Sustainability has evolved from epicurean buzzword to cultural necessity. As gas and oil prices soar, foods from afar have become an unrealistic, unfriendly - even grossly indulgent - and nowhere is the population more in tune to the trend than in B.C. The highly sustainable Alta Bistro on Main Street in Whistler is a fine example of playful cuisine that stays well within the parameters of local.
"We were tired of seeing so much waste in restaurants, with a focus on short term profits," said long-time resident Edward Dangerfield, who co-owns Alta Bistro with born-and-raised Whistlerite Eric Griffith. "Eric and I were living more sustainable lives in our homes with recycling and choosing ethical food sources. There was a discord between home and work, and we wanted to bridge it."
Drawing from work experience at fine dining establishments around Whistler, Dangerfield and Griffith designed a restaurant that addressed the need for excellent food while pacifying their desire to source products from not much further than the borders of British Columbia. As a result the menu reads like a Michael Pollan-approved canon.
For appetizers, front-runners include a selection of B.C. cheeses paired with Nita Lake Lodge charcuterie and the Peace Country bison carpaccio, though the house-made pate served at the next table made my to-do list. Many of the starters come with a touch of summer-made local preserves that chef Guillaume Gissinger prepares when fruit and veg are in bloom to keep the flavours moving in the winter months. If carnivore defines your mood for the evening, the Peace Country Provençal lamb belly braised with wild mushrooms, roast potatoes and demi-glace arrived slow-cooked, creamy and rustic. For lighter fare the orange pepper spiced BC sockeye salmon filet with seasonal vegetables rice and white wine sauce offers a nice spin on a fish commonly drenched in dill or maple syrup. It arrived cooked to perfection without a hint of the dry or overdone finish that tends to plague perfectly good pieces of salmon everywhere.
House made is the dominant theme over all courses, and the words are well applied to the dessert menu. Crème brulee comes in its original form or with an ever-changing twist and each bite of the molten chocolate lava cake was decadent, warm, and deliquescent. Homemade sorbet and ice cream is also available for those who prefer to sink into cold, sweet bliss in the post-dinner chapter.
Every dish prepared by Thonon les Bains-trained chef Gissinger, who hails from Haute Savoie, France, is approached with the same dedication as a conductor to an orchestra - he admits to constantly adjusting and fine tuning his menu for the perfect blend of flavour. And when something on the menu doesn't fit a customer's tastes, Gissinger takes time to discuss their preferences and will adjust the meal accordingly (vegetarians take note!).
Gissinger, who accumulated most of his training in the sunnier climes of Spain and France, has taken the variances in B.C.'s cuisine and seasons to heart.
"The North American palate is different, and I have to adjust my seasoning and cooking techniques to be successful - at the same time it is important to stay true to my French roots," he said. "Here in Canada it is important for me that the menu reflects the availability of products, and therefore the seasons...I am excited about the spring and the new variety of fresh local produce that will be available."
While most restaurants have poor track records when it comes to sustainable practices, Alta Bistro was designed with a variety of features that minimize its environmental footprint. They use the Vivreau water system, which provides pure still or sparkling water without the excess plastic or glass bottles.
Wine is preserved through an Enomatic system - the only one of its kind in Whistler - providing exact temperature control for a perfect pour and giving drink manager Scot Curry the opportunity to serve high-end wine by the glass. The tables and bar of the bistro are made with a lovely, blue stained denim pine cut from beetle-killed wood, and the ice machine is cooled by air rather than more energy consumptive water.
Dining at Alta Bistro: just another way to say "I love you, earth."
For a complete menu and drink list go to www.altabistro.com.