Araxi Restaurant

  • dining

James Walt (left), Araxi’s Executive Chef is one of Canada’s Leading Chefs and a farm-to-table pioneer. Neil Henderson (right) has been Araxi’s Restaurant Director since 1999 leading the team to many victories including their 2012 Premier Crew Service Award. Photo by David Buzzard.

Araxi Restaurant has been creating memorable fine dining experiences in Whistler for 33 years.

The cornerstone of Vancouver’s Toptable Group, the Village Square institution has built its reputation by constantly evolving and consistently delivering excellent service and incomparable food.

Executive Chef James Walt likes to “roll with the seasons” when creating his quarterly menus built on local, organic food, much of it sourced from within a 150 km radius of the restaurant. When it comes to preparing that food, his philosophy is simple: use the best quality seasonal ingredients and don’t do too much to them.

“Our local suppliers are great. We have Pemberton Natural beef on our menu, our ducks come from Yarrow in the Fraser Valley and our seafood comes from sustainable sources in B.C.,” says the award-winning chef. “Where we are, things come quickly and then they leave, from tomatoes and strawberries to spot prawns, it makes our menus exciting.”

Araxi’s service levels match the standards set in its kitchen, with restaurant director Neil Henderson striving for nothing short of excellence.

“Our service is the result of having an engaging team environment,” says Henderson. “We hire staff who are motivated, intelligent, empathetic and self-aware. They must always be able to put themselves in the diner’s position to ensure that person has a truly great experience. Also crucial is having a dedicated and talented management team, deep in wine and service knowledge to guide the front of house.”

The combination of exceptional food, outstanding service and a comfortable, yet elegant, dining room, has made Araxi a favourite with resort guests and locals alike.

“For the past two years we’ve won Pique Newsmagazine’s ‘Best of Whistler’ for fine dining,” says Henderson. “That’s a very good barometer of how we’re perceived locally. We also have guests who return every year while they’re on vacation, many of whom will visit us two or three times while they’re in Whistler.”

Now guests can also visit Araxi in Vancouver, albeit for only one special evening, as part of the restaurant’s Longtable Series. The annual al fresco four-course meals featuring B.C. wine pairings started at North Arm Farm in Pemberton four years ago. A Whistler location was added a year later. And last year marked the introduction of the Longtable dinner at Vanier Park during the Bard on the Beach Festival. The inaugural Vancouver event attracted 250 guests.

“The Longtable dinner is a culture of its own,” says Henderson. “We use a somewhat random seating. People start talking to each other, they share stories, realize they’re only one degree of separation… friendships begin …you see the culture changing over the evening.”

Henderson, who has been with the restaurant group since 1992, and has returned most recently in 2010 as restaurant director, attributes much of its success to Walt.

“James’ food is amazing,” says Henderson. “We’ve worked together since 1997 and share complete trust. That allows me to focus on the front of house and ensuring a great guest experience.”

Guests often take a piece of that experience home in the form of the Araxi cookbook. Touted as a “must have ingredient” by Chef Gordon Ramsey, the second run of the award-winning cookbook is nearly sold out.

“Our local suppliers are great. We have Pemberton Natural beef on our menu, our ducks come from Yarrow in the Fraser Valley and our seafood comes from sustainable sources in B.C.”

“The great thing about the book is that it’s accessible to the home cook,” says Walt. “There aren’t too many ingredients in the recipes and none of the techniques are too difficult. And unlike some restaurant cookbooks, everything in the book is, or has been, on Araxi’s menus. And the photography, which features shots of our mountains and farms, is spectacular. I think a lot of people buy it as a coffee table book.”

As Chef Walt contemplates a new cookbook, a second Araxi location in Whistler is being completed. Adjacent to the existing restaurant, the new two-floor space will feature an intimate, late night, upscale New York-style lounge upstairs and a 60-seat private dining room that the restaurant will also use for its prix fixe dinners. Opening later this summer, the as-yet-unnamed restaurant will be a welcome addition to the Whistler dining scene.

“It’s going to be fun, for our guests and our staff,” says Chef Walt. “The design is unlike anything in Whistler and the atmosphere is going to be great.”

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