When the holiday rush hit last Christmas season, the Four Seasons Whistler realized it had a bit of a problem on its hands: too many guests. As any local business can attest, this is not an altogether bad problem to have, but it meant the upscale resort's 250-seat Sidecut steakhouse was losing diners to other restaurants in town.
So GM Joerg Rodig and food and beverage director Nathan Ayres put their heads together to come up with a way to not only accommodate this overflow of hotel guests, but also fill a niche that Whistler's current dining scene wasn't serving. Thus, The Cabin was born.
"What better way to serve a business need than through a pop-up restaurant, but at the same time have an innovation for guests that can return year over year?" Ayres said. To bring the concept to life, the Four Seasons transformed an unused banquet space into an inviting rustic setting accented by wood tones and delightful flourishes of Canadiana. (The painting of a Tim Hortons cup framed by reclaimed hockey sticks is a nice touch of kitsch.)
"We definitely wanted a warm cabin feel, but it still had to have the accents of Four Seasons' luxury," Ayres said.
Chef Artie McGee wanted to maintain that connection to place with his hyperlocal menu that moulds B.C.'s abundance of top-shelf ingredients to the theme of "worldly tapas."
"We wanted to do tapas-style food with a Canadian vibe," McGee explained. "Anywhere we could use a local ingredient without losing the integrity of the dish, we leaned that way."
That means you'll find dishes like the classic Spanish staple of smoky, charred octopus with mojo rojo alongside a "Pemberton tortilla" made from North Arm Farm potatoes. Or the locally sourced pickled herring atop Function Junction's 200 Degrees Bakery sourdough. Or, a personal favourite: the spicy, spreadable 'Nduja sausage slathered over toast and hit with a drizzle of sweet Minus 8 vinegar.
It's clear to see how the temporary space gave McGee ample room to experiment outside of the rigid world of hotel catering.
"I have more of a restaurant background, so you go into the cooler and see what you need to use for specials, and you can really change your food based on the seasons," said McGee, who cut his teeth at superstar chef Michael Mina's Wit & Wisdom Tavern in Baltimore. "We don't really get to do that much with banquets because we do our menus a year ahead of time. It's fun and we love the food, but to have a menu thrown at me and have to come up with food like that, it was such a fun challenge. I think anytime a chef is challenged... it brings the best out of you."
In recent years, the pop-up trend has really taken hold in Vancouver, and we're starting to see that bleed into the Whistler market. Earl's Restaurant recently hosted a pop-up at the Pan Pacific while it's primary location was being renovated, and the Caveman Grocer got into the mix this fall when it served a five-course dinner out of a private home for one night only.
"Pop-ups are new in the last five years and it hasn't died off. Especially in markets where there isn't a ton of selection, or even in markets that have a big selection, they want to find something new and exciting," Ayres said. "Anytime you have something exciting that differentiates yourself in the market, it attracts people."
Gauging on the early success of The Cabin, the Four Seasons plans to bring back the pop-up for U.S. President's Week and, if all goes according to plan, next holiday season. It's one way the hotel can stoke excitement with locals by bringing in fresh themes the resort rarely sees. The concept being considered for Christmas 2017? A 1920s-themed Chinese restaurant.
"That's where the innovation can continue," Ayres said. "We love this concept, but there are a ton of different things that Whistler doesn't have for restaurants and cuisines that we could provide once a year."
The Cabin is open daily from 5 to 10 p.m. until Jan. 8, and will reopen in February from the 10 to the 13 and the 17 to the 20. The restaurant is for adults aged 18 and over only, and babysitting services are available onsite.