Call it dinner with a view.
Whistler Blackcomb's Mountain Top BBQ series is now running every Friday to Sunday with a different menu and band performing each night up the gondola at the Roundhouse Lodge. But the man behind the meals — which range from whole hog dinners on Friday to slow roasted prime rib on Saturday and Pacific seafood grill on Sunday — isn't what you would imagine.
"I'm a vegetarian," says Wolfgang Sterr, executive chef for Whistler Blackcomb. "We've made great strides to incorporate more dietary-driven programs in all our restaurants. Gluten-free, low sodium, vegan, vegetarian. Guests are really happy with that and that's where my passion lies: educating people on how food is related to their health."
That means on top of the "slow roasted pork on the rotisserie over hot coals" and "prime rib slow-smoked BBQ," as the menu describes, they also have a host of salads and other vegetables up for offer. "We brought a quinoa and cous cous salad in," Sterr says, explaining some of the changes they've made to the meals in the last couple of years. "We're always looking at upgrading quality of barbecue sauces, the best possible meat coming up, the freshest seafood... There aren't too many changes on the menu from last year. Why change a good thing until we see the food trends are changing? Next year we may make some changes."
For now, though, Sterr suggests the barbecues as a great place to bring visiting friends or family. They get a unique experience, great view and fine dining. "It's really great if you come up with a group of friends or if you have visitors in town and you'd like to take them on a treat to go up to the top of the mountain and experience great food and sightseeing," he says.
It's been a while since he was a tourist visiting the area to snowboard. Sterr, originally from the Bavarian Alps, first came to the resort for vacation back in 1991 when he fell in love with Canada. He came back often after landing a job in Muskoka, Ontario. But after visiting in 2010, he decided to make the Whistler area his home.
He landed a job at the Roundhouse and was quickly promoted to head chef after only six months when the former executive chef left. "It's a unique challenge to operate the largest mountain top restaurant in North America," he says. "We go through product like you wouldn't believe. As fast as it comes into our four coolers and three freezers we have to (refill) every day in the winter."
A large part of his job has been serving as a mentor to the kitchen staff, many of whom are relatively young. He says he tries to pass on his beliefs and experience with sustainability and interest in the environment. One example of how he does this is the herb garden he started. While they don't produce nearly enough to supply the busy restaurant, it still provides a good lesson in growing food. "I started it three years ago by buying flower pots and soil, and I went down to Squamish to buy plants, rosemary, thyme, parsley and other herbs. We started to have (young employees) involved in it and we use them to decorate."
They also try to use sustainably caught fish and local food when they can. Another unique element is the local entertainment, performing between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. "Usually what happens is it's a nice, sunny day because you're at 6,000 feet," says Sterr. "We set the band up outside and the carving stations for the buffet and picnic tables. There are 25 picnic tables and people get up for food, have a drink and listen to the band in the background."
The dinner varies in price, based on the diner's age and whether they need to purchase a ticket to ride up to the mountain. The price for a child, for example is only $11.50 ($28.50 with a lift) while an adult ticket is $29.95 ($64.95 with a lift).
Space is limited, with a capacity of 500 — less if there is another event running at the same time.
Although he's vegetarian, Sterr says there's plenty for everyone to enjoy. "At my heart I'm still a chef," he says. "That's my job. I just choose to be a vegetarian outside of work. It doesn't mean I'm lining up at the pig roast to eat the pig. It's interesting how the staff reacts and how they sometimes think about the choices they make when I walk by with a salad in my hand instead of fries."