Calling all foodies, from Eagle County and beyond
What began in 1990 as an idea to “enhance Vail’s image, positioning and reputation as a world-class international resort with a serious commitment to find food and to promote recognition of the Vail lifestyle,” has turned into a foodie, wine connoisseur and skier’s paradise, all in one.Three little words: Taste of Vail. This signature spring event showcases luscious fare from the Vail Valley’s restaurants, as well as wines from more than 50 of the country’s most noted vintners.This year’s culinary caper begins with the eighth annual Colorado Lamb Cook-Off and Aprs Ski Tasting on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. throughout the streets of Vail Village, where an array of lamb dishes -from the traditional to the most creative – prepared by Vail Valley chefs can be sampled. As well, in the theme of “Life Beyond Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot,” participating wineries will showcase an array of varietals like Riesling, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, to name a few, as well as spirits and beer.The cook-off is a favorite of Jack Ridenour, executive chef of Bistro 14. He has to prepare for at least 600 people at Eagle’s Nest and then bring it down the mountain to set up in town. “I feel the middle of Vail is a great venue,” Ridenour said. “You can get your food out to a lot of people. It’s cool for me because, in addition to meeting a lot of people, I get to see other chefs that I might not normally see because of the busy season. It’s nice to hang out and talk about food and exchange ideas.This year he’s making a lamb noodle bowl, with “lamb broth with Udon noodles, cabbage, peppers, mushrooms with slow-roasted lamb on top,” he said.Ridenour plans to marinate the lamb for two days and then cook everything the day of the event. “Taste of Vail is a lamb lover’s dream,” says Megan Wortman, executive director of the American Lamb Board. “These Colorado chefs make some of the most mouth-watering, creative local lamb dishes that you’ll ever try. The lamb dishes presented at Taste of Vail are sure to inspire home cooks to enjoy American lamb more often.”Following the lamb cook-off, cigar aficionados can attend a seminar featuring representatives from Davidoff Cigars who will demonstrate pairings of their renowned products with spirits to complement the most discerning taste.And the festivities are never-ending. For instance, Riedel, one of the world’s premier wine glass makes, will hold a seminar on how a glass can profoundly affect a wine’s bouquet and flavor. Who knew? What’s more, guests receive a four-piece wine tasting set.
Later, a picnic held in snow arena at Eagle’s Nest atop Vail Mountain serves as a backdrop for a gourmet picnic presented by a host of Vail restaurants and guest wineries. The crowning touch is what Mother Nature usually brings to the table: a Colorado blue sky and views that never quit. However, getting this picnic together is no easy task. Ask John Bailey, manager of operations for Eagle’s Nest, who coordinates the “building” of the picnic site. He makes sure all the food, grills and wine make it to the event on time and, additionally, makes it look like a piece of cake.”It really takes a couple of days to get everything up the gondola prior to the event,” said Bailey, who has been doing it for five years. “We store everything inside Eagle’s Nest and then transport it all, by snow cat, for set up on the day of the event.”Fortunately, over the years, there haven’t been any weather disasters.”Probably the hardest thing to deal with are strong winds,” Bailey said. “We have to make sure all the tents are secure and don’t blow away. Last year we had so much snow that we were able to build very high walls to secure the area. Fortunately, most of the time, we’ve been blessed with great weather.”Following the picnic, guests have an array of activities from which to choose. At Mirabelle at Beaver Creek, Chef Daniel Joly will present a tasting and cooking journey with Belgian beers, Stella Artois, Hoegaarden and Leffe Blonde. A native of Belgium, Joly will explain the ideal way to enjoy Belgian beer – from the importance of glassware to proper pouring and tasting technique. He’ll give tips on how best to pair the beers with the right dish or add them to the right recipe.There are some food-centric events going on at other restaurants around town during the Taste of Vail, though they’re not technically part of the event and so not included in the festival pass.At La Tour, Chef Paul Ferzacca and Sommelier Paul DiMario are opening the wine cellar to a decade of wine from 1990 to 1999. At this dinner, one wine from every vintage in the ’90s will be paired with a five-course tasting menu beginning with a 1990 Veuve Clicquot “La Grande Dame,” paired with caviar to a 1999 Chateau Leoville Barton served with roasted lamb rack.”We had all the wine in our wine cellar and came up with the idea to present this dinner,” Ferzacca said. “It’s going to be phenomenal wine with phenomenal food. Talk about a cool evening. This is it!”
In celebration of Taste of Vail and the Semana Santa holiday, Block 16, at The Sebastian, will join with Margerum Wines and Chefs Sergio Howland and Riley Romanin for a five-course tasting menu and pairings.”We decided to do a Taste of Mexico and hope to include it in the Taste of Vail next year,” said Flynt Payne, director of food and beverage at The Sebastian. “However, the restaurant will be participating in the lamb cook-off as well as the Grand Tasting.”Payne, who began his career as a chef, has recently became a member of the Taste of Vail board.”I’m just soaking it all right now,” he said. “I’m very excited to be a part of this. I think it will be exciting to see what new eyes will bring to the event in the coming years.” Over three days, Taste of Vail incorporates cooking demos, wine and cheese pairings and even a seminar called “Speed Dating with Wine.” However, the piece de resistance is the Grand Tasting and Auction, “the granddaddy of wine, spirits, beer and food tastings,” where a coterie of chefs and vintners will please one and all on Saturday evening at the Vail Marriott.Actually, the entire weekend is a decadent, unparalleled wine and culinary spectacle.And that’s a good thing. Go and enjoy!
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