Local roots grow a world-class restaurant


Eric Griffith runs his successful restaurant, Alta Bistro, on the very same spot where his elementary school once stood.

In those days the Village only stretched from the base of the mountain to Village Gate Boulevard, but just like Whistler Village grew up in the ’80s, so did a crop of born-and-raised Whistler kids who still call these mountains home today.

The coincidence of location is symbolic for Griffith given that the mountain culture values bred into him are reflected in his restaurant philosophy that respects the balance between nature and business.

In sync with the seasons

A mountain lifestyle tunes into the seasons and Alta Bistro celebrates these natural rhythms. Their menu adapts to the availability on local farms, offering the freshest ingredients at just the right time. These windows of opportunity create an appreciation for the moment and a great sense of anticipation.

As Griffith says, “Whistlerites are always in a state of change with the seasons, so naturally I’m always waiting in excitement for the next fresh produce or fresh powder!”

Even their work behind the bar is guided by the seasons. A cocktail, created from foraged Douglas Fir shoots from Namasthé teas was a huge hit this year and Griffith is excited for its return again next spring.

These seasonal swings have also created a local culture around the shoulder season where Alta Bistro likes to reflect, relax and re-connect with the community. Their prix fixe menu offers quality food at a reasonable price to keep the business bustling with locals when visitor numbers dip.

Leaving a lighter footprint

“My childhood was spent building forts and climbing trees, so I love the peace being in the forest, often on hikes or foraging missions. I only need to think of this when I’m making decisions for the business in terms of environmental footprint,” Griffith said.

Sourcing everything he can locally decreases waste and gives Griffith the opportunity to work with the best possible suppliers. Connecting with local growers and established farming families binds his business to the community and often breeds new opportunities.

When Chef Nick Cassettari suggested borlotti beans one year they weren’t sure if they’d grow in Pemberton, but Rootdown Farm was willing to give it a go and now they enjoy them every year.

“Whistlerites are always in a state of change with the seasons, so naturally I’m always waiting in excitement for the next fresh produce or fresh powder!”

Sustainable sips are also a priority for Griffith whose wine list is full of biodynamic, organic, sustainable grapes. Their FreshTAP technology serves four B.C. wines from aluminum kegs. With each keg equating to 26 bottles, the technology is extremely sustainable, eliminating the waste of bottles, corks and caps.

Griffith’s commitment to keeping things local extends well beyond the food and wine on his tables. In fact, even the restaurant tables themselves were built from a 500-year-old ponderosa pine tree that had been damaged by pine beetles.

A pioneering spirit

This community inspires great freedom and nurtures creativity to challenge traditional boundaries. The mountains themselves provide their own unique education. When asked about mountain life lessons that apply to business Griffith said,  “For me it’s focus. Stay focused, eliminate noise and see what needs to happen. Pick a line, visualize and execute.”

With a clear focus he is not afraid to try new things. A bold investment in two enomatic machines (the first of their kind in Whistler) was pivotal in creating a wine by the glass program to enhance the food and wine pairing experience.

The location itself was something new for Whistler. When looking for the perfect spot it was important to find a space that had not previously been a restaurant. The location off the Village Stroll could have been considered a risk, but in fact it has the benefit that you can see the restaurant sign within 30 seconds of entering Village Gate Boulevard.

Seasonal deliveries from suppliers bring opportunities to get creative in the kitchen and Chef Nick Cassettari is inspired daily with new produce. Even their hand crafted cocktail culture has a pioneering spirit.

They were early adopters of the barrel aged cocktail trend and they use their own house infusions, syrups and tonic for cocktails. Like everything they do at Alta Bistro, you won’t find anything artificial here.

Eric Griffith on mountain culture shaping business culture:

“Seasons are one of most important factors for me in Whistler. I look forward to the next change of season and what it brings. It might be a new ingredient or getting back on the bike in the spring, but either way we always have something to look forward to.”

Link to Whistler Question article: http://ow.ly/VMmem