Calling Whistler’s roaming gourmets

In case you've missed it, Ross Rebagliati Park is a small, unassuming green space just downstream of the covered bridge that connects the Village and Upper Village, nestled next to Fitzsimmons Creek. In the summer months, it usually attracts crowds of tourists lounging around taking photos, or maybe bikers looking to take a quick water break in the shade. But in two weeks' time the park will be filled with foodies of the local and imported sort, all of whom are eager to dig into Whistler's finest food and drink.

Astrid Cameron Kent is a passionate member of Whistler's local culinary scene. She's the owner of Astrid's Fine Foods, which represents and distributes fine food products to the accommodation, food service and grocery establishments in the Sea to Sky and Sunshine Coast communities. She is also a member of the Whistler 2020 Food Task Force. And she's the organizer of a range of local culinary events, including Whistler's upcoming Feast in the Mountains (which is a take on the whole "Feast of Fields" gourmet wandering harvest festival concept that takes place in the Okanagan, Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island), an event that aims to preserve farmland, promote local farmers and agriculture, and educate consumers.

From 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 1, award-winning chefs, farmers, food artisans, vintners and brewers will all be on-hand to tantalize taste buds with samples of their wares.

This year, the culinary teams from Players Chophouse, Creekbread, Nita Lake Lodge, Araxi, The Lift, Elements, Crepe Montagne, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Four Seasons, Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, Whistler Brewing, Get Baked Bakery, Black's and The Nest will be dishing up their take on the "bounty of B.C." There are also sure to be plenty of local liquids on-hand to complement the cuisine, with Dirty Laundry, Tinhorn Creek and Laughing Stock Vineyards pouring a selection of wines, and Pemberton's Schramm Vodka offering samples of their award-winning organic potato vodka.

Other exhibitors include Namasthé, a local company that produces a wide selection of high quality, organic and fair-trade tea bags and loose leaf teas, and Gulf Islands Gourmet Preserves, which is bringing handmade, small batches of local, organic and naturally-grown fruit and vegetable preserves to the event.

Last year's Feast, held a bit later in the summer, drew a wide range of attendees who spent a sunny afternoon wandering around with friends and family, sipping and nibbling their way from table-to-table. Organizers provided the stemware, silverware and napkins. Hungry amateur gourmands went to work, noshing on sumptuous sliders, homemade potato chips, canapés, cocktails and much, much more.

The event has developed a loyal following over the years, but it's never been a sold-out affair. Last year, Cameron Kent teamed up with the folks at Watermark Communications, which also organizes Whistler's annual Cornucopia, to see if they could boost attendance. They lowered the ticket price from $80 to $50 in hopes of attracting young locals who are passionate about food issues, but still brought in high-quality establishments and chefs. Their approach seems to have worked: Cameron Kent estimates they were at about two-thirds capacity. And this year, they've seen a definite boost in their advance online ticket sales and traffic to their website.

"There's lots of room for growth and development," Cameron Kent said. "...We can facilitate more restaurants involved and more people attending, so we can grow in all ways."

The 2010 Feast in the Mountains takes place on the same weekend as the annual Canadian National BBQ Championships. And while some would see that as tough competition, Cameron Kent sees the coincidence as an opportunity to transform Whistler into a culinary destination for the weekend.

"We really wanted to focus on B.C. Day long weekend... and also, we feel that with people coming up here, it's a stronger culinary experience to be able to do both," Cameron Kent explained.

"We believe that we need to develop culinary things in this community so that it's a destination and so there's lots of events going on, not just one."

Tickets to the event are $50 for adults and $15 for children aged seven to 12 (kids under seven are free). And while that $50 price tag might seem a bit steep on the surface, it's actually pretty good value for your money if you consider that you're sampling some of the finest food and drink offered in the region. Plus, a portion of the proceeds from the event are donated to the FarmFolk/CityFolk organization, which protects farmland, researches alternative methods of farmland tenure, secures organic seed for B.C. farmers and promotes "eat local" educational programs.

Check out www.feastinthemountains.com for more information or to purchase tickets online.



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