For years, the Bearfoot Bistro has been taking diners to the absolute heights of culinary excellence.
But on Saturday, June 28, the acclaimed fine dining restaurant, in conjunction with the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation (WBF), will do so quite literally with a once-in-a-lifetime meal served onboard the Peak 2 Peak Gondola.
The Sky High dinner is the brainchild of Bearfoot's marketing manager Marc Des Rosiers, his answer to the growing trend of high-end restaurants producing al fresco dinners in the summertime.
"Two years ago we were brainstorming, and looking for what type of event would be spectacular and unique," he said. "As soon as I saw the reaction of our team when we came up with it, I knew it was the right idea. Everyone was speechless."
Producing a dinner for over 250 people spread throughout 25 gondola cabins is no small feat. Over 90 Bearfoot staff, plus 20 additional WBF volunteers, will have their hands on deck come Saturday — and that's before taking into account all the Whistler Blackcomb food and beverage, lift maintenance and electrical staff involved, to name a few.
The preparations are even more daunting considering the gondola will remain open to the public the day of the event, which coincides with the busy Canada Day long weekend.
Whistler Blackcomb Foundation executive director Mei McCurdy has been heavily involved in organizing the dinner, and jumped at the chance to lend her hand to this one-of-a-kind event.
"We're used to producing events on top of the mountain, but producing it in the gondola is a whole other challenge," she said. "If you can imagine, we're essentially setting up two Bearfoot Bistros on either side of the mountain because our existing restaurants are too far away for food prep."
In the Blackcomb terminal will be the cold kitchen, while the Whistler side will house the hot kitchen. Each gondola will be stripped of its benches to make room for a banquet table and enough chairs for 10 dinner guests, not to mention linens, tableware, speakers and a chandelier.
"The logistics of getting all of the stuff we need up the mountain has been the most unexpected challenge for me," said Bearfoot's event coordinator Erin Kincaid. Still, she relishes the opportunity. "This is event-planning heaven, you know?"
Dinner guests, who paid $7,500 per gondola for the privilege, will be treated to a tasting menu crafted by Executive Chef Melissa Craig using the finest local ingredients.
Like any chef of Craig's calibre, she has undoubtedly cooked in some gruelling conditions before, but admits nothing compares to working in a makeshift kitchen 400 metres above the valley floor.
"This is probably one of the biggest challenges I've ever faced," admitted Craig, who said she designed the dinner to be plated quickly, with items like black cod, fresh salmon and veal cheeks included on the six-course menu.
"The logistics are insane."
Sheer madness is perhaps the best way to describe what will happen throughout Saturday's dinner service, something the Bearfoot Bistro team has been readying for by doing timed practice runs in a gondola cabin Whistler Blackcomb had crane-lifted in front of the village restaurant.
After a champagne reception, guests will enjoy their first course while gliding over Fitzsimmons Creek to the Whistler station. The gondola will swing through the terminal, where the second course will be served. Astonishingly, wait staff will have only 90 seconds from when the cabin doors open to get the next course plated.
"The amount of things we have to get done in those 90 seconds, when you think about a table of 10 in a restaurant during dinner service, just to clear plates and get everything ready for the next course, is crazy," said Bearfoot's general manager Kerren Bottay.
"It's a Formula One pit crew working a dinner service."
The third course will be served on the Whistler side after a brief sojourn at the Roundhouse, strategically timed to give staff a chance to ready the palate-cleansing fourth course, served on the gondola platform.
Guests will hop onboard once again for their fifth course, before indulging in dessert on the Blackcomb side, followed by an after-party hosted at the Bearfoot.
Even with such a gargantuan task ahead of them, Bearfoot Bistro founder André St. Jacques — well known for challenging his team with some of the most elaborate culinary events Whistler has seen — said the kitchen and service staff have stepped up to the plate with vigour.
"We have, as a team, embraced these challenges, and they're what create excitement," he said. "At the Bearfoot there's no monotony, there's always something new, there's always something happening, there's always something we're seeking to do that's completely different.
"There's no stagnation in this world, and if there is then you're out of the loop."
Tickets to Sky High: Dining with Altitude are sold out. A portion of the proceeds will go towards the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, the largest benefactor of non-profit organizations in the Sea to Sky.