From fresh morning smoothies to healthy après-ski bites, good food is an essential element of any wellness vacation. We spoke to chef James Olberg, Executive Chef of Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler, about sourcing locally, rooftop gardens, and west coast vibes.
Wander: What originally drew you to the West Coast?
Chef Olberg: I moved to British Columbia from Alberta almost 20 years ago, drawn by the beauty of the west coast of Canada and because it’s extremely different from Edmonton. The job opportunity initially got me here, and then the lifestyle kept me.
The rooftop garden is such an exciting and unique element of the Lodge. How long has it been in operation, and what’s being grown?
The rooftop garden has been a part of Nita for 10 years, and over the past two years we have been developing it further, trying to find ways to maximize the space and yield of produce we can grow on the roof. We grow leafy greens for our salads, carrots, lavender, herbs, and lots of edible flowers.
How did you come to your philosophy of local and sustainable food?
Local being coastal B.C., it makes complete sense for all kinds of reasons. Fresher products. Suppliers are much more knowledgeable in this area. The philosophy is to look around and see what people are using, talking to suppliers about the products they sell, and sourcing local farms. We have our garden for produce while in season. We also are cautious to follow the guides by Ocean Wise to ensure we aren’t using fish species that are on the verge of collapse.
Is sourcing locally a challenging model? What’s the vetting process for selecting suppliers?
Suppliers must prove themselves just like a chef would. I’ve been using the same suppliers for almost 20 years, and there is a lot of trust and resourcefulness. Knowledge is king. Knowing what’s out there and also what people want to eat. B.C. has strong products – a lot of our chicken and seafood are from here, other meats from Alberta. Sometimes we source from the East Coast as well, because you just have to.
Another angle to sustainable eating is food waste. How do you approach it?
We have a strong recycling and compost program here at Nita. We are very precise in our volumes and keep our fridge stock tight. We are very cautious about controlling how we run our business to reduce or limit the amount of waste.
What’s special about Whistler (or Nita Lake) as a setting for what you do?
The lake itself. The restaurant overlooks the mountains and lake, so it’s an all-season advantage, a real sense of being connected with nature.
What changes or trends are you seeing in local or “ethically-sourced” eating?
Veganism and using ancient grains in breads as well as in dishes. We definitely research farms to ensure animals are treated ethically and don’t mind paying extra. It’s important, and also adds another level of consciousness as a chef, and ultimately for our guests. It’s ethics – plain and simple.
What can guests of the Lodge expect (dining-wise) this year?
Very seasonal menus. This summer we plan to serve fresh B.C. oysters on ice. Fresh, vibrant products, and making the most of our rooftop garden greens, flowers, herbs, cherry tomatoes, and carrots.
Can you share some of your favorite West Coast ingredients?
Kuterra salmon, Dungeness crab, and mushrooms (from Seattle).
What herbs get you most excited?
Rooftop garden fresh, of course! I’m excited about flowers such as Nasturtium. Flower leaves with distinct flavors. Chervil is also a beautiful herb.
Can guests find vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free options on the menu(s)?
Yes – always!
Last question: we’re having a potluck (and thrilled you’ll be attending!). What do you bring?