Cornucopia is like Christmas for adults, except instead of visions of sugarplums we have flutes of champagne and incredible hors d'œuvres dancing in our heads. And replace the Boxing Day tantrums and crankiness with straight-up hangovers. Yep, that's Cornucopia in a nutshell. And I wouldn't miss it for the world.
Anyone who stepped foot in the Village from Thursday to Sunday had to have noticed the throngs of unusually well-dressed people wandering the stroll. And believe me, they weren't here for the weather. According to numbers from the organizers at Watermark Communications, Cornucopia 2010 saw the highest attendance of the three years that Watermark has been involved in the event, with over 2,300 tickets sold for the two nights of Crush alone. Seventeen events were either almost full or completely sold out, and House Party, CRUSH Saturday night, Casino Royale, Araxi Big Guns and Bubbles were all "very well attended." Special events like the Chef's Trip to the Farm and the Top 25 Celebratory Reception sold out ahead of time as well.
Personally, I'd love to have this incredible festival of wine and food spread out over a week. I don't know about you, but three nights of booze is just too much for me these days. That's it - I'm officially old.
My Cornucopia experience started on Thursday evening, with a trip to the Best of B.C. House Party hosted at the Conference Centre. The BBQ spread that the Four Seasons' Sidecut produced was incredible: ribs, chicken drumsticks, succulent lamb meatballs, salmon and halibut served with sides of roast corn, three salads, baked potatoes, and much, much more. It was a solid feed that was well worth the wait, especially since copious sips of B.C.-produced wine and beer soon followed. Afterwards, we tottered down to Creekside to check out Whistler Arts Council's sold-out annual art party, ARTrageous. They'd managed to take this beloved watering hole back in time, straight to the '50s, with a soda shop (complete with root beer floats) and arts and crafts on the upper level, and a sock hop with the Deadcats on the main floor. People went all-out with their costumes as well, which kind of made me wish that I'd managed to dig up a poodle skirt for the occasion.
On Friday afternoon I took a detour around downed power lines on Highway 99 and made my way to the Conference Centre, where I sat on the judging panel for the Chef's Challenge. The competition was a rematch for a similar event held during the summer, which ended in a dead-tie between the Sidecut and the Bearfoot Bistro. This time around the teams of three battled it out for 60 minutes to create five dishes featuring one secret ingredient - venison. Though it was a tight battle, in the end the Bearfoot Bistro emerged victorious, taking home a $2,000 cash prize as well as some serious SWAG from Viking for their efforts. (Sidecut's team didn't go home empty-handed: they won $500 for best ingredient use.)
After a brief afternoon power-nap, I dug out a dress and heels and headed for Araxi's annual Big Guns winemaker dinner, which featured a sumptuous five-course menu from Chef James Walt (Nova Scotia lobster salad, pork cheek and veal cheek, roasted elk tenderloin, Pemberton Meadows beef short rib, and Okanagan pears with hazelnut pannacotta and a warm cinnamon beignet). Of course, each course was paired with not one but two wines: I stopped counting after ten different glasses. All in all, it was another impressive show by this local fine dining institution.
Needless to say, Saturday afternoon was a total write-off, but the evening started with a trip to the second night of Crush, where we warmed up with a few tastings from the many wineries gathered to sample their wares to the industry and public. I'd skipped dinner in anticipation of Araxi's infamous Bubbles + Ocean afterparty (my favourite Cornucopia event), so I made a point of checking out Nita Lake Lodge's impressive selection of house-made charcuteries. Appetite sufficiently whetted, it was time for the bubbles: and bubbles there were! More than 20 of the world's top champagne and sparkling wine houses were pouring, Chef Walt had outdone himself again with a seemingly endless spread of sushi and hors d'œuvres, and fresh oysters were shucked all evening long.
After three days of serious overindulgence - well worth every calorie consumed - it's definitely time for a bit of a break before cracking open the bottles of bubbly and wine for the holiday season.