It's 11 days of indulgence, from blue cheese and poutine, to chocolate and frothy craft beer. It is as decadent as it is entertaining, with a Chardonnay pyjama party, a seminar on how to create the perfect Tiki party, and a class where you can sip a martini while creating a clay sculpture. Yes, it is martinis and mud at the same time. It's local, it's global and it has something for every taste. We present a few samples to whet your appetite.
Made in Canada
Eric Pateman, founder of Edible Canada — which has a full-service bistro on Vancouver's Granville Island and retail stores — is at Whistler's Cornucopia to broaden the focus and share his take on Canadian cuisine. Pateman is the co-author of two books, The BC Seasonal Cookbook and How Canadians Communicate About Food.
So how, exactly, does he define Canadian cuisine?
"Canadian cuisine is local, seasonal, sustainable ingredients in the hands of many cultures," Pateman says. "We are aiming to put the feelings of the people into the flavours of Canada."
He's also a proponent of eating local. "It supports the local economy — local agriculture, farmers, wine markers, wait staff," he says. "It also leaves a lower carbon footprint. Local food has more flavour and nutrients (than imported); it gives you a better understanding of where your food is coming from and a better connection with people and community."
Pateman will create a meal at the Cornucopia Culinary Stage that will shine a light on Canadian food. It will feature a cocktail made with Gin St. Laurent, the country's first seaweed-flavoured gin; pan fried five-spice Humboldt Squid, "or gooseneck barnacles if the weather settles down and they can harvest them," he says; roasted seaweed with foraged mushrooms, and Quebec blue-cheese crouton; Prairie bison osso bucco with whipped goat-butter potatoes and a wild herb gremolata. Each course will be paired with a B.C. wine: Dirty Laundry's 2014 Grande Dame Old Vines Gewürztraminer, 2012 Hillside Pinot Noir, and Black Sage Bench 2014 Black Hills Syrah. The culinary stage series at Cornucopia: Eric Pateman and Edible Canada
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 19, 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m
WHERE: Whistler Conference Centre, Grand Foyer
Brewed: The BC Craft Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival gives beer lovers a chance to taste holiday and seasonal offerings and meet the makers of some of the province's 60 craft brews: Spinnakers Brewpub, Fernie Brewing Co., Dead Frog Brewery, Central City Brewers and Distillers, Vancouver Island Brewery, Deep Cove Brewers & Distillers, Whistler Brewing, and Powell Street Craft Brewery among them. All proceeds go toward the BC Craft Brewers Guild, which represents craft brewers and brew pubs from throughout the province
When: Friday, Nov 18, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. (Doors open at 2 p.m.)
Where: Whistler Conference Centre
'Fun, simple and decadent'
What could be more Canadian than poutine? Eren Guryel, executive chef of Whistler Four Seasons' Sidecut Modern Steak and Bar, will be preparing three different types that will be served with Piper Heidsieck bubbles at the DJ-accompanied Champagne and Poutine After Party. A DJ will be on hand for the late-afternoon events that take place throughout the fest.
"At first we thought of doing Champagne and cupcakes, but we wanted to do something more Canadian," Guryel says. "We wanted to have something that people might want to have at cocktail hour that was fun, simple, and decadent. It's about life's simple pleasures."
His trio of poutine features the classic (cheese curds and red-wine gravy), foie gras with a mignonette gravy; and black truffle with a cheesy béchamel sauce.
WHEN: Friday Nov. 18, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: Whistler Conference Centre, Grand Foyer
The art of cuisine
Cornucopia gives diners the chance to meet and greet local chefs — and vice versa.
"It gives chefs a platform to share their knowledge and passion but also to get out in public," says Fairmont Chateau Whistler executive chef Isabel Chung. So often it's just us in our white coats in the back. With Cornucopia, we hope to inspire people to get back to the basics and have a meal together."
Chung, who studied commerce before going on to study culinary arts in Calgary, has had a progressive career with Fairmont, working at hotels in Southampton, and Seattle, before becoming executive chef at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler last year. She oversees all of the hotel's culinary operations, including the Grill Room, Whistler's only AAA/CAA Four Diamond-rated hotel restaurant, the Mallard Lounge, and Portobello Market & Fresh Bakery.
"I've always loved cooking," Chung says. "My mom was a fantastic baker. She also made a fantastic Bolognese sauce, which is a little bit odd for her cultural background — Chinese from Singapore. But cooking was something we did together when I was a child.
"I love the instant gratification you get from cooking for someone," adds Chung, who thrives under the pressure that accompanies her position. "I don't know what I would do with myself if I had a traditional Monday to Friday 8-to-4 career. I have no idea what I would do with rest of the hours in the day."
She's been busying her days prepping for the Fairmont Chateau Whistler's winery dinner series, which wraps up with a Nov. 19 evening in collaboration with Blasted Church Vineyards.
"I'm a big fan of B.C. wines and where we're going with them," Chung says. "I think it's important to be regional. Shipping in Bordeaux from France doesn't mean that much to me if we have the opportunity to make equally good wine in our own backyard.
"I think Cornucopia is a great educational opportunity for me... It's a great opportunity to meet the winemakers and understand where they're coming from and how I can make my food more relevant to them. It's important for any B.C. chef to be in the know with local wineries. If you can't pair wine at a basic level as a chef, it's a bit embarrassing. There's a lot of wine education and we bring out the best in each other."
Winery Dinner Series: Blasted Church Vineyards
WHEN Saturday Nov. 19, 6 p.m.
WHERE: Fairmont Chateau Whistler
Out of the kitchen
Erin Stone, executive chef at Stonesedge, discovered a love of cooking early on in life, having dinner on the table once a week for her working parents by the time she was 11. She went to culinary school in her native New Zealand — where she developed an appreciation for Asian flavours — before working throughout Europe and later moving to Whistler. The former head chef of Elements describes the food at Stonesedge as wholesome comfort fusion, with a focus on B.C. ingredients.
"I was born and raised on a farm and learned to respect food and where it comes from at an early age," she says. I like to keep things simple and let the food be the star."
With a fondness for Thai and Vietnamese flavours, Stone says she likes being able to interact with Cornucopia guests. "We're usually cooking in the back," she says. "Cornucopia gives you a chance to talk to people and meet customers who might say things like 'I love your eggs benedict.' It's a great way to interact with people who like your food."
She's looking forward to the Night Market: Taste of the World, a multicultural street-food extravaganza. There, Stone is pairing a Lemongrass Nose cocktail — made with muddled lemongrass and wine, as well as vodka and ginger beer, garnished with lemongrass and candied ginger — with Korean beef skewers marinated in soy, jalapeno, sesame, and brown sugar and served with sriracha sour cream.
Among the other food highlights at the Night Market are items made by Guadalajara-born chef Luis Valenzuela Robles Linares, who specializes in Spanish-inspired cuisine at Toronto's Carmen Cocina Espanola, as well as offerings from Basalt Wine & Salumeria, JamJar Folk Lebanese Food, Max's Cuisine — Food of the Philippines, Harajuku Izakaya, and more. Drink partners for the event include Goodridge & Williams Distilling, Yukon Brewing, Moody Ales, and Nineteen-02 Kombucha.
WHEN: Friday, Nov. 18, 8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
WHERE: Whistler Conference Centre Sea to Sky Ballroom
Feeding the masses
A lifelong lover of winter sports, Wolfgang Sterr first came to Whistler on a snowboarding trip 25 years ago, visiting from his native Germany. Canada became his home, and now, the avid boarder oversees 17 on- and off-mountain restaurants in his role as executive chef of Whistler Blackcomb. He has a lot on his plate, but Sterr says his mission is simple.
"Our job is to fuel people to have the energy to have the best days of their lives up on the mountain," he says. "People come in with a smile on their face because they just had the longest and best run of their life. We want to be inspiring and show that you can serve nutritional food that tastes great and gives people the nourishment they need to get back on the mountain. Our main focus at Whistler Blackcomb is about giving people experiences."
A vegetarian and environmentalist, Sterr has overhauled the resort's approach to food and beverage, including a focus on regional products and ingredients. Building relationships with local farmers and producers from Pemberton, the Lower Mainland, and the Fraser Valley has been a key factor in the resort restaurants' success.
Just as Sterr is committed to showcasing more regional products at Whistler Blackcomb eateries, the 2016 edition of Cornucopia, Whistler's annual festival of food and drink now in its 20th year, is shining a light on British Columbia's bounty.
Feed your soul
There's more to Cornucopia than food and drink. The Nourish Festival is all about offering attendees balance amid so much bounty.
"Whistler is a hub of health and wellness, and people are passionate about those things," says festival organizer Allison Hunter. "It's about slowing down and having fun treating your body.
"We wanted an open approach; it's not about 'eat this and do this,'" she adds. "It's very positive. We stay away from scare tactics — that's not relaxing or nourishing. It's about supporting a positive message. While you're enjoying what you eat, what else can you do to support your health? Here's some tools. That resonates with a lot of people who have that quest for balance."
Nourish has two programming streams: one with daily activities and a new four-day retreat from Nov. 17 to 20. The latter is about "nourishing your strongest life." Each day starts with meditation and yoga at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, with sweeping mountain views, before participants take in cooking demonstrations by the chefs and experts at the Nourish Culinary Stage. Afternoons are spent connecting with Whistler's natural beauty on trips through the forests, to the spa, and inspiring explorations, while evenings are for enjoying Cornucopia's food and wine events.
Nourish's Culinary Stage sessions, meanwhile, include a luncheon dedicated to healing foods from around the world; an interactive brunch all about creative raw dishes and raw-food techniques like sprouting and dehydration; and a zero-mile breakfast.
As part of the regular programming of Nourish, certified StandOut coach Tracy Hutton will present a seminar called 10 Happiness Habits, based on current research in positive psychology and neuroscience. In another called Seasonal Health, clinical herbalist Angela Willard will talk about how natural ingredients can help support physical and mental health.
WHEN: Friday, Nov. 18, 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
WHERE: Whistler Conference Centre Seminar Rooms
After launching last season, the popular Cornucopia Cicerone Vs. Sommelier session is back. Presented by Whistler Debates, the multicourse tasting is held under the Munk Debates format: attendees cast their ballots on their way in then again after the showdown between Whistler native Brendan Grills, Canada's youngest cicerone, and 2013 sommelier of year Samantha Rahn. Valenzuela Robles Linares will create several dishes, each of which will paired with both a wine and beer. Whoever sways the most votes in their direction wins.
WHEN: Saturday Nov. 19, 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
WHERE: Whistler Conference Centre, Grand Foyer
Poured Grand Tasting: The Full Spectrum is a liquid party, Cornucopia's signature all-encompassing drink event with everything from fine scotch to locally made cider. It will feature dozens of labels, including Van Weston Vineyards, Wodka Wines, Marichel Winery, Deep Cove Brewing & Distilling, Parallel 49 Brewing, Driftwood Brewery, and Red Truck Beer Company.
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 19, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
WHERE: Whistler Conference Centre, Sea to Sky Ballroom
Collective Kitchen, a private-dining company that collaborates with local farmers and artisans, is hosting a reception and three-course dinner with guided wine pairing by Fort Berens Estate Winery, which is Lillooet's first winery in B.C.'s newest wine region. With 20 acres of vineyard on sage-brush covered benchland along the Fraser River at the base of towering mountains, Fort Berens experiences lingering summer sunlight and moderate winters, which make for a unique terroir well-suited for growing premium grapes.
The evening ends with a private tour of the striking new Audain Art Museum, which houses one of the world's finest collections of First Nations masks and Emily Carr paintings, with proceeds supporting local educational initiatives.
When: Saturday, Nov 19, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
WHERE: Audain Art Museum
Bearfoot Bistro's sixth annual World Oyster Invitational and Bloody Caesar Battle features some of the best shuckers and mixologists from around the globe. Attendees get to watch the knives fly as oyster shucking is timed — and contestants can try every single Caesar in this contest.
WHEN: Sunday, Nov. 20, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
WHERE: Whistler Conference Centre, Grand Foyer
Other Cornucopia highlights include drink seminars. (All seminars at the Whistler Conference Centre unless otherwise noted):
Bubbly Cocktails: The Life of the Party Think of this as beyond the bubbles: Find out how you can riff on those sparkly beverages to create sophisticated cocktails.
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 19, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Patrón Tequila: A Story of Perfection Sure, that's the stuff in your margarita, but tequila is as varied as whisky in age, quality and price. Learn about one of the world's leading premium tequilas.
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 19, 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Wine & Chocolate: Friends With Benefits Mark Pennington and Rachelle Goudreau walk you through some table wines that can be paired with your favourite chocolate desserts.
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 19, 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Crystal Lodge Art Gallery: Martini and Mud
Create, explore and taste your victory as you create a bear sculpture. No previous experience necessary, with either sculpture or martinis.
When: Sunday, Nov. 20, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.
WHERE: Crystal Lodge Art Gallery
Chardonnay Pyjama Party: Rise of the Chards Yup. Doesn't get much more comfortable than jammies and about nine samplings of smooth Chardonnay. Need we say more? Paul Watkin, Keith Nicholson, and Chris Funnell host this event.
WHEN: Sunday, Nov. 20, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
He Said, She Said: The Rematch Eric Blouin and Samantha Rahn return for their debate about wine and food pairing. Blouin and Rahn will recommend a pairing for each of four dishes, then explain their selection. Observers have the power of the vote to determine who the winner is.
WHEN: Sunday, Nov. 20, 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Passing the Tiki Torch: A How-to Guide for Polynesian Parties Be the darling of the party world as you shock your guests and rock their world with your take on the Tiki trend. Who knew?
WHEN: Sunday, Nov. 20, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m