Ready, Set Taste
As if the crush of springtime visitors crashing on the door steps of Vail Valley restaurants weren’t enough pressure for local Chefs, so comes a second wave, with the approaching 14th annual Taste of Vail.From April 7 – 11 upwards of 5,000 demanding food and wine lovers from all 50 states and multiple nations around the world hit the Valley for a weekend that promises to expand the waistline and culinary knowledge of all involved.With the Food Network on-site (and ticket prices totaling more than $350 for the event) the pressure is tangible in local kitchens months before the event begins. Foodies will be treated to gourmet food and decadent desserts from more than 35 of the Vail Valley’s world-class restaurants and two super-star guest chefs, all while tasting top wines from 56 of the planet’s most noted vintners.Larkspur restaurant, located at the base of Vail’s Gold Peak, has bitten off just about as much as they can chew for the Taste of Vail this year. They’ve ordered an entire lamb, from a Sonoma, Cal., farm to be paired with wines from the same region and have already had multiple meetings to plan the foods, presentation and logistics related to the nationally televised event.Visitors will see the fruits of Larkspur’s staff labor at the rapidly approaching Taste of Vail, with two wine dinners, and a guest chef luncheon with one of this year’s featured Chefs, Jody Adams of the Rialto, Cambridge, Mass.Involved with at least one part of the Taste of Vail event in past years, which range from the high-end Grand Tasting and the Mountain Top Picnic to more casual gatherings including the Margarita Mix Off to coffee and cheese seminars, Larkspur Pastry Chef Allana Smith is ready for action once again this season. This week co-workers find her busy brainstorming ideas for the dessert course on the top of Vail Mountain at Game Creek Club for the opening evening event (Wednesday, April 7).Featuring a five-course meal, prepared by some of the Vail Valley’s most renowned chefs, including Thomas Newsted (Game Creek Restaurant), Angelee Aurillo (French Press), Soa Davies (Splendido), the Vail Valley Chefs’ Showcase Dinner is just the beginning for many valley restaurateurs already swamped with Spring Break visitors."We’ve been preparing for a few months already," Smith says, "We just found out the wine at our event will be from Sonoma so I’m thinking something like a panna cotta or creme brulle to match."For chefs like Smith, who man the lines of hot spots like Larkspur, going over-the-top is a nightly endeavor, but for the Taste of Vail, Chefs are known to use ingredients or a new recipe they’ve been saving for that special occasion. Smith says she has been holding on to Palisade Peaches she canned late last summer in anticipation of the Taste of Vail. She has ten cans left and promises to incorporate the delectable fruit into her dessert course at Game Creek.For the 35 restaurants that are presenting food at the Grand Tasting or at the Mountain Top Picnic the cost of preparing for the Taste of Vail can be prohibitive, especially when items including fois gras, Colorado lamb chops and sushi rolls are commonplace and served to upwards of 1,000 people.Plus, the man-hour cost involved for chefs and other staff to prepare, set up, serve thousands and then break down to rush back to their restaurant for dinner service can also take its toll.But the chance to get your food in front of thousands of potential diners is enticing, and so is the idea that the event raises @21,500 for Vail Charities. But the real reason seems to lie beyond reason, and is found in the deep passion of every wine maker and Chef’s gut – the driving desire to share the magic of the trade.Sharing the passion"This is a chance for chefs to showcase their food to visitors from all over the world," says Lourdes Ferzacca owner of La Tour and wife of owner/chef Paul Ferzacca. "This valley has more restaurants per capita than Denver and other major cities," she says, referring to a recent study which showed 20 Wine Spectator Award Winning restaurants in a town with an official population of 4,500.”These chefs are passionate about what they do and are always excited to share their food with others."For Spledido’s Chef David Walford, who is no stranger to being the featured Chef at national food and wine events, the intensity of cooking for so many at such a busy time of year is just fine. "Around here, when it rains it pours," he says, "for one thing, we all know the off-season break is coming so this is the final push, push, hurry, hurry of the season."At past taste of Vail events Spledido has hosted wine maker diners where multiple courses of food and wine are matched by chefs from Vail and featured chefs from across the nation. For Walford the opportunity to network and the camaraderie of the other chefs is inspiration enough to do the work necessary to participate."It’s interesting to work with a chef from New York or Chicago for the whole crew," Walford says, "They come here with their ideas, new menu items and we get to see what they are doing in other parts of the country. It’s enlightening. It’s like a really enjoyable continuing education program for us."While restaurateurs are busy preparing for the five days of culinary mayhem, visitors to the event have plenty of reasons to kick back, relax and enjoy the show. Of course, it’s tough to have a bad weekend dining in Vail, but the Taste of Vail gets visitors behind the scenes in a way that would be impossible on any other weekend of the year."People get to meet the chefs," Walford says. "They’re not back in the kitchen but out in front offering samplings and conversation."Other happeningsChances to chat with wine makers at the Mountain Top Picnic and special multi-course wine diners throughout the event combine with endless opportunities to taste the flavors of both savory and dessert foods all weekend.Besides hobnobbing with local talent the Taste of Vail offers the chance to get to know the two featured guest chefs, Jody Adams and Jacques Haeringer (son of Francois, who created the original Chez Francois in the heart of Washington, D.C., nearly 50 years ago) of L’Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls, Virginia.Catch Chef Jody Adams, Thursday, April 8, 11:30 a.m. at Larkspur and Chef Jacques Haeringer, Saturday, April 10, noon at Terra Bistro.Other more affordable and more informal events include Fishing For Wine Pairings, A Tasting of Umami (a complex flavor component), Seafood and Wines. Participants will answer such pressing questions as "What wines taste best with the sweetness of crab?" and "Should we pair toasty oaked wines with smoked fish?" This is a tasting of five wines with a variety of seafood and examples of umami to explore and explain what wines pair best with which seafoods and why (Saturday April 10th, Vail Marriot).Another fun and accessible event is the Battle of the Bartenders Margarita Mixoff. Vail’s top bartenders pour their own signature recipes as they compete for the "People’s Choice Award". (Included in Full Event Package or $25 for individual tickets, Friday April 9th held at the Tap Room in Vail Village, 4 – 5:30 p.m.).The cost for the individual Taste of Vail tickets range from $15 – $150 per person. The cost for the Full Event Pass is $350. Check out http://www.tasteofvail.com or call 926-5665 for tickets and info.By Erik Vienneau
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