Friday, July 3, 2015

Interview with James Walt, Executive Chef of Araxi Restaurant + Bar

The following interview was made possible by the NW Tastemaker, a culinary travel publication forthcoming from Northwest Travel Magazine. To read more interviews with the best chefs in the Pacific Northwest, visit Northwest Travel Magazine and TableTalkNorthwest.com.


Photo by Brandon Hart
James Walt, Executive Chef of Araxi Restaurant + Bar

When you think of farm-to-table dining, look no further than Executive Chef James Walt of Whistler’s Araxi Restaurant + Bar. An early adopter of the farm-to-table culinary movement, Walt works personally with farmers, fisherman and ranchers in his area and selects only the best ingredients to create his regionally inspired menus. If it’s wild or foraged, from the earth or the sea, Walt will seek it out and create something original for the palate.


Walt is Whistler’s only chef to cook at the famed James Beard House in New York City, and he has been invited back several times. Additionally, his Araxi Restaurant is sister restaurant to the B.C. restaurants Sooke Harbour House and Blue Water Café. 

How do you describe Northwest cuisine?
I think Northwest cuisine is best described by the fresh, seasonal products. When people think of the Northwest they think of wild salmon, sablefish (black cod), Dungeness crab, spot prawns, oysters, geoduck clams and produce, such as stone fruits, wild mushrooms, seaweeds and fiddlehead ferns. The cuisine is very regional, and it’s backed by a variety of techniques and ethnic influences with the products. We are pretty blessed to have the ocean, fertile valleys, pasture areas and vineyards; it really doesn’t get any better.

Who are your favorite purveyors that you regularly work with?

Rootdown Organics is a farm in Pemberton, BC. They grow our lettuces, root vegetables and raised a pig for us last year, and they have great eggs.
Outlandish Seafood Guild is a group of six oyster farmers that raise four of the oysters we serve in the restaurant. They also supply us with sea urchin, clams and mussels. An amazing group of families that are very passionate about what they do.
Vinegar Lady— Wanda Dixon is truly passionate about local fruit vinegars. Her raspberry vinegar is easily the best I’ve ever tried. It's perfect with oysters.
Mikuni Wild Harvest started in the Pacific Northwest and is the go-to place for wild crafted products from this region.
Two Rivers is a boutique meat supplier who deals mainly in local meats and poultry. It has an in-house charcuterie program and two cattle-producing farms.
Across the Creek Organics is a fourth generation potato farm in Pemberton, British Columbia, owned by Bruce Miller. They produce over ten varieties of the best potatoes.

When you go out for a nice meal, what are two or three of your favorite spots?
When in Whistler, sushi is always our go-to. We really like Sachi Sushi or Nagomi. When in Vancouver, places like L’Abbotori or Blue Water Café. In Seattle, Canlis has always been a favorite.

Who are two other Northwest chefs that you admire?
The first would have to be Frank Pabst at Blue Water Café. I think Frank’s commitment to local, sustainable seafood is second to none. The fact that he does the Unsung Heroes Menu each year shows the dedication that he has for all things seafood. The second would be Owen Lightly from Gabriola Island—one of the most dedicated, driven chefs I’d ever met. He absolutely adored local product and was a young up and coming chef when he passed away last year.

In your opinion, is there an area of Northwest cooking that doesn't receive enough attention?
I think, as we go back to our roots with cooking, one thing for me that keeps coming up is the First Nations cuisine: wild crafted products, living off the land, traveling with the seasons, Bentwood boxes, smoked salmon—these are just a few of the examples. I think there is something to be learned from that early cuisine, especially in terms of wild products, seasonal eating and utilizing the whole animal.

6. Looking toward the future, what about Northwest cuisine most excites you? What are you most excited to do in the kitchen?

I think what excites me most is the constant discovery of small artisanal producers. Also, seafood alternatives, such as gooseneck barnacles, local sole and varieties of sea vegetables. There is always something to discover. What we’re most excited about in our own kitchen is producing fresh cheeses and charcuterie with local meats. This is an area that we continue to explore.

Araxi Restaurant + Bar
4222 Village Square
Whistler, B.C. Canada
araxi.com

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