If one were seeking an extraordinary dining experience and money were no object, last week's Skyhigh – "A Dinner with Altitude" – would have whisked you to a new pinnacle of grandeur and gastronomy.
Believed to be the first of its kind in the world, the six-course fine-dining dinner took place on Saturday, June 28, in Whistler, B.C., on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola as the cabins glided 426 metres above the Fitzsimmons Creek valley between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.
The epic event was organized by the Bearfoot Bistro, one of Whistler's premier restaurants, and Whistler Blackcomb, the official alpine skiing venue for the 2010 Olympics.
For the Bearfoot Bistro, this once-in-a-lifetime extravaganza provided an opportunity to join the growing trend of high-end restaurants producing al fresco dinners – in the most spectacular fashion possible. For the resort, the event was a fundraiser for the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, a charity that provides financial support to non-profit organizations in the Sea to Sky Corridor. Both organizations waived their costs to raise as much money as possible.
Guests paid $7,500 for a gondola that seated up to 10 people. There are 28 gondolas on the Peak 2 Peak, the longest continuous lift system in the world with an unsupported span of 3.024 kilometres. One of the cabins was broken and the two with glass bottoms could not be used, so there were 25 dining rooms in total, accommodating 248 people. It was a sell-out event.
Earlier that afternoon, the cabins were stripped of their benches and outfitted with one large central table, chairs, white linen, chandeliers, flowers and iPod sound systems.
The culinary tour-de-force was overseen by Bearfoot Bistro executive chef Melissa Craig. She set up two kitchens on either side – hot on Whistler Mountain, cold on Blackcomb. When preparing the menu, she chose dishes that could be cooked in the restaurant and kept warm on site. As a main course, for example, she went with braised milk-fed veal rather than loin, which would have to be cooked to temperature.
No matter how much preparation was done in advance, the success of the evening all came down to timing. When the gondola entered the terminal, 16 service staff had less than two minutes to clear plates, pour wine and serve the next gondola before it sailed off again into the clouds. Timed rehearsals began earlier that week, when Whistler Blackcomb used a crane to park an empty gondola in front of the restaurant.
Demonstrating pit-crew precision on the night of the event, four staff members jumped into each gondola, one in each corner, to pass dishes and receive glasses from others lined along on the landing.
Remarkably, the dinner went off without a hitch. Other than a planned, mid-meal 36-minute bathroom break, the gondola was stopped only once, when several naughty cabin guests hid under the table, throwing organizers for a loop.
The dinner included house-smoked sockeye salmon on a texture of peas, Vancouver Island black cod in sweet corn and Dungeness crab cream, foie gras terrine with truffled brioche and poached pears with cognac foam in a delicate chocolate cone. Although Ms. Craig said she simplified the steps, each dish held up to the standards of excellence she executes in the restaurant.
A stunning list of French reserve wines, all donated by the wineries, included Dom Pérignon 2004 and Louis Jadot Beaune Boucherottes Premier Cru 2006. The only disappointment, and a minor one, was that slow drinkers weren't allowed to keep more than two glasses in front of them at a time.
For the final segment, the string of gondolas drifted into the terminal on euphoric waves of cheers and applause. Although originally conceived as a one-off event, Bearfoot founder André St. Jacques was immediately inundated with requests for a repeat performance next year.
As one Dallas socialite remarked on the descent to the base, "there are worse ways to donate $750 and it sure beats rubber chicken."