Whistler’s preeminent celebration of food and drink is coming back bigger and better this fall after being cut short in 2020.
Cornucopia will mark its 25th anniversary this November, with events scheduled every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from Nov. 4 to 28, expanding from its usual 12 days to 16. Producer Watermark Communications cancelled all of its remaining scheduled events at the height of the pandemic last year after just two days.
“We’re excited we’re going to go for the entirety of the month,” said Watermark president Sue Eckersley. “That’s sort of a silver lining for us: instead of cramming everything into 12 days, we have a little bit more flexibility in terms of spreading things out. I think that’s one of the biggest things people say: they want to do everything but it’s overlapping, so you can’t. Now you can.”
With COVID-19 cases still on the rise in B.C. and health orders putting caps on attendance, the festival will of course look different than its pre-pandemic years, but organizers are also making full use of the circumstances with several new events and tweaked formats for festival favourites, along with the drink seminars and culinary stage demos that are a fixture of the event. Eckersley said Watermark will in most cases limit attendance below the provincial restrictions in order to ensure spacing, and all guests and staff will be required to be double-vaccinated.
“Whereas we could potentially put 500 in a room, we will put 350. We’re not pushing it,” she noted. “We would rather people feel safe and secure and feel like their space is still respected … Basically we’re doing some of the favourites we’ve always done, just envisioned in a different way.”
Watermark is leaving its signature wine tasting and mingling event, Crush, off the schedule this year, and is hosting two House Parties that will remain in their typical buffet style, but will see diners served by staff due to health measures. Taste of the World returns on Nov. 4, but will be held in a seated format this year, featuring eight different tapas from around the globe. Poured, or Poured 2.0, as organizers have named it, will follow a similar seated format, with wines delivered to patrons’ seats, along with tapas.
Among the new events on tap is the Winery Speed Dating event on Nov. 6, which, again, will have diners seated as different B.C. wineries rotate through to pitch their perfect date wines. “We’ve built it with safety in mind. It follows the regulations but it also has that level of comfort,” Eckersley said.
The dress-up Murder Mystery Dinner on Nov. 20 and American Thanksgiving Dinner on Nov. 25 are two other new additions, along with what Eckersley called the “biggest ticketed item we’ve ever had,” Cornucopia’s five-course, wine-paired 25th-anniversary dinner, which will welcome a different chef for each course, who will pay homage to the event’s quarter-century of wining and dining.
Because of the expanded table service at many events, Eckersley said this year’s staffing needs are bigger than before (which will, in some cases, be reflected in higher ticket prices), and festival partner Centerplate is committing to hiring both local and Vancouver staff where needed.
“We couldn’t do this without them in a good year but in a year like this one, you just become that much more grateful for their expertise and experience in doing these things,” she said of Centerplate.
Always a significant boost to the restaurant sector during shoulder season, Cornucopia will bring with it the added traffic from its Lower Mainland and regional markets, but with staffing remaining a challenge across the resort, it remains to be seen whether the resort’s restaurant sector will have the capacity to take on more business.
“The restaurants that have survived through the pandemic are actually doing really well right now and a lot of them don’t have the staffing to be open as much as they would want to,” Eckersley said. “So it’s not a lack of business … but I think one of the things that’s always been really important for Cornucopia is that November is usually a slow time of year, so it really could be a time of year when the restaurants are slowing and they have perhaps less ability to make it through the slow times right now than they normally would.”
Cornucopia has also selected the BC Hospitality Foundation as its charity of choice this year.
For tickets and the full event schedule, visit whistlercornucopia.com.