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Chefs test their mettle at Beaver Creek Culinary Classic

Wren Wertin
Daily illustration/Dawn BeaconThe Sixth Annual Beaver Creek Culinary Classic and Celebrity Chef Ski Race gets revved up Thursday through Sunday.
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Hold on to your toques. The Sixth Annual Beaver Creek Culinary Classic and Celebrity Chef Ski Race gets revved up Thursday through Sunday with a full schedule of demonstrations, competitions and all-out overindulgence. Throw together fancy pastry, fine wine, nuanced food and a bit of skiing, and presto – you’ve got the meat and potatoes of the festival.

“It’s not only about attracting world-class chefs,” said Beaver Creek Resort Company Executive Director Tony O’Rourke. “We can’t ignore the talent that is local. We have a number of world- class chefs here.”

To the festival’s credit, any chef who’s been invited to participate has accepted, said O’Rourke. The Culinary Classic’s reputation is one that stands out amongst foodies and chefs alike.

“I think the event has been growing hand over fist,” said Allie’s Cabin Executive Chef David Sanchez. “The amount of diversity it’s evolved into, with the wedding cake competition, the “Iron Chef’ cook-off, the Grand Tasting – it’s exciting. It’s something that, if not now, in the near future is destined to be like some of the film festivals all over the world, like Cannes, which have become world-class events in smaller locations.”

Both Bon Appetit Magazine and the Food Network are lending their oomph to the event. Bon Appetit and Beaver Creek Resort have long been allies, as they’ve hosted numerous events together. The Food Network is a new relationship – one based on wedding cakes.

“It’s great to be associated with Bon Appetit and the Food Network,” said O’Rourke. “They both underscore the demographic of Beaver Creek, which includes people of a fairly affluent lifestyle. Food wine and pastry is a big part of that.”

Wedding Cake Challenge

Last year, the Culinary Classic included a wedding cake contest. They’ve expanded the event this year, and the actual competition will be taped and aired on the Food Network.

“What better way for a baker to really show his or her stuff than by creating a fabulous wedding cake?” mused the Food Network’s Kate Rados. “This documentary will premiere along with other high-profile wedding programming and is a perfect cooking competition for Food Network to get behind and help shape our first foray into sponsoring a cooking competition.”

Though the focus of the contest will be the intricate assembly and design the cakes necessitate, the altitude factor will certainly be a part of the drama.

“Baking a large, extravagant, multi-tiered wedding cake is certainly a challenge in itself,” said Rados. “But add the unpredictable altitude into me mix, and you’ve got the perfect ingredients for real excitement.”

The Food Network prefers to think of these competitions not as cooking contests, but as more of a sporting event that challenges the best chefs to create something exciting to watch, beautiful to look at and fabulous to eat, said Rados.

“I’m always flabbergasted by the creativity of the pastry chefs,” said O’Rourke. “They’re not only great chefs but great artists, and they’re doing an edible medium here.”

Pastry figures heavily in the events, and will really be showcased at the Grand Tasting.

Chef’s World Cup Challenge

Another new addition to the line-up is the Chef’s World Cup Challenge Friday evening. Two chefs will compete against each other by making mountains out of molehills.

“They’ll each be given a bag of eight (identical) ingredients,” said O’Rourke. “They’ll have too use at least five of them.”

And they don’t get to embellish with their own pantries. There will be three rounds, beginning with Mark Franz from San Francisco’s Farallon versus Ken Franks of Napa’s La Toque. Round two pits Beaver Creek chefs against each other – Grouse Mountain Grill’s Rick Kangas and Mirabelle’s Daniel Joly. The final round includes Guillermo Pernot of Philadelphia’s Painson and Waldy Malouf of New York’s Beacon.

“They’ll be judged on presentation, taste, creativity and workmanship,” said O’Rourke. “It’s about how imaginative and creative they can be. They don’t just work from cookbooks. They can wing it.”

Judges will include Trista Rehn Sutter and her father, Beaver Creek gourmand Barbara Kelly and some of the food professionals at Bon Appetit.

A festival apart

No winter event in Beaver Creek would be worth its salt if skiing weren’t in some way a part of it. Just because they slave over hot stoves doesn’t mean they can’t whip down the slopes, too. For the second year, both visiting and local chefs will compete against each other and festival-goers in a dual giant slalom race on Haymeadow. Last year Mirabelle’s Joly and a group of Belgians took top prize.

“First of all, a lot of these chefs have European backgrounds, so they skied as children,” said O’Rourke. “But they’re just as competitive on the slopes as in the kitchen. It’s one of the benefits of this festival – they get to socialize with each other, too.”

Guest chefs will be sharing kitchen space with various host chefs. There’s a sense of friendly camaraderie in the kitchens, as they dance around each other. Chef Sanchez is looking forward to showing the guest chefs his “office.”

“There’s few chefs in the world who can come to work each day at 60 miles per hour on a snowmobile, overlooking one of the greatest views in the country,” he said. “Up here at Allie’s, it’s more about love of the food and the art than about the business and the money. … For those chefs who are on the mountains, our high-rise office space is a lot higher than the high rises in the city. They’re blown away, they can’t even believe it.”

Other festival highlights include culinary demonstrations at both Toscanini and Vue Friday afternoon. The Grand Tasting on Saturday evening features live cooking demonstrations with Dacor Executive Chef Dave Cervantes in addition to a boatload of wine, culinary and pastry tastings from visiting and local chefs. And for those who have serious stamina, Sunday’s Champagne brunch at Splendido is a buffet-style experience, with dishes prepared by many chefs.

For more information on the Beaver Creek Culinary Classic, call (888) 920-2787.

“This festival attracts true culinary geniuses and true foodies,” said Sanchez. “It’s an opportunity for us locally to basically show the world the fantastic culinary culture here in Beaver Creek and the Vail Valley.”

And what chef doesn’t want to show off a wee bit?

Schedule of events:

Thursday

10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Food Network Wedding Cake Challenge

Vilar Center

Friday

11 a.m.-1 p.m.

Celebrity Chef Ski Race

Haymeadow

11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

Culinary luncheon demonstrations

Vue Restaurant and Toscanini Restaurant

7:30-10 p.m.

Chef’s World Cup Challenge

Vilar Center

Saturday

7:30-10 p.m.

Grand Tasting

Park Hyatt

Sunday

10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

Champagne brunch

Splendido at the Chateau


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