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Notes from Cornucopia ’09



Well, it's over, and like many others who attended this year's four-day festival of food and wine, I have a full-on culinary hangover. It's no wonder, I managed to pack quite a bit into my experience this year. And according to the folks at Watermark Communications, who organized the entire event, I'm not alone.

According to Sue Eckersley, president of Watermark, attendance at the festival's two Crush events, Viking series and House Party was much higher than last year and the feedback has been, by and large, extremely positive.

"This year, with a year under our belts and understanding the event so much better, we significantly moved in the right direction," Eckersley said.

This year, organizers kicked things off in style with their annual House Party on Thursday night, except this time around, they returned to the roots of the event, using the theme of "Best of B.C." Think a barbecue spread from Whistler's own BBQ Bob, Windset Farms' Executive Chef Dana Reinhardt whipping up halibut on the Viking Stage and a DJ spinning killer tunes to set the mood, all while B.C. wine, beer and vodka makers poured their wares to the eager crowd.

Next up was an extravagant seven-course Magic of Meritage winemaker's dinner at The Westin's Aubergine Grille, prepared by Chef Jeffrey Young, the 2008 Culinary Olympic gold medalist and B.C. Chef of the Year for 2009. Chef Young married dishes like succulent maple wood-smoked sable fish with spot prawn and melon relish with an impressive array of blended wines selected by founder of Sumac Ridge Estates, Harry McWatters, making a difficult feat seem natural and effortless.

Bellies full, a few keen, art-loving attendees (myself included) then toddled off to the Whistler Arts Council's annual party, ARTrageous. This beloved event sold out (yet again), and it was easy to see why - the walls were plastered in masterpieces from local artists as others painted live and human art creations by Cary and Paolo Lopes made their way around the room. Of course, Big John Bates and the Voodoo Dollz stole the show with their incredibly energetic trash blues show, which had everyone shaking it on the dance floor.

On Friday morning, fighting through a serious case of bleary-eyes and dehydration, I made my way over to the Whistler Conference Centre to check out the competition, as local chefs went head-to-head on stage in the Whistler Chef Challenge. In the end, it was Maxim Ridorossi of The Foodlovers that walked away with the $1,000 prize.

After a brief (and very necessary) nap, it was onto Araxi's Big Guns winemaker dinner. Aptly named, this is always a star of the festival, drawing passionate foodies and wine lovers who know that Executive Chef James Walt simply always delivers. This year was no exception, as he created a brilliant five-course meal featuring dishes like a "Head 2 Tail" assortment of Pemberton Meadows beef (six cuts, six ways: tongue, neck, short rib, heart, loin and oxtail). Of course, the true feat of the evening was that Walt paired each of his dishes with an assortment of red wines from Allen Shoup's Long Shadows wineries and vineyards.

The final stop of the evening was a quick visit to Ric's splashy Casino Royale party. Quite the shindig this year, the entire restaurant was transformed into a mini-Vegas and filled with folks who were dressed to impress. Entertainment included (but was certainly not limited to) a very bendy contortionist, energetic go-go dancers, showgirls, and an electronic violinist.

Halfway through the marathon that is Cornucopia, it was time to do a bit of shopping, and this year's artisan market at the Westin, organized by the folks at Slow Food Sea to Sky, didn't disappoint. Hungry shoppers could sample fresh oysters, raclette and other treats at stations set up throughout the ballroom, and pick up rare, yummy goodies like Quebec maple syrup and B.C. chai-infused honey.

The second evening of Crush was a sold-out affair, drawing a huge crowd of industry folk and straight-up partiers to the conference centre to sample an assortment of wines (spitting optional). This year, organizers created a sophisticated atmosphere with their combination of décor, live jazz and art by Michelle Yamamoto.

Last but certainly not least this evening was Bubbles + Ocean at Araxi, arguably the hottest ticket (party-wise) of the festival. With wall-to-wall bubbles (champagnes and sparkling wines) and tables of fresh sushi, canapés, raw oysters, and a sinful dessert selection, there's no wonder that this event is such a hit.

On Sunday, to properly wrap up this decadent weekend in style, the Four Seasons' Fifty-Two 80 Bistro played host to a sumptuous brunch created by Executive Chef Scott Dolbee and his talented team. When it comes to brunch, these guys don't mess around - they had omelette and eggs benedict stations, a spread of fresh seafood that included king crab, prawns, a bit of sushi and an assortment of smoked fish, succulent lamb, a waffle station, and of course, an incredible table of desserts. Hey, you know what they say: go big or go home!


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