When Watermark Communications took over Cornucopia about a decade ago, the event producers knew they weren't exactly experts when it came to all things food and wine.
But, to hear Watermark president Sue Eckersley tell it, the company has always had a knack for finding the right guidance, guidance that has helped them build Cornucopia into one of B.C.'s most sought-after dates on the culinary calendar.
"Over a decade now, we've got a bit of expertise at that level, but we still consider ourselves neophytes compared to the people we're dealing with," she said. "We understand who's an expert and who's not, and we understand that we're experts at putting on events and that we need people who are deep in (the culinary world) to come up with ideas and point us in the right direction."
Evidently, Watermark has tapped the right people, as Whistler's premier food and wine celebration has risen in profile and popularity in recent years, on pace to sell roughly 10,000 tickets for 2017.
"We've been on an aggressive growth curve for six years now, and so many events are now just coming home to roost. They've found their place, they're busy, and they're successful," noted Eckersley, who said the growth of the festival has coincided with a wider rise in gastronomic tourism. "I think the culinary traveller has also expanded as we've expanded. Independent culinary travel is huge. We're just tapping into a market that simply exists right now," she mused.
Along with the festival's perennial sell-out, signature events — House Party, Crush, and Night Market, to name a few — Watermark has also placed increased emphasis on its more intimate tastings, multi-course dinners, and workshops, adding another layer to the annual feast for the senses that kicks off next week.
"The smaller ones... the 60-people events, are the ones that really give the (festival) soul," said Eckersley.
"Often you'll see locals out at the (Bearfoot Bistro World Oyster Invitational) or Crush, and I tell them to absolutely go check out those events, they're always a party and always great events, but make sure you go and check out the Culinary Stage Series, and make sure you go to the wine seminars because you're going to meet some cool people... and you're going to learn some things about your favourite foods and wines that you never knew before."
Eckersley said she is approached regularly by locals looking for the event with the most bang for its buck, and this year, she can say, unequivocally, that it is With A Twist, the drink tasting and silent-disco party that will add a food component for the first time.
"The added bonus to With a Twist is not just the fact that we're going to do different genres of music in the silent disco but that (Whistler Conference Centre caterer) Centerplate is celebrating their 10th year in Whistler, and they're going to pull out some of their top dishes during the event," she noted. "With the addition of Centreplate, I would definitely say that With A Twist is going to be a real great value ticket."
After Watermark relinquished the reins of the World Ski and Snowboard Festival last year, the company has been able to focus more of its attentions on Cornucopia, and Eckersley said gourmands should notice a few additional flourishes this year that she hopes to keep building on in future renditions of the event. "It's still been looming a bit large with all of us, but we're committing in January to refocusing some of our assets towards Cornucopia and we already have made some large purchases," she said, pointing to a partnership with Riedel to buy fine glassware that will make the rounds throughout Cornucopia this year.
"You're going to see some new things. This is going to give us a bit more opportunity that we didn't have the time to do before."
Cornucopia runs from Nov. 9 to 19. For the full schedule, and to buy tickets, visit whistlercornucopia.com.