International chefs to converge at Whistler's Cornucopia

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      When celebrated Mexican chefs Benito Molina and Solange Muris travel to B.C. from Ensenada soon, they will be bringing more than reading material and personal items with them in their carryon luggage.

      The husband-and-wife duo behind Manzanilla—considered one of Latin America’s top restaurants—will also have a stash of ingredients that are essential to their locally sourced Baja-style cuisine: annatto seeds and chilmole (a paste made of chilies and spices that’s prepared in a traditional clay dish), as well as ancho, guajillo, chipotle, cascabel, pasilla, and other dried chilies.

      “We always work with local produce,” Muris says on the line from Mexico. “What we’ve been doing for a long time, ever since we opened the restaurant 17 years ago, is work with local farmers, going to the market every day to get local fish, fresh oysters, clams, and mussels.

      “We just went to Paris and taught a class at the Cordon Bleu; every time we travel, we use local ingredients too,” she adds. “We always say that the food doesn’t travel but the chef does—except our spices. We take our spices with us. Things like chilies, seeds, paste… We always have a secret little package.”

      Whistler Cornucopia

      The two are visiting Canada for the first time in mid-November to headline Cornucopia, Whistler’s annual festival of food and drink. They’ll join forces with Araxi Restaurant and Oyster Bar executive chef James Walt to collaborate on a multicourse dinner using local ingredients, the dishes paired with B.C. wines.

      “When we first opened, we used to describe Manzanilla as avant-garde food, but that’s too pretentious,” says Molina, a champion of sustainability who is a judge on Master Chef Mexico, which garners 10 million viewers in that country every week. “We do Baja, California, food. There, in Whistler, we’ll be doing our interpretation of local produce. I can’t wait to see the fish. People will be getting a taste of Mexico for sure.”

      Now in its 20th year, Cornucopia packs seminars, brunches, lunches, dinners, tastings, winemakers’ dinners, cooking demonstrations, parties, health-and-wellness events, and other activities into 10 days every November.

      First-timers to the fest are chefs Ryan and Melissa Leitch, who operate Whistler’s recently opened Venue Restaurant. With a firm belief in minimizing the impact that their industry has on the environment, the two are hosting a five-course Feast of Fields–style dinner that will showcase organic, local, and sustainable products from the Sea-to-Sky Corridor along with pours from the Okanagan Falls–based B.C. Wine Studio.

      Also new this year are sommelier tours at the Crush Grand Tasting, which is billed as Cornucopia’s flagship food- and winetasting event. Whistler’s top wine experts will guide groups of no more than six people through the offerings from more than 70 wineries for a curated experience that gives Crush attendees early entry.

      Whistler Cornucopia

      The B.C. Craft Brewers Guild Winter Beer Market, meanwhile, will have more than 60 craft breweries and brew pubs from throughout the province on hand to give a sneak peek at their seasonal recipes.

      After a successful launch last season, the Cornucopia Cicerone Vs. Sommelier session is back. Presented by Whistler Debates, the multicourse tasting is held under the Munk Debates format, with attendees voting on their way in and again after the showdown between Whistler native Brendan Grills, Canada’s youngest cicerone, and 2013 sommelier of the year Samantha Rahn.

      Guadalajara, Mexico–born chef Luis Valenzuela, who specializes in Spanish-inspired cuisine at Carmen restaurant in Toronto, will create several dishes, each paired with both a wine and beer. Whichever camp sways the most votes in its direction wins.

      Then there is poutine—but not just any french fries and gravy. Eren Guryel, executive chef of Whistler Four Seasons’ Sidecut Modern Steak and Bar, will be preparing three different types (foie gras; truffle and béchamel; and the Canadian classic) that will be served with bubbles at the Champagne and Poutine After Party.

      Piper-Heidsieck will be poured while a DJ spins at the late-afternoon events taking place five times throughout the fest.

      Whistler Cornucopia

      “At first we thought of doing Champagne and cupcakes, but we wanted to do something more Canadian,” Guryel says. “We wanted to have something that people might want to have at cocktail hour that was fun, simple, and decadent. It’s about life’s simple pleasures.”

      Guryel will also be hosting a four-course dinner called Best in Show—A Celebration of British Columbia’s Best Local Producers, with the people behind Vancouver Island Salt Co., North Arm Farm, Two Rivers Specialty Meats, Golden Ears Cheesecrafters, and Lillooet’s Fort Berens Estate Winery in attendance.

      The Nourish Health and Wellness series, meanwhile, is geared to those who wish to do more than fill their bellies. Highlights include seminars on fermentation; preserving and canning; fuelling for endurance runs; healing foods from around the world; nose-to-tail cooking techniques; and gardening tips.

      To finish off the fest, Collective Kitchen, a private-dining company that works collaboratively with local farmers and artisans, is putting on a reception and three-course dinner with guided wine pairing at the Audain Art Museum (with proceeds going to educational charities). The evening ends with a private tour of the striking new gallery.

      Cornucopia, presented by BlueShore Financial, runs November 9 to 20. More information is at the Whistler Cornucopia website.