Amidst the cold temperatures and near-perpetual darkness, good winter food represents one of humanity’s best ways of making it to the spring.
And good news: there is a new restaurant in Whitehorse that will cater to those winter cravings.
Wintering Ground opened three weeks ago inside the Meadow Lake Golf Club chalet.
No matter whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan, meat lover, flexitarian or one of those gluten-free types: chef Virginie Hamel has got you covered.
“I’ve had in the back of my mind (the idea) to have my own place to serve food,” she said.
Hamel has been catering for the past few years and took classes with a culinary school two years ago.
She wasn’t making much progress finding a suitable place to open up shop — land remains expensive — until she learned the golf course was looking to rent its chalet during the winter time.
Juggling another job on top of cooking all the food for the restaurant wasn’t actually the biggest challenge for Hamel. Starting the restaurant proved to be most difficult.
It was a steep learning curve as she had never run her own business.
“I had no prior knowledge about (food and alcohol) permits and administration,” she said.
And there are always tasks that take more time than expected, she added.
“Before it happened I couldn’t believe it was going to happen,” she said. “Now it’s actually running.”
The restaurant is open three days a week, Thursday to Saturday.
The menu features an elegant assortment of winter food, some of Hamels’ preferred dishes she couldn’t find in town, and family recipes.
“There are in the desserts some family recipes that I stole from my mother-in-law,” she said, before adding, “she’s OK with it!”
For appetizers, Hamel serves pesto nachos with cashew caper cream, regular cheese plates and more.
Hamel makes her own vegan cheese plates using almonds and cashews. Almond and cashew have enough fat content they turn into a thick cream when blended.
“Vegans like it a lot,” she said. “For people who are not used to that kind of taste it takes a little while to get used to it.”
For main dishes, Wintering Ground has anything from Thai curry chicken (which can also be served as a vegetarian dish), elk sausage pizza, risotto with prosciutto and vegetarian tacos.
For dessert, don’t miss the gluten free apricot squares, Earl Grey cashew chocolate mousse or even strawberry-parsnip cake.
The idea of using parsnip for desserts might make people frown, Hamel recognizes, but she insists it is indeed tasty.
The restaurant also has a liquor licence, and Hamel is looking at expanding the wine list.
So far her customers have enjoyed the menu, she said.
There has been a decent turnout, especially since she hasn’t had much time to advertise it.
“We have people every night, mostly through word of mouth,” she said.
Ultimately Hamel wants to have shows and concerts at the restaurant, though she still needs to buy a good sound system.
“I want it to be a place where people come and hang out,” she said. “It’s not just about food, I want it to be an experience for people.”
The restaurant is halfway between downtown Whitehorse and the Carcross cutoff, past the gas station on the Alaska Highway.
“People of the surrounding neighbourhood are really happy to have something new around,” Hamel said.
There is now a small core of businesses in the area, she said. “There is Winterlong Brewery, the Cutoff Pub and Restaurant, but we’re all offering a very different experience.”
Wintering Ground is open Thursday and Friday from 5 to 10 p.m. and on Saturday from noon to 10 p.m.
This Friday the restaurant is booked for a private party. For more information and a full menu, look up Wintering Ground on Facebook.
Contact Pierre Chauvin at email@example.com