Everything you need to know about Taste of Vail
Special to the Daily
April in the Rocky Mountains can be unpredictable, bringing wildly swinging temperatures, glorious sunshine and epic blizzards. However, one constant ushers in spring in the mountains — the Taste of Vail, an annual food and wine festival celebrating the best of the Vail dining scene.
This year’s Taste of Vail runs Wednesday though Saturday, marking the festival’s 29th anniversary. It will feature more than 30 Vail Valley chefs, restaurateurs and sommeliers, as well as more than 55 wineries. Signature events, which return year after year, include the Debut of Rose 2019, the 15th annual American Lamb Cook-Off & Apres Ski Tasting, the Mountain Top Tasting and the Grand Tasting.
Expand your palate
In addition to the signature events, the weekend brings a generous spread of seminars and intimate pop-up events meant to help food and wine enthusiasts expand their palates and interact with industry professionals.
“The seminars for the 2019 Taste of Vail are one of our best years yet and represent a worldwide tasting and learning experience that brings together exciting food and wine combinations,” said Angela Mueller, Taste of Vail director. “Additionally, we’re thrilled to host an amazing lineup of some of the most foremost expert wine professionals in the country.”
Seminar offerings include sessions devoted to France’s Corsica wine region; a primer to Greek wine and its surprising spot in the viticulture world; and a tasting of Santa Barbara wines with Rajat Parr, sommelier, winemaker, author and star in the movie “Somm 3.”
Celebrate a milestone at the Lamb Cook-Off
Thursday brings the 15th anniversary of the lamb cook-off, an afternoon showcase of competition featuring bites of succulent meat and a chance for local chefs to shine. While attendees love the event thanks to the festive vibe, energizing clamor to try samples from each competitor and the fact that they get to vote for the final winner, chefs love the event for the camaraderie and challenge.
“I think all chefs love this one because of the competitive atmosphere,” said Paul Anders, executive chef of Mountain Standard and Sweet Basil. “Bragging rights are on the line, and it’s nice to have a little friendly competition.”
Sweet Basil has competed in the lamb cook-off since its inception, and it even has won the competition on multiple occasions. Despite this, Anders said his team doesn’t struggle to find unique and palate-pleasing ways to cook up lamb.
“We always think about what cultures are really known for great dishes featuring lamb and especially focus on the ones that have unique cooking techniques and flavor profiles,” he said, adding that different chefs at the restaurant get to prepare the dish each year. “We also have a very diverse chef team with varied backgrounds and cultural influences. Each of them brings a different perspective to the challenge, so it is super fun to see what the team comes up with. It creates a healthy in-house competition before the actual competition even starts.”
Four Seasons executive chef Marcus Stewart said his staff has a similar process for coming up with a lamb dish. In fact, they hold a competition among the staff each year, and the best lamb dish is entered in the cook-off.
“We’re playing with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors this year,” Stewart said. “We like to feature dishes that are out of the norm, that people don’t always get to try.”
Mountain picnics, grand tastings and more
The weekend gets into high gear on Friday with the Mountain Top Tasting held on Vail Mountain. The event is unique and legendary in that it is held outdoors in a custom-built snow arena at 10,350 feet. The Mountain Top Tasting presents restaurants with an additional challenge — the weather conditions.
“Some years it’s snowing, some years it’s windy and some years it’s sunny and beautiful. You never really know what you’re going to be dealing with,” Stewart said. “No matter what, it’s a great event with a happy vibe, kind of a bash on the mountain to close out the season.”
Expect cozy spring dishes, decadent desserts and wines chosen for outdoor sipping at the Mountain Top Tasting.
“We always try to do something warm and satisfying. Comfort food complements the outdoor, mountaintop atmosphere,” said Stewart, adding that this year for the event, his team will be exploring the theme of traditional Mexican cuisine.
The festival closes out on Saturday with the finale bash, the Grand Tasting, where Vail-area chefs showcase their most creative fare alongside wineries, which pour their best current vintages for the well-heeled crowd.
“The Grand Tasting is more formal but informal at the same time. All the chefs get to see each other and serve some of their best,” Stewart said.
Free Memorial Day screening of “They Shall Not Grow Old” is one-off event before the Vilar Performing Arts Center’s summer series kicks off next month.