James Walt stands in the middle of the lush North Arm Farm, pointing this way and that. It’s early September, and Walt, who lives just down the road, is using the farm’s massive bounty to create a meal for over 270 people. This is as farm-to-table as it gets, staring at a patch of crops and then seeing the harvest freshly prepared on the plate. “This is the real thing,” says Walt, executive chef of Whistler’s lauded Araxi restaurant, which hosted the longtable dinner. “We’re having raspberry on a tart, that’s right here. We’re having the corn, that’s over there … They just brought up potatoes, so we’re doing that; yellow carrots are down that way. It’s pretty cool. Farm-to-table, for real.” Araxi organized two of these outdoor longtable dinners this summer; the first one was in Vancouver, with the second at this idyllic 60-acre organic and family-owned farm in Pemberton. It is pure magic to be surrounded by mountains, sitting at one long table with like-minded eaters and drinkers, all gathered to celebrate British Columbia’s produce and beauty.
“This event means a lot because it’s home,” says Walt. “It’s super special. It is fun. It’s a lot of work—it’s crazy work—but at the end of the day, it’s pretty awesome.” This summer’s three-course, wine-paired meal started with albacore tuna and corn salsa; next came deep-fried squash blossom stuffed with crab and served with colourful baby tomatoes and burrata cheese; and then 60-day aged beef with pressed potatoes and carrots; lastly there was dessert, comprised of ice cream bars, macarons, and a standout lemon pie topped with raspberries. Freshness is paramount, and each dish is full flavoured without being overzealous, allowing the natural tastes and textures to shine through. Walt says all in, his team stuffed 350 squash blossoms and cooked 400 pounds of beef; much of the prep is done ahead of time, but most of the cooking is done on site. “The ‘kitchen’ gets a little better each time, so then we can do a little bit more,” he explains. It started humbly, with just a barbeque; now they rent a convection oven and have a deep-fryer, too. It may not be the kitchen that the seasoned Araxi culinary team is used to, but when Mount Currie is looming majestically just off to the right, they seem happy to compromise.
It’s almost painful to leave such a setting, so consider making a weekend of it, staying the night at Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler’s Creekside. If the lake views from the spa hot tubs don’t inspire, brunch at Aura the next morning surely will. And when it is finally time to head home to the city, if a city is indeed home, worry not: the sweet moments from the Araxi Longtable have staying power. When in doubt, all you have to do is look north.