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Cornucopia cometh

Whistler’s biggest food and wine celebration turns five

Like red wine spilled on a white carpet, Cornucopia is not only growing, it’s here to stay.

Since the first event was held in 1997 in an effort to increase tourism in the off-season, the Cornucopia food and wine celebration has blossomed into one of the most important events of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. Word of mouth, favourable reviews, industry talk and a promotional campaign are largely responsible for the increase in interest. While most of the tickets will be sold to locals and connoisseurs from the Lower Mainland and Washington, a growing number of people are coming from as far away as California.

Last year’s event was completely sold out, from the preview tasting on Thursday to the closing brunch on Sunday, and organizers are expecting more of the same this year. More tickets were made available to some of the key events, notably the annual Crush! Gala Grand Tasting.

The number of Crush! tickets was reduced to 600 last year to give people more elbow room. This year, there will be 1,000 tickets available, although the size of the venue at the Westin Resort and Spa has increased with the addition of the Aubergine Grill space.

"I would say that it’s become more prestigious over the years," says Michelle Comeau Thompson, manager for media relations at Tourism Whistler, Cornucopia’s founder and host. "Most of the 50 or 60 wineries that are taking part were here last year and are back again this year, which says a lot about the event. And the chefs that are taking part are really superstars in their world.

"It’s turning into a great event that really is a credit to Whistler."

Cornucopia is also gaining a reputation as a food and wine trade event, with industry-focused seminars and opportunities for people in the business to network.

"This year is a mix of favourites and new things," says Comeau Thompson. "We wanted to keep it fresh for people who have been coming year after year, but keep some of the events in that are always extremely popular, like the field trip to the North Arm Farm."

Cornucopia gets underway on Thursday, Nov. 8 and runs through to the Sunday, Nov. 11.


A Mountain of Menus

The first event, and a first for Cornucopia, is A Mountain of Menus at the Aubergine Grill, which runs from noon to 2:30 p.m.

Hosts Vancouver Magazine and Western Living are inviting the media and consumers to attend a taste-a-thon to sample the cuisine of Whistler’s best restaurants. The cost is $55, but like all Cornucopia events, package deals are available.

Chef’s Showcase

From 7:30 to 9 p.m., the Whistler Cooking School will be hosting the Chef’s Showcase, another variation to the Cornucopia lineup. Tickets are $99.

The Whistler Cooking School is located in the Holiday Inn building, near the Puppy Zone.

Preview Grand Tasting

The Preview Grand Tasting is your opportunity to taste more than 50 Pacific West Coast Wineries, the same ones that will be featured at Crush! on the following night. This is more of a traditional tasting event without the frills.

The preview tasting will also host the inaugural presentation of the Wine Access Canadian Wine Awards, sponsored by Air Canada. The actual winners will be decided in Toronto on Nov. 3, but the top West Coast wineries will receive their awards in Whistler.

"We look very forward to the first Canadian Wine Awards – and we have great expectations," says David Lawrason, editor of Wine Access Magazine. "Although not the first Canadian national wine award program, this is the first to attempt large scale, nation-wide media and consumer promotion, and the first to formalize professional methods and standards in the judging procedure."

The awards are expected to raise awareness of Canadian wineries and wine, which is poised to take its place among such wine producing nations such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Tickets to the preview are $40 each.


Trade: The Language of Wine

From 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Paul Martin of Peacock-Martin Wines and Tom Cox of Maxxium Canada will present Trade: The Language of Wine – and entry level and brush up course for B.C. servers who are required to answer customers’ questions about wine. Tickets are $25.

The Evolution of the American Wine Barrel

Winemaker Rick Sayre of Rodney Strong Vineyards will discuss the evolution of the art in North America over the past 30 years, culminating with the production of American oak barrels. Participants will taste wines in order to see the difference the barrels have made in the quality of American brands. Tickets are $25, and the seminar runs from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

9 Vintages of Mission Hill Reserve Chardonnay 92-00

The expression "what a difference a year makes" will take on new meaning as participants taste nine years’ of one of B.C.’s most famous winemakers’ best Chardonnay. Ingo Grady, the director of trade development for Mission Hill Family Estates leads the presentation, which runs from 12:15 to 1:45 p.m. Tickets are $45.

Trade Tasting

From 2 to 4:30 p.m., restaurant industry representatives, restaurant staff, Cornucopia VIPs, media, and sommeliers are invited to the Westin to taste the different wines featured at Crush!. Tickets are $5.

Emerging Trends in Organics

Also from 2 to 4:30 p.m., the Whistler Cooking School will be hosting this seminar on organic foods, which are becoming increasingly popular. This is an opportunity to see what products are available on the market, including chocolate, coffee, smoked salmon, sea salt and cheese. Tickets are $10.

Crush! Gala Grand Tasting

The main event of Cornucopia, the Crush! Gala Grand Tasting will feature more than 50 of the top wineries on the Pacific coast, plus gourmet grazing by Chef Stierli of The Westin Resort and Spa. The event will run from 8 to 10:30 p.m.

Wine Rave at Bearfoot Bistro

The apres Crush! wine rave at the Bearfoot Bistro, featuring live jazz, was one of the most talked about events last year. This year the Bearfoot Bistro is planning to go even further with their entertainment and special effects. Tickets are $45, and the event runs from 10:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.


A Chef’s Trip to the Farm

Already sold out, the annual Chef’s Trip to the Farm is one of the most popular Cornucopia Seminars. From 9 a.m. to noon, or 12:45 to 3:45 p.m., jump on a bus to visit the North Arm Farm in Pemberton. The learning begins on the bus, as the chef discusses trends and the importance of fresh produce. After touring the farm, the group will retire to the country kitchen to participate in a cooking demonstration.

Food and Wine Seminars

There are four sessions running throughout the day, starting at 10 a.m. and wrapping up at 6:15 p.m.. A complete rundown of 17 available courses and four Chef showcases can be found on the Tourism Whistler Web site at .

The Chef Showcase, which is being held at the Whistler Cooking School this year, will feature Chef John Sarich, the culinary director of the Ste. Michelle Winery in Washington, and the TV show host of Best of Taste… Flavours of the Pacific Coast. He is known for his innovative food and wine pairings.

Chef Bob Blumer, host of the Surreal Gourmet on the Food Network, will also host a showcase, as will David Hawksworth, the renowned chef for Ouest in Vancouver.

Winmaker dinners

There are eight winemaker dinners this year, ranging from about $80 to $120 per person. The Araxi dinner, which features all four chefs from Jack Evrensel’s Top Table Group of restaurants, Beringer, Meridian and Chateau St. Jean wineries, and sommelier Chris Van Nus, is already sold out, but tickets are still available to the other dinners.

The Aubergine Grille, which is pairing with the Kenwood winery, will feature executive chef Hans Stierli and an "eclectic selection of menus that include West Coast seafood and salmon favourites to warm comfort food selections of grilled meats and rustic pizza and pasta entrees."

Evergreens is pairing with the Inniskillin Okanagan and Niagara winery, and will feature "creative cuisine with a pacific northwest flair created by our award winning culinary team."

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler will pair executive chef Vincent Stufano with Mission Hill wine maker John Simes to produce exotic dishes like Saltspring Island Rack of Lamb and Canadian Elk.

Hy’s Steakhouse will pair with the Rodney Strong winery, Joel’s at Nicklaus North will pair with Quail’s Gate, La Bocca will pair with Chateau Ste. Michelle, and Monk’s Grill with Geyser Peak. More details are available on the Web site.

Following the dinners and the seminars, the Bearfoot Bistro will be holding their annual Fire and Ice with late night live jazz from 11:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.. The event pairs Cuban cigars and B.C. ice wines. Tickets are $50.


Celebrity Chef Cook-off

Some of the more colourful chefs taking part in Cornucopia will face off from 10 to 11:30 a.m., preparing creative dishes from a limited selection of ingredients. Tickets are $45.

Grand Finale Farewell Brunch, "La Dolce Vita"

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler will host a closing brunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., featuring regional cooking and premier Italian wines. Tickets are $55.

Tapas Brunch

The Westin will host a Tapas Brunch, featuring traditional Spanish tapas fare. Tickets are $55.

To reserve tickets for the events, which are expected to sell out, contact Tourism Whistler at 1-800-WHISTLER, or visit their activity centre at the Whistler Conference Centre.