EightyOne has, by design, adopted some chameleonic qualities since opening on the ground floor of the Summit Lodge last year.
The shop has been touted as part café, part co-working space, offering a quiet, laidback setting for local and visiting professionals to tap away at their keyboards in peace. But afterhours, the space transforms, hosting everything from sewing classes to paint nights to a vintage clothing pop-up shop. And, on every Thursday night this year, you could add elegant supper club to the list.
Since January, the Main Street space has hosted Chef's Table, an intimate and interactive dining experience for up to 10 hungry patrons. The concept was the brainchild of Summit Lodge GM Tony Medd and his friend, chef Adam Protter, a 23-year resort restaurant veteran and the founder of Big Smoke Barbecue.
"We had had the idea before when we ran another restaurant in Whistler to do a cooking school, and we thought it would be a fun thing to do. Then it turned into what we call a Chef's Table, because it's a cross between a cooking school and a chef cooking you dinner," explained Medd.
The concept was mutually beneficial to both Medd, who is always looking for new ways to connect with guests, and Protter, who wanted to ease back into work after "a catastrophic knee injury" left him sidelined from his job at Trattoria di Umberto.
"I was looking for an opportunity to reinvent myself," said Protter.
You'd be hardpressed to find a more unique dining experience in Whistler. Guests not only have the chance to enjoy Protter's hyper-regional cuisine, but actually take part in the preparation process themselves, if they so choose.
"On every menu, I've got at least something where I'm getting them involved," he said. "If anyone wants to come up and stir, chop, run some of the equipment and get involved, that's the ability I have. I can basically switch gears and integrate them into the show."
The long-time chef rotates through a number of three-course menus that reflect his culinary interests and abilities, and, for the most part, they represent styles of cuisine that are new to Whistler. There's the "Caribbean Cruise" menu, featuring a tropical take on the French poisson en papillote that sees guests learn to roll succulent red snapper, plantains, sweet potatoes and other vegetables in parchment paper. Or the yoshoko menu that saw Protter imbue classic Western dishes with Japanese ingredients and techniques, like the simple, Italian staple cacio e pepe he made with Japanese rice instead of the traditional pasta noodle.
This Thursday, Protter is going back to his love of Southern cooking with "A Low Country Charleston Layover," featuring elevated versions of South Carolina classics, like fried green tomatoes in a remoulade sauce, and shrimp and cheese corn grits.
Protter has had to get creative working around the space's limitations, as EightyOne is not equipped with its own kitchen and is not permitted to cook anything that releases "grease vapours" into the hotel—"we don't want the whole place smelling like mackerel," Protter joked.
So Medd had his team help build two portable kitchens equipped with a pair of stovetop elements and a prep area.
The kitchen's limitations actually serve the concept behind Chef's Table; Protter wants diners to feel confident they can make the dishes from the confines of their own home or hotel room. (He even sends guests home with detailed recipes of every menu item—"even the pre-made stuff," he says.)
"It's all electric stovetop cooking using the pans and equipment you would find in the hotel rooms. That's also part of the idea," says Protter.
Chef's Table runs every Thursday at 6 p.m. For $60, plus tax and gratuity, each guest gets to enjoy the three-course menu and a special cocktail.* There are still a few spots remaining for the March 29 Charleston dinner. Call the Summit Lodge at 604-932-2778 to book.
To learn more, visit the Chef's Table Facebook page at facebook.com/bigsmoke.ca.
*An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the $60 fee for Chef's Table includes tax and gratuity. It does not. Pique apologizes for the error.