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Eat, drink and ski merry

Wren Wertin and Cassie Pence
Ryan Schmidt, assistant chef at The French Press, chats with Karen Roemer of St. Helena, Calif. during the Apres ski tasting Thursday in Vail. The two were discussing how to make proscuitto and brie terrine with hazelnut and tarragon pesto.
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prosciutto and brie terrine with hazelnut and tarragon pesto.|Vail Daily/Ken Lawdermilk|

They came, they ate, they skied.

And then they went home to recover.

The 13th Taste of Vail ran April 9 through 12, and according to Taste of Vail President and owner of Sapphire Susan Fritz, it was a success.

“I think this year’s food was just drop dead,” she said. “The presentation on the plates, particularly at the picnic where you have to carry all that food up there, was fabulous.”

This year, they weren’t sold out as they have been in years past. Fritz estimates they had 800 people at both the Mountaintop Picnic on Vail Mountain and the Grand Tasting at the Marriott.

Instead of the Founders’ Dinner, where the founders of the Taste of Vail hosted a multi-course dinner to begin the festivities, they came up with a new concept.

“I think founders are overrated,” said Fritz, a founder herself. “The idea is to showcase the chefs in the valley.”

And so they had the Vail Valley Chefs Showcase at Game Creek Club. Participating chefs included Mike Irwin, chef-partner at Juniper Restaurant in Edwards, David Sanchez, executive chef of Allie’s Cabin in Beaver Creek, Christopher Wing, executive chef of Game Creek Club on Vail Mountain and Shawn Smith, pastry chef-owner of Mountain Flour in Eagle. Each chef contributed a passed hors d’oeuvres as well as a course. It seemed the real story should behind the scenes: Too many cooks in the kitchen. There were no apparent egos clashing, and chefs helped each other plate the food and get it out the door. As each course was prepared, a hush fell over the kitchen. Only the dishwasher made noise.

“We say it’s not competitive,” said Sanchez, “but of course it is. We all want to blow each other way.”

So they did. Server Patrick Benway and the rest of the staff offered laid back but polished service; they were all well-versed in the intricacies of each dish.

The festivities continued the next day, April 10, with a champagne and caviar lunch at Larkspur. Chef-owner Thomas Salamunovich served four courses, and pretended they were all small. Server Jimmy McCabe kept the bubbly coming and offered his knowledgeable commentary on each champagne.

Later that day the apres ski tasting at The Lodge at Vail was filled with locals and laughter. The whiskey-and-cigar pairing seminar directly afterwards proved there’s no buzz like a cigar buzz – and watch the knees.

April 11 dawned fairly crowded, but by the time folks were lining up for the Mountaintop Picnic – and it was a long line – the skies were clear. At the Vail Bartender Cocktail Mix-Off, Kerry O’Hagan from Bagali’s in West Vail took away the silver shaker. In her bellini she used peaches, Italian ice, peach schnapps, champagne and mint.

For the last day of the food-and-wine extravaganza, guest chef Shawn McClain and guest pastry chef Francois Payard offered a food and wine pairing luncheon.

Hosted by Chef Kevin Nelson at Terra Bistro Restaurant in Vail Mountain Lodge, it was a five-course meal of tastes from the sea, a reminder that summer and sunshine are just around the corner. One standout was the preserved wild king salmon with salt cod, potato and olive oil “chowder.” Another was Payard’s roasted pineapple and lemongrass souffle on a crispy sable breton garnished with caramelized pineapple slices.

For those with serious culinary stamina, the evening was capped off with the Grand Tasting at the Marriott Mountain Resort. Live music and more food and wine than could possibly be consumed were the order of the evening.

“I really believe it’s an important thing to show people the fine restaurants we have in Vail,” said Fritz. “So much of the organized advertising that we get in this town tends to focus on athletics. And we have these fabulous restaurants.”

Taste of Vail raises money for local charities, though the numbers are still out on how much will be given away. The board accepts applications all year long for specific projects, and gives money accordingly. In the past some of the charities have been Bravo!, Children’s Hospital in Denver for Eagle County patients, Habitat for Humanity, Johnson and Wales and The Literacy Project.

“We hate to just give money blindly,” said Fritz. “We like to know what they’re going to use it for.”

Despite this year’s lower attendance, they’re planning on forging ahead next year with yet another decadent event.

“We traditionally sell about 200 full event passes,” she said. “So those people are traveling to Vail from all over the country. … We absolutely have a need for this. I hope people see that.”

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.


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