Forget that boring celery spear—mixologist Hailey Pasemko of The Cure Lounge at Whistler’s Nita Lake Lodge uses freshly picked onions and charcuterie made with local-farmed meats to garnish her Caesars. She prefers to draw on non-traditional ingredients (like sorrel, thyme, watercress and hot peppers) for the out-of-this-world cocktails she makes.
Pasemko also enjoys creating her own infused liqueurs (think tangy meyer lemon Limoncello or fig-infused rye whiskey), exotic bitters and even fruit leathers. The shelves above the lounge’s bar are lined with jars and bottles of her concoctions.
“I really like creating something different, inspired by nature,” says Pasemko. “It’s the little things that give you satisfaction.” And many of the fresh ingredients she uses come directly from the lodge’s lush rooftop garden.
The man behind this garden is restaurant chef Owen Foster (executive chef is Tim Cuff). Foster wanted to ensure that the freshest possible plants were available in the lodge’s lakeside Aura Restaurant. “You can’t source much closer to home than this. There are a lot of great places to eat in Whistler, but we wanted to keep our food and menus as seasonal and sustainable as possible,” he says.
More than 30 herbs and 40 vegetables are grown in the garden, while others come from plots at Foster’s home a few blocks away. Like a chemist in a lab, Foster has experimented with introducing crops (such as fresh green coriander seeds) not known for thriving in Whistler’s tricky alpine climate. He also converted the restaurant’s wine cooler into a meat curer and spent a year testing and refining before essentially launching the first locally produced charcuterie to Whistler.
“It’s brought a new breath of life into this hotel. Aura has been called the best restaurant you haven’t heard about yet,” he says. “People like what we’re doing—knowing a person actually takes your food out of the ground and gives it a sense of place.”
A culinary dream team, both Pasemko and Foster cut their teeth at numerous respected restaurants across Canada, with Foster developing a special interest in charcuterie and the art of preserving meats (which can be enjoyed at The Aura year-round).
Nita Lake Lodge, a 77-suite lakeside inn built in 2008, is situated near Whistler Creekside—home to alpine events during the 2010 Winter Olympics.