Lubricate your relationship at Whistler’s Cornucopia wine festival and Tofino’s Clayoquot Oyster Festival
While there’s little scientific proof that oysters are an aphrodisiac, many people believe they are. There’s no question in Bobby Lax’s mind. As the coordinator of the 16th annual Clayoquot Oyster Festival, he’s seen what happens during and after the events. “My tag line for the festival is, ‘Keeping Tofino’s population growing since 1997,’ ” he says with a laugh.
Reproducing aside, a romantic getaway could be just what the doctor ordered as the cold days of fall set in. Looking forward to a quick jaunt can boost your spirits during this otherwise quiet time between Thanksgiving and December. The oyster festival, which takes place in Tofino from November 15 to 17 this year, is one of several culinary events worth a road trip.
On the line from Tofino, Lax tells the Georgia Straight that the festival attracts a mix of locals and tourists. “It’s a time that you’ll feel part of the community because you’ll experience a really good view into the culture here,” he says. “We’re all coming out for the same reason: we all like oysters, beer, music, and good people.”
The festival celebrates the start of peak oyster harvesting season from November to February, and tours of a local oyster farm will be available on November 17. Most oysters in the area are farmed on lines—as opposed to harvested on beaches—and are sold in tubs rather than on the half-shell. The area produces more than 18,000 litres of oysters annually.
Highlights of the weekend include the November 16 Mermaid’s Ball, a costume party with an “under the sea” theme, and the November 17 Oyster Gala. (For info and tickets for all events, see oystergala.com/.) Lax describes the gala as a laid-back rather than formal affair. It includes a live cabaret show and a lighthearted shucking relay involving teams of chefs and oyster farmers. Twelve restaurants from Tofino and Ucluelet will be participating, offering dishes that showcase oysters in a variety of forms, from served on the half-shell to grilled to baked; guests can vote for their favourites. Over the course of the two evenings, about 600 participants will slurp back about 8,000 to 9,000 oysters.
According to Lax, locals are passionate about their bivalves. “They’re this beautiful cult food that people who love them get excited about,” he says. Then, of course, there’s that fabled aphrodisiac property. “Oysters contain a lot of zinc, and that affects testosterone levels,” Lax explains. “But on a more emotional level, they’re daring, they’re slippery.…You eat that many oysters, you’re going to feel sexy.” In his experience at the festival, “you see couples sitting a little closer or looking at each other with this childish gaze, and they might be 65 years old.” He personally knows couples who have gotten together because of the festival and a few who have had “oyster fest babies”.
Of course, oysters aren’t the only relationship lubricant out there—wine has its devotees, too. There will be plenty of that flowing at Cornucopia, Whistler’s celebration of food and wine, which takes place from November 7 to 11 this year.
On the line from Whistler, Cornucopia’s communication manager, Jess Smith, notes that the festival has “changed immensely from the last couple of years”. In addition to wine, the focus is expanding to include other spirits and cocktails. This year, the length of the festival will increase from four to five days, and next year organizers are aiming for a 10-day run to emphasize more Scotch, beer, and other beverages.
“We’ve added on the Wednesday [November 7] so that we could host the Cornucopia cocktail challenge,” Smith explains. Alta Bistro is sponsoring the free daytime event in which bartenders from around the Pacific Northwest will compete. At night, the restaurant will offer a five-course dinner with the option of paired cocktails.
On the Sunday (November 11), a new event called Cornucopia Night Market—A Taste of Asia will feature beer, liquors, and even tea in addition to wine. This event will match dishes from Whistler and Vancouver Japanese, Thai, and Indian restaurants with beverages.
Wine remains at the heart of the festival, however. A long list of tastings, seminars, parties, chef’s lunches, and winery dinners is detailed on Cornucopia's website. “The schedule can look a little overwhelming,” Smith admits. The highlights? “All of the winery dinners are spectacular this year,” she says, noting that Araxi Restaurant + Bar’s Big Guns dinner on November 9 is “always a hugely popular event…they’ve got some of the best wines possible available.”
The CRUSH Gala Grand Tasting is also extremely popular; it takes place on both November 9 and 10. For those who want to narrow down the options in the Convention Centre ballroom, Smith recommends picking up a festival booklet in the Village and planning an attack. She also advises purchasing an early entry to the Friday night event in order to beat the crowds and case the room at your leisure. (It’s important to note that there’s no food at the grand tastings, so eat beforehand; the festival encourages guests to “sniff, swirl, sip, and spit”.)
While wine may lead to romance, Cornucopia isn’t so much about drinking as it is about trying out a wide variety of wines to find those you love. “Make sure you get to some of the wine seminars,” Smith advises. “It’s a great way to learn something new, have a relaxing afternoon, and get some information about wines and ones that you maybe haven’t tried before.”
Good wines lead to good conversation, too.
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