With extravagant food, wine and cocktail tastings, lavish dinners, festive parties and more, Whistler’s Cornucopia has become synonymous with indulgent revelry. But there’s another side to the event, now in its 23rd year, that reflects the conscientiousness of its participants and attendees. Throughout the 11-day festival, several tastings and other gatherings raise awareness about ecological and cultural issues related to food. With this year’s event set for Nov. 7–17, here’s a look at the wide range of activities to check out at Cornucopia 2019.
[All photos: Tannis Toohey | Cornucopia Whistler]
The first thing to remember is that Cornucopia is a marathon, not a sprint. In addition to its high-profile signature tastings, the event fills Whistler Village with a daily lineup of demonstrations, seminars, themed dinners, parties and more. (See the full schedule here.)
The opening night’s House Party: Best of BC event sets the tone. Guests get to sample British Columbia–made wine, beer and spirits, while noshing on barbecue fare prepared by The Four Seasons Whistler’s SIDECUT Modern Steak + Bar.
Two Sundays later, the Bearfoot Bistro World Oyster Invitational & Bloody Caesar Battle headlines the closing day’s lineup. The 4-hour afternoon affair includes oyster-shucking and bloody-caesar mixing competitions featuring top area chefs and bartenders.
In between these two events, each of the near-nightly signature tastings come with a different focus. Cellar Door (Fri., Nov. 8), for example, focuses on top-shelf wines, and Night Market (Fri., Nov. 15) showcases international foods.
The festival’s second “weekend” kicks off with the Cornucopia premiere of Sashay, Fillet! Whistler (Thurs. Nov. 14). The event pairs accomplished chefs with top drag performers. Event creator Dan Clapson of Eat North describes it as “Top Chef meets Drag Race, but onstage.” Each team will try to outdo the others for the top prize in a series of culinary and performance challenges. And the event’s food and wine purveyors will pull out all the stops—and stoppers—for the Poured Grand Tasting (Sat., Nov. 16). The penultimate evening’s featured event features Scotch whisky, gin and vodka cocktails, wines from around the world, cider, beer and more.
Electrifying After Parties
On most Cornucopia nights, the fun heats up as the signature tastings wind down. This is literally the case at Scandinave Spa Bubble Bath (Fri., Nov. 8). You read that right. Bubble Bath. The spa greets attendees with a champagne split and provides after-hours access (9:30–11:55 p.m.) to its outdoor baths, saunas and steam rooms.
The post–Night Market party at Tommy’s Lounge (Fri., Nov. 15) also features champagne, albeit in a more conventional nightclub setting. And the Audain Art Museum hosts the festival’s most avant-garde after-hours party of all. For one special night, Abstract: Warhol Factory Party (Sat., Nov. 16) transforms the museum into a Pop Culture wonderland.
The Lost Feast demonstration (Sun., Nov. 10) promises to be one of this year’s most though-provoking events. The presentation features Lenore Newman, a culinary geographer whose new book, Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food, was released earlier this month. An associate professor at the University of Fraser Valley, Newman is teaming with local chef Neal Harkin for a tasting and talk focusing on ingredients that have become extinct or are threatened. The two are still finalizing the details of their menu. But Newman plans to include at least one dish showcasing a rare apple variety. And a dish prepared with honey will accompany the portion of her discussion on the plight of North America’s bees.
While the past and potential future extinction of cultivars and animal species sounds depressing, Newman is quick to point out that it is not all gloom and doom. In her book, she describes steps individuals can take to make a difference. And she considers a festival such as Cornucopia an ideal setting to discuss such issues. “This is a perfect time to raise awareness about food, because we want to keep partying,” she says. “We want to be able to do this 20, 30 years from now and still have something to put on the table.”
Sustainability is also the focus at a tasting featuring Ethical Table and Fort Berens Winery (Sat., Nov. 9). Chef Mike Sonier, Ethical Table’s founder, will showcase sustainably grown, raised or foraged ingredients from across Canada’s West Coast.
Modern indigenous culture
Spo7ez Table (also on Sat., Nov. 9) at Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Center offers an immersive taste of First Nations’ cultural traditions. The four-course lunch features contemporary cuisine showcasing locally foraged ingredients, including traditional Squamish and Lil’Wat foods. Each course will be paired with wines by Indigenous World Wines, BC’s first 100-percent indigenous-owned winery. And cultural ambassadors will share songs and storytelling.
Each day brings a fresh round of demonstrations and seminars, with experts sharing insights on featured wines, spirits or foods during guided tastings. During Beauty and the Bane (Sat., Nov. 9), guests will explore rare single-barrel Scotch whiskies. For Sinful Gin (Mon., Nov. 11), Kelly Ann Woods, founder and CEO of BC-based Gillespie’s Distillery, salutes gin’s early 20th-century heyday. She’ll be mixing Prohibition-era cocktails such as the Corpse Reviver and Aviation to accompany her talk on the history and lore of the times.
Each evening also brings splurge-worthy dinners to Whistler’s top restaurants. These include several multicourse feasts showcasing selections from featured wineries, from BC or beyond. (Andrea Franchetti, Ruffino and Rocca delle Macie are among the Italian producers to be featured at separate dinners.) The Fairmont Chateau Whistler hosts a wine dinner featuring Indigenous World Wines (Tues., Nov. 12). And the Four Seasons Whistler is bringing Eric Keppler, the season-three winner on Food Network’s Best Baker in America, to Cornucopia. Keppler, the pastry chef at California’s Four Seasons Silicon Valley, is teaming with SIDECUT executive chef Eren Guryel for A Dinner with ‘America’s Best Baker’ (Fri., Nov. 15).
Cornucopia coincides with the one time of year when Whistler’s famous outdoor activities are limited. It’s typically too early for snow. But too late for mountain biking and golf. That said, those itching to get outside can try zip lines or ATV tours, which sometimes morph into snowmobile adventures. Weather permitting, Canadian Wilderness Adventures also offers a cool e-bike tour up to Alexander Falls.
Event organizers describe the dress code for most Cornucopia events as “Whistler Casual” —anything from jeans and a t-shirt to a gown or suit. The event’s signature tastings and demonstrations take place in the Whistler Conference Centre, while seminars, dinners and other events are at nearby venues in and around Whistler Village.
Lodging packages are available with admission to the following signature tastings: Cellar Door, Crush, Cellar Door + Crush and Poured. Admission to all other events, including tastings, parties, seminars, demonstrations and dinners, require individual tickets.
Ticket prices to more than half the signature tastings, including House Party, Night Market and Poured, are $52 (all prices CAD) or less. And most seminars are priced in the $25–$50 range. Most dinners are north of $100. This year’s event is expected to raise more than $35,000 for its charity partner, Whistler Public Library.
Please visit the Cornucopia website to confirm event dates, ticket prices and other details.