As we were researching our Hall of Fame for this year's Restaurant Awards, we did a deep dive into several categories including Whistler, where we singled out Araxi as a room that has so dominated its category (17 Gold Medals in 18 years) that we singled it out for the Hall of Fame.
Anyone who's travelled to other major ski resorts know how lucky we are in Whistler—the restaurants are better and more reasonably priced than almost any other bold-name resort. But doing the research for the HoF also underscored another reality—as great as Whistler's restaurants are, there hasn't been that been an exceptional new spot in a long while. Since 2010 only 3 restaurants—Araxi, Alta Bistro and The Grill Room at the Fairmont—have won Gold, and that's generally not the sign of a vibrant fine dining scene.
Which makes this (breaking) news all the more exciting. This Spring, Whistler will see the opening of Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar, and it is the most significant opening the mountain town has seen in decades. Hyerpbole is always a dangerous game in the restaurant industry, but in this case, the hype seems more than justified given that the three principals involved—each bring with them reputations that are sterling in the industry.
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First up is Neil Henderson, who many will know from his time as the Restaurant Director steering the Araxi ship through almost all of those aforementioned Gold medals (he also was singled out for his own FOH excellence in our 2012 Restaurant Awards), and oversaw the opening of Bar Oso for the TopTable Group. He is easily one of the most respected front of house/restaurant operations managers in the province, and it feels like at one time or another he's mentored a sizeable cross section of Whistler's hospitality industry.
Then there's Alex Chen, and before you freak out like I did, no, he's not leaving Boulevard where he and Roger Ma have dominated the fine dining category in the last few years. He was named our Chef of the Year in 2018, and has won Iron Chef, Gold Medal Plates and the Bocuse D'Or (the Big 4!). Chen's plan is to be onsite weekly and will be integral to the execution of the menu, recipes and team training and development.
Finally, is a name that I wasn't sure we'd mention again except in fawning tributes: Jack Evrensel, the founder of the TopTable group (West, CinCin, Araxi, Blue Water, Thierry) who sold his perfectly run empire to the Aquilini family in 2014, and rode off into the sunset. And has kept a magnificently low profile since then. He is arguably the most influential restaurateur in the province's history, and his oversight and attention to every detail of a restaurant's operation is still spoken about.
So, wow. Here's what we know so far:
1. Chen will not be the resident head chef, although he will be deeply involved. The group is reviewing candidates for a role that may be along the lines of Chef de Cuisine.
2. The space is at 4005 Whistler Way will hold approximately 150 diners and is located adjacent to the Aava Hotel and across from the Whistler Conference Centre.
3. There will be dedicated parking (parking!), which for Vancouverites who stay outside of the village (aka Vancouverites) is huge.
4. The expected opening is Spring of 2022 although, those who know Whistler will understand that the period after skiing ends but before Summer ramps up is very low season, so we'll see how this influences things.
Permits have been secured and construction is well underway. The team is busy interviewing staff as we speak. We'll keep you posted on any upcoming developments.