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Restaurant industry super stars coming to Whistler

Vancouver conference features day-trip to Whistler for lunch



You've got a restaurant with amazing food, superior service from the friendliest wait staff in a comfortable space but your operation is one of the best-kept secrets around.

Successfully marketing a restaurant can be as challenging as running all the other aspects of the business combined.

In the restaurant world there are all kinds of awards programs and recognition avenues that can help to elevate a restaurant up from the rest.

Really dedicated fans of fine dining know to look to the list of restaurants endorsed by the Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNA). The organization lists 800 restaurants around the continent as the best of the best.

The people who make up the organization are going to meet at a three-day conference, or reunion as it has been dubbed, in Vancouver this summer. The Sept. 15 to 18 event theme is Celebrating the Art of Culinary Excellence.

The agenda includes a welcome dinner at Cioppino's Mediterranean Grill followed by business meetings, a workshop, award presentations and, of course, the sharing of good food. Lunch on the second day of the conference is scheduled for Tojo's Restaurant in Vancouver and Culinary Arts students at Vancouver Community College will prepare dinner.

One highlight for the 120 reunion attendees will be a trip to Whistler for lunch at the Bearfoot Bistro, the only Whistler restaurant with DiRoNA recognition. The Bearfoot has teamed up with Mission Hill Wines to offer Okanagan wine paired with food from the kitchen of executive chef Melissa Craig.

The gala dinner on the final evening will feature dishes prepared by chefs from DiRoNA approved restaurants in Vancouver.

DiRoNA has been around since 1990 when it was created with the goal of raising dining standards and promoting fine dining in North America.

The Bearfoot Bistro was recently inspected by DiRoNA representatives and in February the restaurant was awarded with DiRoNA's Achievement of Distinction in Dining in the Timeless Traditional category.

While there is only one restaurant in Whistler acknowledged by DiRoNA, Vancouver has 17 eateries that have been approved by DiRoNA.

Keith Kehlbeck, DiRoNA's executive director, says getting recognition from DiRNA is a big honor.

"When you have the best-of-the-best recognizing the best-of-the-best, to me that means a lot," Kehlbeck says in an interview from his office in the Kalamazoo area of Michigan.

DiRoNA acknowledgement only goes to restaurants that have been under the same ownership for three years maintaining a consistent restaurant concept in that time. In an anonymous and independent inspection, mystery shoppers examine restaurants to determine if they meet DiRoNA.

Once a restaurant gets a DiRoNA award it is valid for four years. The inspection process is repeated within four years. If the standards at the eatery are maintained the recognition stands for another four years.

According to Kehlbeck, the best of the best attending the reunion will discuss what fine dining is in an evolving culinary environment where a restaurant can receive fine dining status without using crisp white table clothes.

"What in the past would have been important, may or may not exactly be what constitutes fine dining today," says Kehlbeck. "It is a very different industry than what was present 30 years ago."

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