What’s New and Noteworthy for Cornucopia 2020

A chef's tattooed hands place the finishing touches on a dessert at Whistler's Cornucopia Festival.

What’s New and Noteworthy for Cornucopia 2020

Update November 20, 2020: Cornucopia Whistler has now been cancelled in accordance with the latest public health order. Refunds will be issued automatically to ticket holders. If you booked a restaurant experience through the Cornucopia website, they are continuing unless you are contacted.  If you choose not to attend because of Dr. Henry’s advisories, please email info@watermarkinc.ca.


Cornucopia
, Whistler’s celebration of food and drink, is going ahead this year with delectable culinary experiences spread over four extended weekends in November. There have been some major changes given the current conditions and events like the crowd-pleasing Crush are off the table, but smaller, intimate experiences like new Paired Dinners, along with Drink Seminars and individual Restaurant + Bar celebrtions are very much on, and tickets are starting to go.

With physical distancing practices strictly enforced, groups limited to six people, mandatory mask-wearing (to and from your table), limited capacity and screening checks for staff and attendees, safety measures for the festival are in line with current health recommendations will be diligently followed by the management team.

“Health and safety have been our highest priorities as we’ve worked to bring back this adapted version of Cornucopia,” says Sue Eckersley, executive director of Watermark Communications. “With provincial health orders strictly adhered to, we have been able to design a boutique collection of curated food and drink experiences sure to satisfy even the most sophisticated of palates. We have been working closely with Vancouver Coastal Health, who have helped direct us in our planning, and we are very excited to be able to bring this modified version of Cornucopia to the resort this fall.”

NEW: Paired Dinners

New for 2020 is the Paired Dinner series. As the name suggests, the experts pair food with wine and all you have to do is choose which combination sounds the most scrumptious (easier said than done). Some of these experiences are happening at restaurants throughout Whistler (the Il Caminetto and Antinori 7 Course Dinner is already sold out), while out-of-towners like Vancouver’s Homer St. Cafe and Pemberton’s Barn Nork are being hosted at the Whistler Conference Centre.

Executive Chef Neal Harkins, of the Whistler Conference Centre, is the brainchef behind multiple Paired Dinner offerings this season. Raised in a large family kitchen with European roots, Neal has worked up and down the Pacific Northwest. He’s a believer in making connections with local producers and letting the integrity of the ingredients take the spotlight. We caught up with him to talk more about the concept and what food combinations he’s got up his sleeve for 2020.

“With the focus on smaller experiences this year, the attention to detail will be amplified and the experiences will be more intimate,” says Harkins. “With the paired dinners it’s always intriguing to hear how the chefs have chosen the food and then have the sommeliers expand on how it matches the accompanying wine. For food and wine lovers it’s a real dive into what makes things pair well together.”

Harkins is working with six different wineries on four-course menus, so it’s been a creative juggling act to think of unique food combinations that work with the typical flow of the wines, from the whites to the reds; but with decades of events under his belt, Harkins is excited by the challenge.

“Dessert matching is fun as sometimes that means bubbles or ice wine, and this year I have a Riesling in the mix,” he explains. “You have to think about the characteristics in the grape and what will go with it, for the Riesling, an Asian, slightly spicy dish could work well.”

Harkins isn’t giving much away, but he does let slip that he’s trying a vanilla-butter-poached lobster as a second course with a chardonnay; the crisp, fruity notes of the wine matching the lightness of the fish and sweet, butteriness of the sauce. Although he’s often working through the Cornucopia celebrations, he does love the ambiance of the occasion.

“When there’s wine and there’s food, everyone’s having a good time. People watching is amazing. I just love being there and getting the odd pat on the back when someone loves what I’ve served.”

Noteworthy

Look out for the paired dinner with Modern Meat, a vegan and vegetarian alternative to meat that’s been disrupting the food industry with award-winning plant-based products.

A slight twist on the paired dinner concept is the Beauty and the Bane paired tasting, a single cask whisky experience. The name refers to the issue of its exclusivity, as with only a limited amount created, once it’s gone, it’s gone. Attendees will sample six, single barrel whiskies (the only whisky that’s not blended) with carefully paired plates.

Speaking of whisky, there’s also a Japanese craft whisky seminar and staying with Japan, the Bearfoot Bistro is hosting a five-course dining experience with each plate paired with a different Japanese sake. If neither of those takes your fancy, there’s always gin!

 

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From international cultures to indigenous ones, the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) is presenting Spo7ez Tl’a7áshn – a four-course plated lunch inspired by the change of seasons and traditional songs of the Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation. SLCC Chef Felix Breault’s menu is being paired with Indigenous World Wines and enriched by cultural performances in the stunning Istken Hall.

Continuing with the at-home theme, there are quite a few listings that celebrate BC’s wineries including BC’s Best Bubbles (a good one to attend to pre-order your festive popper), BC’s Underdogs, and Araxi’s five-course dinners with local wineries including Burrowing Owl, Road 13 and Fort Berens.

 

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There are also a couple of Whistler restaurants in the mix that you might not have eaten at yet, like Legs Diamond Supper Club. Located in the Upper Village and owned by long-time locals, its name and decor evokes another libatious era in history and they’re hosting dinners every weekend with a three-course menu paired with BC wines.

Our advice on choosing your experiences? Pick the ones that make your belly rumble. For a taste of what happens behind the scenes in Whistler’s kitchens and bars take a look at Cornucopia’s Masterclass Series.

Cornucopia Stay & Dine Packages start at $128 per person per night for a two-night stay with tickets to a paired dinner. While you’re in town, consider taking in more of Whistler’s cultural offerings, take a look at Fall for These Art & Culture Exhibits on Now in Whistler. Let it flow!

 

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Dee Raffo

Dee Raffo

You can often find Dee exploring all Whistler has to offer with her three-kid tribe in tow. Originally from the UK, Dee enjoys balancing out high-thrills adventures with down-time basking in the beauty of the wonderful place she now calls home.

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