I admit it. I was a Top Chef junkie for a few years and was so disappointed when chef Richard Blais didn’t win in season four. (Though he came back to take the title in the spin-o Top Chef All-Stars a few seasons later, which was a nice redemption.) So when I found out he was going to be a guest chef at Beaver Creek’s Winter Culinary Weekend last January, I was stoked. A weekend of amazing wines paired with inventive cuisine from the country’s most innovative chefs— and the Beav’s world-class skiing out the back door? Yes, please. Top Chef meets Hot Dog? Well, not exactly, but you get the gist.
The interesting part of Beaver Creek’s Winter Culinary Weekend is that it incorporates the slopes—it doesn’t just happen to take place inside the windowless meeting and event spaces at a ski resort. e skiing is an integral part of the festivities. Take last season’s Ski.Eat.Ski, which teamed skiers with instructors for a morning of exploring the Beav’s nooks and crannies and ended with a feast put together by both resort and guest chefs at on-mountain Zach’s Cabin. And during the Snowshoe and Gourmet Lunch, participants and chefs rode the Strawberry Park lift to mountaintop McCoy Park, home to the Beaver Creek Nordic Center, for a guided snowshoe tour followed by a multicourse lunch designed by Blais himself, complete with wine pairings.
But the marquee event for me was Saturday night’s Grand Tasting—a chance to meet, greet, and eat among all the featured chefs in a high-energy, feast-for-the-senses evening inside Ford Hall. Servers whirled around with champagne, the wine owed around every corner, and exquisite tasting samples from 22 chefs were red and served all night long. You don’t have to be a foodie to enjoy the heck out of a shindig like this. You just have to have taste buds. And mine were extremely happy to be treated to dishes such as chef Paul Reilly’s lamb-heart tartare and Grouse Mountain Grill chef David Gutowski’s chicken noodle soup.
I never did work up the nerve to introduce myself to Blais, though he seemed very amiable, alternating between preparing his dish and kindly posing for selfies with fans. Instead I went back for seconds—okay, thirds—of his amazing snow crab, and I like to think that I did get to know him just a little bit after all.
What to Know This season’s event takes place Jan. 19–22 at Beaver Creek. New this year is White Glove First Tracks—sunrise skiing followed by a gourmet breakfast. Click here for the full schedule. And while it’s true that food and wine fests are more of a summer staple in the mountains, there are a handful of winter culinary events to consider, below. Caution: Don’t read while hungry.
Sun Peaks Winter Okanagan Wine Festival, Jan. 13–22, Sun Peaks, B.C.
A ten-day bacchanalia dedicated to B.C.’s unique wines, this festival offers a diverse schedule of dinners, tastings, and other affairs. One of the most popular is the Wine Crawl, where guests are split into three groups to visit three venues, sampling Okanagan wines and the food paired with them. At the outdoor Spirited Après event, sample eau de vie, a brandy made from B.C. fruit by Okanagan Spirits. Or go sweet at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Pairing—milk chocolate, white chocolate, chocolate-covered fruit, and more, matched to their perfect vinos. We can get behind that. Winter Okanagan Wine Festival
Taos Winter Wine Festival, Feb. 1-5, Taos Ski Valley, N.M.
This year is the 30th for this robust wine and food celebration, which takes place both at the ski resort and in downtown Taos. Local restaurants and over 40 national wineries come together for several days of dinners, seminars, tastings, and even an on-mountain après. The dinners are a highlight: Wineries are matched with local restaurants to produce four-course meals that bring the wines to life. At the Reserve Tasting, held at El Monte Sagrado resort in downtown Taos, appetizers are paired with reserve varietals from the dozens of participating wineries. But the Grand Tasting, at the ski resort, is the main event: 150 wines plus tastes from a dozen local restaurants. Cap it off with the Champagne Brunch on the final morning, featuring different releases of everyone’s favorite bubbly beverage. Taos Winter Wine Festival
Copper Uncorked, March 25, Copper Mountain, Colo.
A food and wine festival built around wings? Why not? Uncorked might not be as, well, highbrow as the others in this roundup, but don’t count it out. This one-day celebration of the humble chicken wing pits Copper chefs against one other to develop the most popular wing-and-wine pairing. Totally unfussy and laid-back, Uncorked seeks to prove that wings are more than just bar food. Copper Uncorked
Taste of Vail, April 5–9, Vail, Colo.
Combine Vail Village, a weekend in April, local chefs, and internationally acclaimed wines, and you get an amazing springtime bash. Taste of Vail is one of ski country’s best food and wine festivals, with offerings for everyone from true foodies to culinary dabblers. Don’t-miss events include the Colorado Lamb Cook-Off, highlighting the American version of the meat, which is less gamy; the Mountain Top Tasting, gourmet bites paired with wines at 10,350 feet at the summit of Vail Mountain; and the Grand Tasting and Auction, Taste of Vail’s signature soirée, featuring all of the wineries and restaurants. Taste of Vail