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‘Something there for everybody’: Cornucopia welcomes crowds back to Whistler with signature events, seminars and more

The 26th annual food and drink festival kicks off Nov. 4 and runs for 22 days
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The With a Twist Silent Disco, pictured here in 2018, is one signature event returning to Cornucopia’s schedule this year.

Ahead of Whistler’s annual celebration of all things food and drink, Cornucopia executive director Sue Eckersley wants to clarify one point about the festival’s educational seminars in particular.   

Regardless of whether your palate favours a vintage varietal with a three-figure price tag or an inexpensive screw-top rosé, “there’ll be something there for somebody who’s very educated in wines, and there’ll be things there for people that are new to it,” she explained.

“We want people to know whether you are a master sommelier or whether you’re a complete neophyte in wines, you’re welcome at those seminars, and that our seminar presenters are ready for that.”

With the sheer amount of events slated to take place when the festival returns next month, Cornucopia is truly offering something for everyone this year—yes, even non-wine drinkers. The festival’s 26th iteration is scheduled to run across an expanded, 22-day period beginning Friday, Nov. 4 and wrapping up on Sunday, Nov. 27.

“We just can’t get enough, apparently,” said Eckersley, president of Watermark Communications, the event management powerhouse that has helmed Cornucopia for the last 13 years.

“We learned some good [lessons] during COVID, which ended up being some good events that we didn’t want to give up on,” she added. “And then there were just some other ones we brought back from pre-pandemic, so when they were all put together it was quite a large event [overall].”

Eckersley’s advice to locals looking to cross a few titles off the schedule? “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” she said with a laugh.

Kicking off the festival is a four-course murder mystery dinner at the Bearfoot Bistro on Friday night—a highlight of the 2021 festival when it was first introduced last year, explained Eckersley—while a fall feast at the Squamish Lil’wat Culture Centre on Nov. 26 will anchor the celebrations.

Among the longstanding, locally-beloved bashes back on Cornucopia’s calendar after a pandemic-induced hiatus are signature tasting events like House Party, Crush, the With a Twist Silent Disco, the slightly-more-upscale Cellar Door, and, of course, the action-packed Bearfoot Bistro World Oyster Invitational & Bloody Caesar Battle, which this year features eight participating bartenders throwing their best caesar interpretation into the ring. For those who prefer to get the revelries rolling early, a brunch featuring some of Canada’s top drag queens is similarly returning to Cornucopia this year.

Also scattered among the schedule are new and returning drink seminars with titles like Top Value Wines, Ciders of the World, The Fine Art of Japanese Whisky, Must-Havé Agave, and Tour de France; winemakers dinners hosted by a range of local restaurants; and culinary stage events featuring renowned chefs from Whistler and beyond.

“One of the things that people don’t realize is that there is as much, if not more, food that goes on at Cornucopia these days than just drinking—I mean it’s always paired with drinking—but when everybody says, ‘Sue, what’s the best thing at Cornucopia?’ I would say it’s culinary stages,” Eckersley said. “We have some really impressive chefs who are both teaching and delivering three- to-five tasters of what they’re preparing in front of you, plus it’s paired with some sort of beverage.”

In other words, it “is like being in the audience of a live cooking show, and you get to enjoy the food creations,” as per Cornucopia’s website.

One constant theme tends to run through Cornucopia’s entire event calendar, “whether it’s in the seminars or at the Culinary Stage, at the House Party, at Crush,” said Eckersley, “is that it’s a celebration, pure and simple. Yes, there is this educational side of it, but it’s fun.”

After a couple of years spent planning mostly seated, socially-distanced events, Cornucopia organizers are also looking forward to seeing that celebratory atmosphere enhanced as guests get back to mingling with friends. But while organizers are no longer beholden to pandemic-induced provincial health orders and capacity limits, Eckersley said her team is still taking care to make Cornucopia a safe, comfortable event by capping the number of tickets for many events at a slightly lower level compared to pre-pandemic headcounts.

With the number of available tickets dwindling by the day, Eckersley encouraged anyone interested in attending to lock in their purchases sooner rather than later. “I am concerned a little bit for locals because they like to wait to the last minute,” she added with a laugh.

If you’d rather be a part of the festival without paying the price of admission, Cornucopia—which has operated as a non-profit since its inception, raising funds to support the BC Hospitality Foundation—is also looking for more volunteers to join its dedicated team ahead of this year’s festival.

Head to the festival's website for tickets or for more information. 

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