Moving Mountains – Winemaker’s Dinner At Whistler Blackcomb
I am the first to say there are few bad views in Whistler but in all honesty some certainly win out. As you climb the Whistler Gondola line to the Roundhouse, you can almost feel guilty for the locale-envy visitors might feel. Yes, this is our backyard and like any welcoming neighbour, Whistler Blackcomb’s Executive Chef Wolfgang Sterr and his team roll out the red carpet via tantalizing smells that could be considered appetizers unto themselves.
After attending one of the winter’s Après Winemaker events, I was determined to experience the summer rendition which occurs only twice – once in July and the other in August. After a sunny snow-walled trail hike, and a prepping glass of vino blanc on the patio with tunes, we were set for an epicurean journey. Escorted by Nk’Mip Cellars’ winemaker Randy Picton, we learn of the influences and care that have created this unique winery and production. The Osoyoos-based vineyard, along with Sous-chef Neil’s love of Canadian cuisine has produced the dinner’s inspiration and the flavours at play.
Quickly it was apparent as to why Wolfgang and Randy would want to partner for such an event as the entire room of new-found friends were mesmerized by their passion for local ingredients and sustainable production. As the trend for the “100 mile menu” has taken hold, this adherence is not surprising but as Randy raved about the First Nations owned winery he works with, and the young vintners he guides, I realized resources are of a human form as well.
Care was in every bite and slurp of the first course- a local parsnip with peaches ‘n’ cream corn soup, finished with smoked sablefish, crispy panchetta and a delicate leek oil. I kid not, it was as if my mom’s garden had sprung a leak and oozed this liquid gold itself!
The 2010 Riesling was just as cleansing and set the room at a buzz of enthusiasm. Next, the Qwam Qwmt 2009 Chardonnay which translates as “greatness,” set the bar high for the paired course. Wolfgang explained they had prepared the second course’s Albacore tuna with a spiced crust, froze it, and then lightly seared it to finish before setting it atop the summer squash and olive caper tapenade salad. Needless to say, our table was a bit awestruck by the complex yet smooth flavours at this point and all of our conversation somehow turned to fave restaurants in the Pacific Northwest.
There may be something to be said for shooting low on the first few courses when presenting five overall so as to have something to work up to, but with round three the team just started to show off that wasn’t their style. Never in my life, as a Manitoba prairie girl, have I seen an exquisitely crafted Pinot Noir – aptly named the Nk’Mip Qwam Qwmt 2009 of course- paired with a perogie until now…. Wow Babba didn’t know what she was missing! But as we lapped up the artisan version enfolding Pemberton potatoes, Astrids cheese curds, Fraser Valley smoked bacon and caramelized onions and chive “sour cream”, I realized the similarities of careful craftmanship. Time, balance, and love as common ingredients in both and the room was spellbound by Ukrainian elegance.
For the fourth course I have to come clean. The Horseradish crusted Alberta Beef Tenderloin, glazed beets, fingerling potatoes and English pea puree was overshadowed for me….you may think it was the Meritage Rosemary Demi, or the stunning 2009 Mer’r'iym vino – ironically meaning marriage – that did it, but you would be wrong. It was Wolfgang’s admittance that while he is the prime example of a foodie…he is…in fact…a vegetarian! Yes, a soulmate has been discovered. Sorry, hubby.
His love and understanding of flavour-filled balance was undeniable all the same. One can only complete such a food excursion with simple perfection and that is what was delivered in the form of vanilla creme brûlée with wild local berries and salty-sweet candied pistachios. The only pairing that could do it justice was the Qwam Qwmt 2010 Reisling Icewine to be sure. As we all rolled outside and on to the downloading gondola, a peaceful satisfaction took over. It was like leaving a family reunion as we had shared something special and inspiring. We had entered as strangers but our appreciation for good food and exceptional wine was an instant binding agent. Amazing things can happen on top of mountains and the Winemaker’s Dinner is set to impress.