Local Flavors Food Festival is all about Vail | VailDaily.com

Local Flavors Food Festival is all about Vail

Wren Wertin
The Mountaintop Picnic is Taste of Vail's signature event - snow or shine.

It’s easy to get used to world-class skiing, four-star restaurants and a small-town vibe, but not everyone gets to live in a destination ski resort. For the 16th consecutive year, Taste of Vail, the food-and-wine festival that celebrates local cuisine and fine wines, shares the Vail lifestyle with the world.

For three days, 5,000 locals, visitors and journalists converge upon the town, sampling food, drinking wine, watching live cooking demonstrations and attending seminars on topics from chocolate to pinot noir.

“One of the epiphanies I had is that Taste of Vail really isn’t a wine event,” says TJ Armstrong, owner of Blu’s restaurant and one of the festival’s founders. “Food and wine are only two elements of a lifestyle where we can indulge ourselves.”

A major element of that lifestyle is the camaraderie of a small town, and the willingness to jump in and have a good time.

“Hey, I love to put on a party,” says Geordy Ogden, executive chef of SaddleRidge. “It’s what I do best.”

The tastings

There are three events where chefs roll out two-bite tastes while vintners pour a swallow or two of vino: the Apres Tasting, the Mountaintop Picnic and the Grand Tasting.

The Apres Tasting delves into life beyond chardonnay, cabernet and merlot. Positioned as the ultimate apres ski party, there’s a giddy feeling to the event.

“This is a time where everyone in the valley can come together,” says Collin Baugh of Toscanini. “It’s a good opportunity for local chefs to show off.”

The Mountaintop Picnic is the signature event for Taste of Vail. Located at the top of Eagle’s Nest at 10,350 feet above sea level, the venue provides a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains.

“It takes some effort to get there,” says Kevin Nelson, executive chef of Terra Bistro. It’s an exercise in logistics to schlep all of the tasty morsels and serving set-ups first to the gondola and then to a snowcat. “But it’s such a fun time”everyone’s always in high spirits.”

Paul Ferzacca, chef-proprietor of La Tour, agrees.

“It’s a lot harder, but it’s a lot more fun,” he says.

Sometimes it snows, sometimes it’s all sunshine, last year there was a tussle with lightning”that’s just mountain weather.

“You’re outside, you don’t know what you’re going to get,” says Tim McCaw, executive chef of Zach’s Cabin. “It’s a great time of year; we just get to go and have fun.”

The Grand Tasting is just what it sounds like”the mother of all tastings. While most restaurants usually choose to do either the Apres Tasting or the Mountaintop, everyone shows up at the Grand Tasting. And they usually save the big guns for last, as do the vintners.

“I know a lot of chefs, but I hardly get to see them during the season,” says Quintin Wicks, chef de cuisine at Juniper. “It’s nice to get out of the kitchen and see everybody. Besides, the wine is tasty.”

Though on some level Taste of Vail is about educating visitors about what the valley has to offer, when chefs line up side by side offering their creations, they’d just as soon wow each other as please the public. Visitors luck out by sheer proximity.

“These restaurants are fiercely proud of their food, of what they’re doing,” says Ferzacca. “And they should be.”

Someone’s in the kitchen

The guest chef program has expanded from one national personality to three: Rick Moonen of restaurant rm at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, Martial Noguiere of one sixtyblue in Chicago and Jennifer Jasinski of Rioja in Denver.

“We’ve got three great chefs coming to our backyard,” Armstrong says. “We have an opportunity to taste what they can do. Not only do we not have to travel, but it’s probably less expensive than going to their restaurants, not to mention the wine.

These are wonderful experiences that just fall in your lap.”

Guest chefs will each participate in a showcase dinner, where they’re paired with four local chefs and everybody prepares a course. They’ll also lead a cooking seminar. It will play like a cooking show with a bonus: At the end, whoever is watching gets to eat what’s just been demonstrated.

Taste of Vail runs Wednesday, April 5 through Saturday, April 8. For more information or to purchase tickets visit http://www.TasteOfVail.com.

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