Free Cornucopia events for everyone to enjoy 

The old cliché suggesting the best things in life are free could certainly apply to many of the Cornucopia events this weekend.

Though many associate Cornucopia with expensive dinners and parties there is also affordable or free events to entertain and tickle the taste buds.

The organizers of Whistler's celebration of wine and food this year have created two much-anticipated festival events as accessible outings for everyone.

The Whistler Chef's Challenge, presented by Viking and happening today between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., will undoubtedly be a highlight of the weekend for all those who take it in.

Another festival offering open to everyone is the Artisan Slow Food Market in the Mount Currie Ballroom at the Hilton Resort and Spa from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday (Nov. 12).

Organizers promise the market will be relaxed but vibrant and elegant. The market stands will have offerings from wineries, restaurants, food producers and artisans.

According to market organizer Astrid Cameron Kent, the group of participating artisans will even include a silk and wool scarf and shawl importer from Jackson Hole. These treasures come to Whistler via Jackson Hole from a producer in a mountainous region of Kyrgyzstan. One of the lesser known "Stans" this republic borders China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Kent also says market visitors can expect to see a Whole Foods booth; a lamb producer from Lillooet will be on hand along with a Pemberton Distillery, a candle maker and jewelry makers.

There won't be a cost to stroll through the market and shop for produce though tickets will be order of the day for those who are looking to engage their taste buds at the Hilton food tasting stands.

The tasting tickets will be sold for a dollar each and each tasting stand will offer samples that will cost between three and 10 tickets.

While the Slow Food Market is a relatively simple event, the Chef's Challenge takes a little more coordinating to put together.

A temporary kitchen facility is set up in the Grand Foyer of the Whistler Conference Centre, affectionately named Viking Stadium and conjuring up comparisons to Iron Chef America's famed Kitchen Stadium.

Along with helping to bring together the Slow Food Market, Kent is also one of the Whistler Chef Challenge producers. She is promising it will be a fun and interactive show.

Nicole Fitzgerald of the Shaw television program The Express will host the show with Edison Mays, the chef de cuisine at the Four Seasons Resort Whistler. Mays has past experience with the event and Kent said his past work in Beverly Hills makes him the perfect personality to work with Fitzgerald.

Four teams are lined up to compete in the chef challenge. At 11 a.m. David Lachapelle from Whistler Cooks and his team will be up against a team called the Shirtless Cooks featuring Guillaume Gissinger as the captain. The Four Seasons has a team entered led by chef Clayton Beadle, who competed on the Food Network show called Top Chef Canada. Kent said Beadle's team would compete at 1 p.m. against an Araxi team featuring Jeff Park.

According to Kent, executive chef Scott Dolbee is like the technical delegate and he will coach the judges to set them up for their task.

The challenge has been simplified from last year's requirement to prepare five dishes in 60 minutes.

The teams will have 45 minutes to put together three dishes and they have to bring all their own ingredients and cooking tools. A secret ingredient must be used. Kent said the teams know going in that the secret ingredient will be one of three items.

"Chili, duck or apple," says Kent. The competitors will find out five minutes before competition which of the three will be the secret ingredient.

The teams will be provided with four burners and one oven for the event. It will be up to each team to create its best dishes with the tools and ingredients brought to the competition.

Kent said the show hosts would ensure the chef challenge is an interactive, crowd-pleasing competition.

"You do want to create heckling and you do want to create problems and people running into each other," Kent says.

There's a certain amount of chaos and intensity the show producers are looking for to make it interesting. This is a formula that works well on the most popular competitive cooking shows.

"We want it to be animated," says Kent and the two hosts will drive that element of the competition.

A Bearfoot Bistro team took top honours at the Whistler Chef Challenge during Cornucopia last year so a new champion is guaranteed this year, as the Bearfoot isn't represented at the event this time around.

The Whistler Chef Challenge is open to everyone and a large audience will only add to the ambience of the event. For anyone who appreciates food and has even a small amount of interest in food preparation this free event is worth putting on the list of things to do in celebrating Whistler's wine and food.

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