Talk about pressure.
You’ve already endured the uneasy experience of a secret diner sampling your food, judging your service and rating your ambiance. You’ve come out on top with a coveted award, shared only by 600 others, the Achievement of Distinction in Dining Award from the Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNA).
But that was seven months ago, and now they’re turning up the heat, bringing 60 DiRoNA delegates — some of the continent’s top-rated chefs and restaurant owners — into your restaurant to experience your first-class fare first hand.
This was the unusual scenario for Bearfoot Bistro executive chef Melissa Craig and owner Andre St-Jacques Wednesday (Sept. 18).
“It’s always a little nerve-wracking cooking for industry people, but it’s exciting too and I’m glad we’re involved,” Craig said. “It’s a big week.
“To be recognized by any organization is nice, but to be a part of some pretty serious restaurants in the DiRoNA group … it’s nice to be recognized as a part of that as a high-end restaurant.”
DiRoNA is a non-profit organization that seeks to promote fine dining throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico by recognizing excellence under the criteria of ambiance, cuisine and service. This year the association held its three-day annual conference (or so-called “reunion”) in Vancouver, taking advantage of the opportunity for a quick day trip to Whistler for lunch at the Bearfoot Bistro.
The restaurant was awarded their DiRoNA distinction as recently as February this year. Recipients are allowed to display the award for four years, at which time they must submit to another secret inspection.
For Wednesday’s lunch delegates were escorted Bearfoot’s wine cellar for Champaign tastings then to the vodka room followed by Craig’s four-course meal, featuring a B.C. heirloom tomato salad with buttermilk ricotta, Alaskan king crab, milk-fed veal tenderloin with sweetbreads and a wild rose opera cake.
“Obviously we want to create a unique dining experience,” said marketing manager Marc Des Rosiers. Most of the people we will be hosting are some of (North America’s) best chefs and restaurant owners. Especially when you do something for your peers you want this to be the best experience for them.”
Following lunch in Whistler, Craig was spirited off to Vancouver to join six other DiRoNA chefs from B.C. who prepared a seven-course meal for 240 delegates for the closing Gala. The 2013 conference explored themes that include trends in West Coast cuisine, sustainability, and the future of fine dining. Featured in the 2013 lineup for award recipients is another Whistler restaurant, Araxi, bringing the total number of DiRoNA winners in Whistler to two.
Craig noted Whistler’s food culture is not without a diverse and extraordinary selection of restaurants. “We have a lot to offer,” she said. “I never get tired of finding a place to eat.”