WHISTLER, B.C. — “The key is to make sure that the bottle is very, very cold,” Andre Saint-Jacques says as he raises the ancient saber. His left hand cradles a bottle of chilled Dom Perignon champagne.
We’re standing in the middle of a 20,000-bottle underground wine cellar, beneath the award-winning Bearfoot Bistro restaurant in Whistler. Saint-Jacques is teaching us how to open a bottle of champagne — with a sword.
Champagne sabering is a celebratory tradition, he explains, dating to the Napoleonic Wars, when officers would gather on the eve of battle. “If they sliced the neck off clean,” Saint-Jacques says, “it meant good karma. They’d win the battle and they’d return home safe.”
Today, Saint-Jacques, founder of Bearfoot Bistro, is one of the world’s best champagne saberers; he set the Guinness World Record in November 2005 by beheading 21 bottles in a minute. The record-holding saberer loves everything about the bubbly. His restaurant, with an ice-chilled champagne bar, is one of only 150 Dom Perignon Houses in the world, where diners are invited to “Saber With Andre.” There is no additional charge for the experience, other than the price of the bottle ordered. Guests are invited to pick their favorite bubbly to create their own luck. The severed cork is packaged in a custom Bearfoot Bistro box to take home.
According to Saint-Jacques, women do it better than men. “It’s not about strength,” he says. “It’s a smooth, gliding gesture, like hitting a 9-foot putt.”
It’s simple, he contends. Remove the foil; locate the seam at the neck of the bottle; point the bottle in a 30- to 45-degree angle (away from onlookers!); place the sword flat against the bottle, and flick.
He demonstrates: With a swift, Frisbee-tossing movement, he swings the sword and quickly and neatly severs the neck of the bottle. The glass-ringed cork flies into the Bearfoot Bistro flag hanging from the ceiling, and drops to the cellar floor. The champagne bubbles.
Good karma, we think. Then we drink up.
BEARFOOT BISTRO 4121 Village Green, Whistler, B.C. 604-932-3433, www.bearfootbistro.comDiane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.