The Selkirk Mountains of Rogers Pass are a window through time. Glaciers. Alpine tundra. Rising stone. Old growth rainforest. Even though the Trans-Canada Highway ribbons through here, shuttling millions of cars past their rugged faces, these peaks in many ways still belong to the stories of the intrepid railroad surveyors and pioneering mountain climbers from the turn of the century; and the First Nations, the Ktnunaxa and Shuswap/Secwepemc people, whose ancestral land this is from long before that.
Now from the heart of Rogers Pass, the Heather Mountain Lodge dining experience taps into that well of time: this summer, we ignite live fire, a culinary adventure of high-quality food prepared with a custom-made outdoor grill over live flame fueled by local birch wood fire.
Our method is rooted deeply in the heritage of this particular place—grainy photos of the age of mountaineering explorations show legendary Swiss guides carrying cast-iron pans on their packs, and one of our favorite local hikes ends at an alpine lake campsite with a similar cast-iron pan still hanging from a tree by a nail. But live fire cooking also lights up something universally essential to our human existence: we began cooking over flame. But that art has disappeared from most of our daily lives. Now, although we might experience it over a campfire now and then—live fire creates an instant nostalgia for many of us to family cookouts and campfires—that art has largely disappeared from most of our daily lives.
We’re thrilled that chef Stephan Drolet is bringing it to Heather Mountain Lodge this summer. Drolet came up in the culinary world at a time when modern cuisine was all the rage—think precise techniques like Sous Vide: sealing ingredients in plastic in a certain atmosphere and cooking for a certain time in water at an exact temperature. Now, he sees live fire cooking, a return to old methods, as a craft. Understanding the point of ignition, when the smoke is palatable, what kinds of heat are best. “It requires more thought, more attention. More respect,” he says.
Drolet has been called fiercely seasonal and fiercely regional, which is one reason he’s a Gold Award recipient in Food Innovation for the national Food Day Canada event, and was subsequently invited to the prestigious James Beard House in New York to represent Canada. For this year’s event, representing both the Columbia Valley and Heather Mountain Lodge, Drolet is preparing a five-course menu based off our new live fire grill that showcases tastes from the Columbia River valley and these very mountains in which we sit.
Imagine grilled Arctic Char belly from Naramata in the Okanagan, served with broth of smoked local birch branches, local chanterelles and fiddleheads. Or wagyu ribeye from the J2 Ranch down on the Kootenay River, that’s been aged in local beeswax for 120 days, fire-grilled and served with local “hazelnut” potatoes, pomme puree, charred leeks, Cipollini onions and smoked Swiss chard. These are the culinary experiences our live fire grill, thanks to Drolet’s creativity and expertise and our local bounty, can create.
Drolet often compares food to notes of music. “If food is too one-note—like a high-acid vinaigrette on a big salad—all you’ll taste is that vinaigrette. A few bites in, you’re not enjoying that salad as much. You have palette fatigue.” He explains that live fire is an exciting way to incorporate new notes. “The caramelization of proteins or vegetables takes on different flavors to play with the rest of the notes on the plate. For me, the challenge of live fire cooking is like learning a new chord on the guitar.”
This summer, come taste the music that is the Columbia Valley, the Selkirks, and Heather Mountain Lodge.
Written by Cassidy Randall