When Executive Chef Wolfgang Sterr came onboard to head Whistler Blackcomb's food and beverage offerings in 2011, the common belief out there was that ski resorts were either incapable or unwilling to serve the type of elevated cuisine fine dining restaurants in the valley are known for.
Since then, the Bavarian chef has almost singlehandedly shifted diners' peceptions with a penchant for fresh, local ingredients that play up to guests' tastes rather than catering to the lowest common denominator.
"This year, more so than any other, the amount of feedback I've overheard or was directed at our food and beverage team is that, over the last five years, we've done a great push in changing pretty much every single dish that is served on the mountain, enhancing it, cleaning up the ingredients, making sure it's potentially locally sourced, making sure that we're hitting the nutritional needs for our guests to be out there and have a great day of skiing, and making sure we're hitting the flavour palate with the newest trends," Sterr said. "It's exciting times."
Exciting times indeed. Along with transforming the menus at Whistler Blackcomb's 17 on- and off-mountain restaurants and pubs, the resort has for the past several years given its chefs free reign to create a sumptuous, multi-course dinner that pairs some of the continent's best wines with inventive, regional cuisine.
Coined the Winemaker Après Series, the monthly dinners at Whistler and Blackcomb's mountaintop restaurants are yet another way Sterr is challenging the notion of what a ski resort can serve.
"A lot of times people come to ski resorts and they expect hamburgers and hot dogs, but we're in the fortunate position to have Steeps and Christine's as our full-service restaurants that focus on locally sourced ingredients," explained Sterr. "And we partner up with wineries from the Okanagan Valley and pair food with wine and build a story around it."
On Thursday, Jan. 12, that narrative will centre around the wines of Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate. The menu, devised by catering chef Steve Bjormark, is an unapologetically West-Coast take on classic French cuisine featuring, for instance, a Cornish game hen with garlic, rosemary and lemon, and a pear crème brulée for dessert.
Hosted by Sterr and winemaker Dave Carson, the dinner will offer guests a glimpse at the inspiration behind each of the menu's six courses.
"That's often where the magic happens, when the winemaker is there talking about his passions and what goes into the wine, and then the chef creates the menu items around that and explains the cause and effect of the food and the wine," added Sterr.
The dinners also provide Whistler Blackcomb's chefs with the chance to flex their creative muscles.
"From a creativity standpoint, the sky's the limit," Sterr said.
Thursday's dinner is set for Steeps at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $99.45, available at Guest Services, whistlerblackcomb.com, or by calling 1-800-766-0449. The rest of this winter's winemaker dinners are scheduled for Feb. 14, March 9, and April 13. For more information and a list of participating wineries, visit www.whistlerblackcomb.com/mountain-info/on-mountain-dining/winemakers-apres.
Elsewhere at Whistler Blackcomb, Wizard's Grill in the Upper Village has launched a family dinner service with its revamped pizza menu as the centerpiece.
For $25, families can get a flatbread pizza and a family-sized serving of Ceasar salad. An a la carte menu is also available.
The decision to open up the Wizard Grill for dinner stemmed from an old stone-deck oven the restaurant upgraded this fall as well as a dearth of dining options for families, explained Mike Varrin, GM of food and beverage valley operations.
"We started making these great pizzas and we thought it was a shame just to be doing them during the day. My first thought was, 'how do we start selling these in the bar?'" he said. "But being someone who has a family and looking at the options for families to go out to eat good food at an affordable price in an approachable environment, we thought the Wizard Grill is just ripe for it. We thought we would try this family approach and it seems to be working."
The Wizard Grill is now open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, and from 5 to 8 p.m. for dinner.