Times have changed with Cornucopia and sometimes, like an old woman sitting in a creaky rocking chair watching the world go by on her front stoop, I only wanted to remember the good old days. And at other times, like a barbecue addict who got her first hit of slow-cooked pulled pork since the summer, I only wanted to look to the future.
Cornucopia, Whistler’s biggest food and wine festival, went off despite the loss of the Masquerave and many winemaker dinners from prominent players in Whistler’s fine dining scene, such as the Bearfoot Bistro, Hy’s and Quattro.
Some say it negatively effected celebrations — with grumblings over the winery turnout at the Crush! Grand gala tasting this year — others positively, saying it made room for the new with successes such as the Casino Royale James Bond after-party.
It was the local, unique and colourful, not to mention reasonably priced, events that felt fresh and new that really jumpstarted Cornucopia number five for me. Elements’ winemaker dinner, ARTrageous, the Artisan Market and the Pornucopia Rib Rave are the future of a more diverse Cornucopia: fresh, real and inclusive. However, it was the Araxi winemaker dinner and after-party that gave this festival depth of character, roots and refinement as only legends can do.
Elements’ boutique tapas parlour cozied up with Pentage winery, based in Penticton, for a very intimate, personable affair. The entire Elements staff was introduced, husband-and-wife winemaker team Paul Gardner and Julie Rennie welcomed me to their table and within one of the first pairings — a must-have 2006 Reisling which heartily stood up to a spicy chorizo seafood cioppino — everyone was on a first name basis talking with their mouths full.
The often underestimated Gamay varietal shone brilliantly, like all valiant underdogs do in Pentage’s 2005 vintage (unfortunately now sold out). It was paired with the show-stopping seared duck entrée with squash risotto and cranberry and cassis demi glace.
As general manager April Soloynka said, with three women running the place, how can you go wrong?
Quality and reasonable prices carried on to the Whistler Arts Council’s ARTrageous, which continued to up the ante as the most entertainment-packed after party of the festival. Everywhere you turned, local artists were doing amazing things: Gavin Livingstone’s floor to ceiling live painting was jaw dropping, Dean Cote’s photo studio was lined up with eager waiting models, the Self Portrait art exhibit wowed with a remarkable all-new showing and guests painted on mini canvases that were either showcased on the wall or taken home. In between the non-stop action, there was body painting, mask making, belly dancing and a live 10-piece band. Could you cram anything more into one evening? Look forward to seeing if it is humanly possible next year.