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Cornucopia cooks up jump in advance sales

Expanded food and wine festival takes place Nov. 6 to 16

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While there was some doubt last year over the viability of an 11-day Cornucopia festival after it was stretched from five days for the first time, early ticket sales are bearing out that when it comes to Whistler's premier food and wine extravaganza, bigger is definitely better.

In the second year of expanded programming that stretched the festival over two weekends, advance ticket sales are pacing 23 per cent ahead of 2013, and 44 per cent ahead for the event's final weekend, according to Tourism Whistler.

After some restaurateurs complained last year about a lack of signature events, and the difficulty of drawing regional visitors during the midweek portion of the festival, there was some talk about returning the event to five days.

But, with room night bookings pacing 10 per cent ahead of last year so far, event producer Sue Eckersley of Watermark Communications knows she made the right decision.

"Last year, we thought it was a pretty successful Year 1 (of the extended festival), but it's really obvious that it's taken root," she said. "We're just really excited about where we're at right now."

Mexican Corner GM Pepe Barajas was one of the restaurateurs who spoke about the challenges of an expanded festival last year, but said with more events concentrated on the weekends, he's happy with the direction organizers have taken Cornucopia.

"There are a few less events during the week, which helps because we aren't fighting over customers," he said. "In terms of my personal experience, this year so far is better than last year."

While the 2014 rendition will see the return of several Cornucopia staples, including the Crush Grand Gala wine tasting on Saturday, Nov. 8; Poured on Saturday, Nov. 15; and the Night Market to open the final weekend, there's also a handful of new programs.

With the success of Crush, Watermark introduced Cellar Door On Friday, Nov. 7, designed to be a more intimate tasting affair featuring 100 high-end wines from 30 different wineries. To that end, organizers also launched a series of midweek wine seminars for the first time.

First-time event With A Twist, on Sunday, Nov. 9, is billed as "a choose your own cocktail adventure," with seasoned mixologists on-hand to give guests tips or pour their own signature drinks.

A new format will be introduced at Night Market: Taste of the World as well, with guests being given a passport to tour the culinary map. Twelve countries will be represented, and diners will get their passports stamped at each station and will only be allowed to return for seconds near the end of the dinner — an effort to reduce lines and create a more casual atmosphere, said Eckersley.

"It makes sure everybody who buys a ticket has the opportunity of trying all 12 (stations) as opposed to somebody doing laps at the Sushi Village table," she said.

Along with the conference centre, the Fairmont will be a festival hub, with 10 different events hosted at the Upper Village resort hotel, including a series of hands-on workshops meant to help guests with holiday planning.

"We're in the hospitality business so this is a festival that gives us an opportunity to showcase what we do best," said Yasmin Haufschild, director of special events and programming at the Fairmont. "I bet nobody knows that we do lots and lots of food and beverage workshops for our conferences, so we have a lot of experience teaching these kinds of things."

But it's not just the Fairmont's profile that will be raised over the event's 11 days, but the resort's "world-class" culinary scene as well, Eckersley said.

"(Cornucopia) is to remind people that Whistler is so much more than a ski and bike destination, and that culinary tourism should thrive in this town," she said.

"We have a culinary scene that rivals many metropolises."

Visit www.whistlercornucopia.com for the full schedule and to register.

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