It's hard to believe that Cornucopia is Sweet 16 this year — not quite old enough to drink (legally) or vote, but young and sassy enough to get into loads of... fun.
And what an outrageous and sophisticated 16-year-old it's turned out to be, largely due to the good work of two people who laid out much if not most of its foundation — Maureen Douglas, former events manager of the then-Whistler Resort Association (now Tourism Whistler) and Dana Samu, former festival and events coordinator who won "Employee of the Year" for all her work on Cornucopia.
To step back a moment, despite its glamour and panache Cornucopia was originally conceived for practical reasons: to put heads in hotel beds during the doldrums of fall shoulder season. At the same time, an equally good idea for spring shoulder season was planned, namely an arts and culture festival. It was something that had as much if not more potential but, unfortunately, never happened.
So for now, it's Cornucopia we're celebrating, November 7 through 11. And given the size and scale of this year's event, I asked a handful of people — all of them locals, all of them well-seasoned in the best that food, wine, and Cornucopia have to offer — for tips.
Here are their picks for getting Cornucopia-ized in style:
Co-owner, The Grocery Store
Favourites: Two things come to mind: Crush and Bubbles + Oceans at Araxi are really amazing. A tasting like Crush for a newcomer is mind-boggling. I don't know how many wines they have but I'm sure it's about 300 or so. Then Bubbles is quite extraordinary. It's a late-night event and anything that Araxi does is absolutely top-notch, so there's wonderful music, probably about 40 different champagnes and sparkling wines from all over the word to taste, and James (Walt, executive chef) does a full-on seafood extravaganza — just a great experience.
Insider's tip: Wear black — it's important. You can't see a red wine stain. Then you have to think about what your teeth are going to look like if you're tasting red wine. It's a dead giveaway at the end. And I think if you're going to a tasting like Crush it's a really good idea to select a varietal and try to stick with that because you have more opportunity to learn and compare.
Executive chef, Araxi
Favourites: The favourite part for me is it's probably the only time of year where we reverse what the restaurant does. Rather than I make the food and then the wine is paired with it, we go the other way around. It's taking me out of my comfort zone and challenges me in ways I don't normally do, so I always enjoy that.
Insider's tip: Remember to spit!
Manager, Whistler Farmers' Market
CEA On-Q Productions
Favourites: When André (St. Jacques) is running Masquerave (at Bearfoot Bistro) it's one hell of a party. I remember the first couple of them — it was ridiculous; it was opulent; it was Sodom and Gomorrah!
Insider's tip: Get your tickets right now. The hot ticket this year is going to be High Rollers at the Chateau Whistler. That's the opulent thing you want to do, because you want to be the guy or gal dressed to the nines, playing the role. And take in at least one good food-tasting event, whether it's Umberto's doing a demonstration with the luncheon or whatever, take in at least one of those so you can really relate to the restaurants because that's what it's all about.
Marc Des Rosiers
Director of marketing, Bearfoot Bistro
Favourites: My favourite parts are the wine-maker dinners because this is where we restaurants really reach out to get the best wines and do the dinner. It's the combination of the best food with the best wines available, so it's the best of what we have to offer.
Insider's tip: After dinner, go to some of the great parties. For me, it's the entertainment and parties that we have in town, that, again, we don't normally find at any other time during the year. Like High Rollers this year at the Fairmont — those are the parties you have to go to. Then there are the parties for people in the industry. You don't need to go to a nightclub, you go to some of those private parties that the restaurants or hotels organize and there's a little bit of a "wow" factor. (Editor's note: Try to get an invite to one of those!)
Director of business operations/proprietor
Whistler Cooks Catering
Favourites: What I like about Cornucopia most is for a brief moment one of my loves in life — food and wine — takes centre stage in our amazing town. It's obvious that Whistler is world renowned for its outdoor pursuits and food is always there as a side dish. But for one weekend every year we get to celebrate gastronomy as the main event.
Insider's tip: I'm not sure it's much of a secret as they sell out every year, but both the Big Guns and Bubbles + Oceans dinners at Araxi always produce excellent nights of amazing cuisine by Chef James Walt paired with unbelievable top tier wines.
Co-owner, Alpine Café & Catering Co.
Favourites: One of my favourites was when they had Brew and Blues. They had barbecued pig and a whole bunch of different micro-breweries and then there was a blues band playing — that was my favourite. (Editor's note: This year check out The Butcher & The Brewmaster at Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub.)
Insider's tip: I think for locals it's trying to sneak in to the free stuff. All my friends, they're always trying to get a ticket somehow to something, so try to find a local who can get you a free ticket!
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who never scored a free ticket to Masquerave.
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