as the mandatory staples for the new town centre: a pub, grocery store, liquor store, pharmacy, office space and Araxi.
“After the first couple of years, we were everything to everybody,” Evrensel said. “Then two things happened. More restaurants started opening and the idea of food and wine was embedded in me. I started a journey of fine dining and food and marrying it to fine wine. It has been an evolution ever since then.”
The shadowy past of lunch menus advertising burgers — items immediately removed from the menu after someone referred to Araxi as a “burger place” — is long gone.
The present and future is the award-winning talents of executive chef James Walt and a wine program boasting an aggressive showing of 800 to 1,200 labels, with more than 12,000 wines in stock.
Like the renos, the wine list turns over three times a year. The lists are not about looking pretty, but selling wine to enhance the food and dining experience.
Change is what keeps patrons returning and staff staying. This is the case with Araxi sous chef Tim Pickwell, who has been with Araxi since day one. Pickwell talks about the old days, when food shipments only came every three days. The freezer was the most important appliance and fresh basil was only an urban myth spun by city chefs.
“We are always improving and changing,” he said. “I see a lot of cooks in the industry that move around seeking out change. But things are never stagnating here. We’ve always moved forward, so it keeps things interesting.”
Only one thing hasn’t changed over the years: Evrensel’s passion for food and wine and the drive to ensure his restaurants offer only the best.
“It’s a wonderful way to experience life,” he said of food and wine. “Our goal, if there is a goal, is improving and constantly looking back and saying in the past season or month, ‘Have we seen an improvement?’”
Join Evrensel for the Big Guns winemaker dinner Friday, Nov. 10 and Bubbles, Jazz and the Deep Blue Sea Saturday, Nov. 11 to draw your own conclusions.