Taste of Vail kicks off Thursday | VailDaily.com

Taste of Vail kicks off Thursday

Wren Wertin and Caramie Schnellwren@vaildaily.com and cschnell@vaildaily.comVail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyA snowy start to the day did not deter foodies from the Taste of Vail's annual Mountain Top Picnic last year at the top of the gondola on Vail Mountain.

VAIL, Colorado – We’re a spoiled lot. Whereas some festivals are about a little bit of food and a little bit of wine, Taste of Vail doesn’t pull any punches. Fifty-five boutique wineries send out their winemaker to pour their elixirs, local chefs offer up a parade of tasty treats and guest chefs from around the country fly in and share their own sweet and savory morsels. All in all, it’s a hedonist’s dream come true, and, starting Thursday, it’s back for the 20th year in a row.”I think it’s amazing,” said Taste of Vail board member Mickey Werner about the anniversary. “Not a lot of food and wine festivals can continue for 20 years.”And while the event has changed over the years, the main goal has not. “It does such a great job promoting world class cuisine,” he said.Chef Kelly Liken has participated in the festival for a few years now. “It’s so, so fun,” said Liken, chef-owner of her eponymous restaurant. “It’s an opportunity for all of us to get our creative juices flowing, to get together and work with our colleagues. It’s a great collaborative weekend.”Chefs aren’t the only ones who like the festival.”Taste of Vail is a good event,” said Sean Capiaux, winemaker and owner of Capiaux Cellars in California. He’s poured his wines at several past festivals. “Vail is just a great spot.”Taste of Vail is anchored by three tasting events: Aprs Tasting, Mountaintop Picnic and the mother lode of all food and wine events, the Grand Tasting and Dinner Dance. From there, several seminars are laced in, allowing for some continuing education in the quest for excellent food and wine. “The concept is food and wine adoration,” said Cary Hogan, a former Taste of Vail board member who helped found the festival. She’s still active in planning the seminars. “We take it for granted sometimes, but we’re so lucky to have so many good chefs here in town.””It’s a very intimate event, starting with the Lamb Cook-Off and continuing through the weekend,” said Nick Noesen of Avon Liquors. “You get to talk to the chefs, to the winemakers. They’re right there.”

New this year is Celebrities on Snow, an opportunity for skiers and snowboarders to take to the slopes with winemakers and chefs. “In one way, we’re getting back to our roots,” Werner said. “Taste of Vail isn’t only about food and wine, it’s about skiing, too. We’re one of two food and wine festivals that take place during ski season.”Many of the winemakers and festival attendees aren’t just here for the fine food and drinks, they’re looking to get some turns in, too. “It’s a great excuse for them to come to Vail and have a mini vacation … this event really ties into the dynamic of the festival,” Werner said.Both Thursday and Friday, small groups will take a three-hour tour of Vail Mountain, led by ski instructors. The tour finishes on Thursday with a seating at the Belgian Beer luncheon at the Lodge at Vail, where Mirabelle Restaurant’s Daniel Joly and the Lodge at Vail’s Rahm Fama are presenting a multi-course lunch paired with Stella Artois, Leffe and Hoegaarden beers. Chef Joly, a Belgium native, will also explain the intricacies of Belgian beer and how best to enjoy it.After Friday’s Celebrities on Snow event, attendees will end up at Eagle’s Nest at the Mountain Top Picnic. The ski-in, ski-out picnic is the signature event of Taste of Vail, and typifies what T.J. Armstrong, owner of Blu’s and one of the Taste of Vail founders, has always said about the festival. It’s about lifestyle: fine food and wine, wrapped up in the mountain package. There are certain types of indulgences that can only be found in a ski-resort town with a sophisticated foodie following. And the Mountain Top Picnic is one of them.

This year, the Aprs Tasting is merging with the Lamb Cook-Off. Typically held in a hotel ballroom, the Aprs Tasting explores “Life Beyond Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot.” Local chefs offer decadent post-skiing treats, and winemakers pour Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, sparkling wine and more. The Lamb Cook-Off is a relative newcomer to the festival, weighing in at five years. The Colorado Lamb Board gives each participating restaurant a leg of lamb, and the chefs do whatever they wish with it. From basteeya to barbecue, the lamb is served in as many different ways as there are participating restaurants. They compete for bragging rights, delivered by a panel of judges, as well as a people’s choice award. And it all happens outside, in Vail Village.”Lamb is unique,” said Rahm Fama, chef at the Lodge at Vail. “There’s nothing that tastes like it out there. Being in Colorado, we have the best lamb in the U.S.”By combining the Aprs Tasting with the Lamb Cook-Off, there’s a new dimension to both events. Nothing’s better than celebrating aprs on some deck, somewhere, in the sunshine with friends. And the Lamb Cook-Off can only be enhanced by what is traditionally one of the most exciting wine events of the whole weekend. “I love that the Aprs Tasting is outside, along Gore Creek,” Liken said. Her only complaint about the festival?”Unfortunately I won’t be able to defend my title at the Bar Chef Mix-Off because they’re not having it,” she said, eyes gleaming. But there’s always next year.

“It’s such great event, and brings a lot of people to our town,” said chef Richard Beichner of the Sonnenalp. “Whenever I can get in front of people and cook it’s fun. It’s 110 degrees in most kitchens, so I love being outside. Plus, it’s -hopefully – instant gratification, getting to see the smile on people’s faces.”Beichner has participated in the festival since he moved to Vail, and he’s learned a few tricks on the fly. It’s important to serve something that tastes good, but that’s not the only thing a chef has to consider.”It’s also about the ease of eating and drinking,” Beichner said. “It’s like a cocktail party. You’ve got your wine and your plate, but there’s no place to sit and put something down. Finger food always wins.”And for these three days, the winners are always well fed.

For the Taste of Vail schedule click

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