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Indulge in Keystone’s culinary (and drink) fest

Kimberly Nicoletti
summit daily news

For the last two years, Keystone Resort has rolled out its red carpet of sensory sensations, and this year, it’s adding even more.

This weekend’s Culinary Festival captures the true spirit of indulgence through not only its signature event, Saturday’s Grand Tasting, but also with the ever-popular wine, champagne and martini tastings; a luscious chocolate demo; a savvy culinary trends cooking class; tonight’s World Celebration of Wine Dinner at Ski Tip Lodge; and new events, such as a kids’ cooking class, an Alpenglow Stube kitchen demo; a spa presentation paired with wine, and a Farm to Table Seminar. And the best part: All of the demos are either free or $15 (which also means you should reserve a spot now, because seating is limited).

The Alpenglow Stube kicks off the festivities with a kitchen demo at 10:30 a.m. today. It’s free (unless you don’t have a ski pass or lift ticket, in which case it’s $8 for two scenic gondola rides up to the Stube). Stube chefs will methodically teach guests how to make their signature crab rangoon, from technique to timing (when to add the mushrooms, when to glaze and how to add the crab so it’s hot and properly cooked). Afterward, guests can enjoy lunch with a 10 percent discount.

Then, one of the highlights of the festival hits: executive pastry chef Ned Archibald’s chocolate demo class. For two hours, Archibald shows guests how he makes various desserts and doles out tricks of the trade in working with chocolate.

“His personality and passion for what he does really comes off in his presentations,” said Dave Scott, executive chef of mountain dining at Keystone.

Happy hour hits at 3:30 p.m. today, with Ski Tip’s sommelier Megan Morgan sharing her knowledge of new and interesting wines from unexpected regions and unusual grape varietals. Morgan is one of the most approachable sommeliers – there’s no pretense or stuffiness in her presentations. She simply exudes a love for helping enthusiasts learn more about the fascinating realm of wine. She repeats the $15 seminar, complete with a complimentary cheese plate, at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, as well. All attendees receive a 15 percent coupon for dinner at the Ski Tip Lodge, valid over the next year.

Keystone had to expand its $15 martini tasting to two sittings – one at 5 p.m. and one at 6:30 p.m. – due to its popularity. This year, it’s held by a master mixologist at Black Bear Grill at Keystone.

The tricky part about the festival is you do have to prioritize the seminars of interest, as they overlap. And let’s face it: It’s tough to choose between Archibald’s tempting chocolate and Morgan’s rousing wine. (The solution really lies in hitting up Archibald, then attending Ski Tip’s World Celebration of Wine Dinner at 6 tonight …)

Saturday starts out a little icy at 11 a.m. with chef Steve Nguyen’s free ice carving demo at the base of the gondola. As he shapes a block into a masterpiece, he’ll throw out various facts about ice, lighting effects and inspirations for his sculptures.

A half hour later, Keystone Spa presents its decadent wellness seminar, which combines information about stress reduction and massage techniques with spa cuisine and wine pairing. For $15, you can’t go wrong – plus you get a 20 percent off spa coupon.

The Culinary Trends Cooking Class, by chefs from Colorado Mountain College Culinary Institute at Keystone, always focuses on showcasing a dish that features Colorado grown and raised products to create internationally-spiced cuisine. But this year, you’ll have to choose between the two-hour class, which begins at 2 p.m. at Keystone Lodge, and the two-hour Farm to Table Seminar, which beings at 1 p.m. at Warren Station.

Keystone folded the Farm to Table Seminar into the mix to teach people “how we’re taking back our local food system by bringing the farm closer to the table,” Scott said. Buying local has been one of Scott’s priorities since he moved to Keystone from Los Angeles (drawn by the resort’s renowned restaurants) 10 years ago.

“The closer we can buy, the less gas, the less emissions, the fresher and more nutrient rich the food, and we support the local economy,” he said. “(The seminar emphasizes) how important it is where we get our food.”

The executive director of the High Country Conservation Center and the ranch manager of Our Sustainable Village in Leadville will talk about ongoing efforts to bring locally-based agriculture to schools, restaurants and families through education and governmental policies.

Saturday afternoon, it’s all about the champagne (or wine), and at 5:30 p.m., the Grand Tasting begins.

Sunday winds down with a relaxing champagne brunch at the Alpenglow and a kids’ cooking class (open to parents) at 1 p.m. at Warren Station.

Saturday’s Grand Tasting is the festival’s signature event; it’s Wine in the Pines without the pressure to keep your stomach flat so it looks good in a gown. That’s right: The Outpost is a casual setting (read: You can wear a baggy sweater and eat as much as you want), because, ladies, let’s face it – two gondola night rides, while romantic, are not conducive to high heels and pantyhose.

Preparations for the tasting began Tuesday, with Archibald hauling his trays and utensils to set up his (always) jaw-dropping dessert “table,” which is more like a dessert room – in fact, last year Keystone began dedicating the entire Stube to Archibald’s sweet creations, because he brings 1.5 pounds of chocolate per person, and with Keystone expecting 200-300 people, that makes for a mountain of chocolate. As always, Archibald will be on hand for some sweet talk.

“The unique thing about Ned is he has so many different varieties of desserts,” Scott said. “We’re really proud of what he does for the resort; we want to make sure we’re showcasing him.”

This year, the Stube also will open its kitchen to guests to watch cooking demonstrations of fresh crepes, both savory and sweet, during the Grand Tasting (again, remember: loose clothing).

Throughout the main room in The Outpost, Keystone’s top restaurants set up stations where chefs serve their specialties, focusing on sustainable and organic ingredients.

The Stube features Floreal of Artic Char – a red fish, similar to its cousins, the trout and salmon. The Bighorn cuts up its certified Angus beef shoulder tender; the Ranch presents duck breast as only the AAA Four Diamond rated restaurant can. Der Fondue Chessel tops its own traditional Swiss cheese fondue by adding jumbo crab, and Ski Tip carves out its thyme-rubbed elk loin. Of course, each mainstay comes with chefs’ fancy, French-wording accompaniments.

Even though the festival is in its third year, Scott and staff are still refining the challenging logistics of hauling so much food up two gondolas. Scott must ensure he has enough of everything – from utensils to sauces – to accommodate 300 people free to consume as much wine, beer and food as they want. Plus, he needs to package everything properly so it doesn’t freeze on the way up or get ruined by falling over.

Normally, he oversees the transportation of about 1,500 pounds of food, liquor and linens a day from the base to The Outpost.

“We have to be super organized in our everyday operations, but we really need to be on our game (Saturday),” Scott said, adding that running out of something as simple as butter would spell a bit of a disaster in his world.

To ensure smooth operations, Scott began tallying numbers and information after last year’s festival, then started planning how four-person teams will pull off the extraordinary evening.

Friendly competition stimulates chefs to step out with their finest culinary delights, though at the same time, everyone helps one another out. The result of this finely-tuned “machine” is an experience that people literally fly in from Hawaii and other parts of the nation to enjoy.

“The most unique thing about this event is it really enables the guests the opportunity to try different dishes from all the restaurants for $100,” Scott said.


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