32 years of culinary excellence in Tahoe | TahoeDailyTribune.com

32 years of culinary excellence in Tahoe

Cassandra Walker
cwalker@sierrasun.com

Each year top culinary artists from around North Lake Tahoe convene during one of the most highly anticipated foodie experiences to be found at the lake.

The Autumn Food & Wine Festival hits the village and the mountain at Northstar California Resort from Friday, Sept. 8, to Sunday, Sept. 10, and integrates decadent food and wine experiences with the beautiful natural landscape.

"This year's festival is unique, as we're bringing these gourmet tastings out to nature," said Amber Burke, events and communications manager with the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, who puts on Autumn Food & Wine each year.

"Some other festivals typically only offer some interesting demonstrations indoors. What differentiates Autumn Food & Wine is that we feature hands-on demonstrations, as well as cooking seminars and tasting events, all combined with the outdoors, which you just can't get in some of these other metropolitan cities," she added.

Guests who attend the foodie paradise can purchase tickets to their preferred events listed throughout the weekend's itinerary. Single and multi-day package tickets are also available, and already include a seat to some signature events that are filling up fast.

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People looking to connect with nature can certainly find an array of more athletic-themed events, which incorporate gourmet food and wine into activities like hiking and yoga.

"Sips & Salutations is the perfect example of getting in some exercise and then stepping out into the village to taste the wine — best of both worlds," Burke said.

"The Progressive Picnic will be another fun one, guests start at mid-mountain, then hike through the forest and have different stops along the way for food and beer pairings as they hike to the different stations," she added.

There is plenty for the active wine-lover at Autumn Food & Wine this year. Alternatively, there's a number of events designed to have participants kick back and relax over the weekend as they sip, shop, and take it easy.

Heated, 'Friendly' Competition

"As chefs, this is a huge time for us and it's something we talk and joke about, the friendly competition among each other," said Northstar's Executive Chef Steve Anderson.

Anderson commented on the tongue-and-cheek rivalry that chefs experience during the Autumn Food & Wine Festival; especially in the Blazing Pans and Grand Tasting events.

During Blazing Pans, a returning chef, the winner from the year prior, competes head-to-head against a newcomer chef on the stage in the heart of the village, complete with mirrors overhead for the audience to witness every move.

The Grand Tasting is Sunday's highlight event, bringing the entire weekend to a close with flavors from each of the represented restaurants from around North Lake.

Guests get to sample their way from booth to booth as each culinary team presents one signature bite and beverage pairing.

Tasters note on a ballot many areas of critique, voting for their favorite flavors, presentation, individual food and drink categories, even booth appeal using various decorations.

"The Grand Tasting is the big event, it's the culmination of the weekend where you can sample the most flavors from around the lake," Burke said.

Each of the chefs competing for the win spends hours before the event crafting the perfect bite — something Anderson knows all about.

"All the chefs want it perfect, every texture, every mouthful — it's your one shot; not like a five dish wine dinner where one of the dishes can be a hair off — with this competition it's one taste that you want to perfectly make the wine taste better, have the wine make the food taste better, and show that your pairing is the best," Anderson said.

Though his team won't compete in this year's face-off, chef Anderson said in the past they would choose a wine with a flavor profile they like, then start ordering ingredients to build demonstration dishes that they would brainstorm and play around with for four hours or so before being happy with the final result.

After tinkering with the ingredients until the flavor and presentation is correct, the culinary team whips up a whopping 800 to 1,000 individual bites for guests to sample during the event.

Pint-Sized Kitchen Wizards

In addition to all of the fun activities for grown-ups, the Autumn Food & Wine Festival didn't fail to include the children. Saturday's itinerary offers an array of child-friendly options for festival families.

Anderson says he, for one, would love to see a huge turnout of spectators for the Mountain Kids Cook-Off Finals.

"This is our second year now and we went from 18 teams down to two, and this show will be the final two teams competing on the big stage for the golden whisk," Anderson said.

Two teams of three children ranging from 8 to 12 years old will have 45 minutes to make one themed-dish at the discretion of the judges, incorporating a mystery ingredient.

The child-cooks have been working hard and are excited to show their stuff from the same stage the professionals use.

Families will also enjoy a Kid's Zone play area setup on The Overlook, which includes face painting, balloon animals, and craft projects.

Child-friendly food seminars like the hands-on pickling class is one not to miss out on.

Parents can sip some wine and watch a family appropriate movie with the children during the Wine'd Down Movie Night, or even observe the cosmos through Celestron telescopes during the Tahoe Star Tour.

The village will setup a vendor marketplace displaying all kinds of regionally crafted lifestyle, home, and cooking products — creating something for everyone at this year's festival.

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