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CANMORE UNCORKED 2016 Insider’s Blog: DAY 2 & 3

Karen Fennell Posted In: Posted On: April 10, 2016

So Many Moving Parts. What could possibly go wrong…?

Thursday 7th and Friday 8th April
6 venues experienced, 46 to go...

Canmore Uncorked sometimes seems like the opposite of Groundhog Day. Rather than waking up to find out that the same day is happening over, I seem to wake up and wonder where certain days went! Thursday and Friday seem to have suffered that fate – no idea where the time went but I know they were a lot of fun!

By Thursday morning the reality of trying to experience (and blog about) every one of the 52 participating businesses over the 12-day duration of the festival might possibly have a few logistical challenges. Especially if I want to do a few other things like perhaps, work, and maybe hang out with my kids. And watch the Masters. And maybe actually write this blog.

Thursday morning started with checking in on set-up of the evening event (all detailed below), and to get me going I grabbed breakfast at Rocky Mountain Bagel Co. with their $5 Uncorked special of coffee and your choice of bagel and cream cheese. The Bagel Co. is a long-standing local favourite and a place that I ordinarily like to lounge around in one of their comfy chairs to eat and drink. Not today though, as there was too much going on.

First up was a 3-hour TV shoot – one of several this week as Canmore Uncorked continues to build momentum as a media story. Shaw TV was out from Calgary, and if you have seen on-air host Phoenix Phillips in action you will know he is as high-energy as it gets. I have the greatest admiration for his cameraman Jose who has to translate Phoenix’s exciting and evolving vision into practical shots.

We started at Sage Bistro – one of my personal favourites of Canmore’s dining scene. The building is a beautiful log structure, and its stand-alone location on Bow Valley trail affords it stunning 360-degree views. The upstairs Wine Lounge is dazzling with its sunlight, views and open kitchen, and Phoenix’s brain clearly went into overdrive with shot potential. Jose on the other hand saw hard shadows and silhouetted presenters, but somehow pulled it off. Chef Luke Griffin – who will be highlighted in a later blog – prepared the Alberta Beef Goulash from Sage’s $40 set-price menu live on camera. And marvelously Phoenix, Jose and I got to eat it, along with my 11-yr old daughter who had been recruited by Phoenix as ‘Junior Producer’ for the shoot and was happily holding a clipboard and barking instructions.

After a quick walk along sun-drenched Main Street we went to Where the Buffalo Roam, the ‘Canmore Saloon’ that opened a few days before last year’s festival and has been firmly established as a local favourite. The décor is both classy and eclectic, the cocktails are varied and delicious, and owners Shelley and Oona have exquisitely mastered the art of being part welcoming host & part evil genius that can somehow can read every guest’s inner desires. Which means they know exactly what you want to drink and any resistance you have will crumble immediately. Try it I dare you! Phoenix was suitably impressed with the venue and also the pork rib that Chef Chris had prepared – and also the Mai Tai that the ‘Buff’ is offering for their $10 special.

After a shoot at Evoolution (see yesterday’s blog), where Phoenix tried a shooter of my favourite blood orange oil/ripe pear vinegar combination, we headed over to Crazyweed, another Canmore icon. Every now and then I get to pause and realize how truly blessed we are to live in such an amazing place with such awesome businesses, and walking into Crazyweed, with sunlight pouring in through the windows and mountain views in every direction, was one of those moments. Chef Dallas (yes – that was a fun introduction – “Phoenix meet Dallas”) gave a quick summary of the 20-year history of the restaurant, before serving up both their daily $12 lunch special (chicken curry) and their house specialty Thai chicken salad. Yes my friends, we all ate well.

Which brings me to multitasking. It was only Noon and 3 hours of media work had successfully been combined with 3 new Uncorked experiences, and a morning hanging out with my daughter who claimed it was the best day ever! Who said men can’t multitask? Yay… go me!!

Only 3 meals so far today, so what to do for lunch? My good lady wife came to the rescue* here and brought me delivery from JK bakery. The $12 lunch special was a curried chicken soup and a delightful chicken sandwich made on fresh focaccia. The soup was apparently fabulous – I don’t know because she had finished it off on site – but the sandwich was excellent, as you would expect from JK who have grown to two locations in the downtown area.

*Authors Note: ‘Rescue’ is being a little dramatic – I did not need food, but I did need to keep checking off the experiences…

So on to the real activity of the day – the Long Table Dinner. This annual event has become the real signature of the Uncorked festival, and while this type of dinner is common in warm sunny places around the world, there are not many people who would try to pull off a single-table dinner for 150 people featuring 7 courses catered by 7 different restaurants in the Rocky Mountains. Outside. In April. So many moving parts, what could possibly go wrong…

Mercifully the weather was cooperative. In fact Mother Nature smiled down on us with hot radiant sunshine. 20 degrees on April 7th – I’ll take it every time thanks! Actually we have been really luck three years in a row. I am not afraid of low temperatures (it was -5 in year one!). I am not afraid of a bit of rain or snow (we have a tent). But I am terrified of wind. Setting a table for 150 people and making sure it is of a quality that meets the brand of the festival is tough enough, but doing so knowing that one ill-timed gust will wreck everything is rather nerve-wracking.

At this point I have to recognize a couple of people. This festival is successful because Canmore is full of remarkable dining experiences and amazing culinary partners who partner to make it happen. It is successful because we have a very ambitious vision to be truly recognized right across the country (winning Canada’s Event of the Year last year wasn’t a bad start…). But Uncorked is also successful because of a huge amount of work put in by a very small team of people who love it and passionately put 14 hours a day into making it work. The joke in the office is that I sell the dream and everyone else services the nightmare – but it really isn’t a joke: if you are attending any of these events look out for Mirit and Julia and their info centre team and please say thanks. Without their dedication none of this would happen!

So back to the long table dinner. That much set-up requires meticulous planning and many hands on deck. The road closed at 7am and the tent was up within a couple of hours. The kitchen staging area in the Civic Centre was prepared, the perimeter fencing all went up – all with near military precision (meaning someone other than me was running the show!). Even my daughter, who cannot normally be persuaded to set the table for a family dinner, decided that laying out and evenly spacing cutlery for 150 people still fitted into the ‘best day ever’ category. And while the team set up the table, Gauchos Brazillian BBQ set up their wood-fire grill out front and slow roasted beef ribs and pork for 5 hours, filling the tent with the most delicious of smells.

The evening itself passed in a wonderful blur of good food, fun, friendship and camaraderie. It was truly 150 friends sitting down for dinner – the weather stayed amazing, the mountains were resplendent, the wine was excellent, and the food…? Well I won’t go into details but will instead direct you to Afton’s Aiken’s quite excellent write-up here. My sincerest thanks go to all of the participating restaurants, to the MCs, and to Three Sisters who partnered with us on the event to help make it possible.

So having tasted food from over a dozen restaurants in a single day (!) there was still time for a nightcap and a quick look at the festival passport led me to The Last Call, a friendly neighbourhood watering hole popular with long-time locals and a first-time participant in Uncorked. The $10 special is a paired cocktail and shooter – with a menu of pairings laid out and ready. I couldn’t resist the alternate of a ‘spin on the shooter wheel’ and found myself facing a repurposed dartboard with what seemed like dozens of shooter possibilities. In truth I don’t remember the drink, but do remember being highly impressed with the shooter wheel itself.

As it happened, the Last Call wasn’t the last stop – there was still time for a quick visit to the “Buff” where Shelley was once again able to read my mind and convince me what I needed to drink. It’s quite uncanny…

So Friday started with a feeling of let-down – I mean how do you follow that!

I desperately felt like something healthy so started at Mountain Juice where the $10 special is a smoothie (delicious Kale for me) and 1/2-size wrap (Pesto chicken). It was actually a perfect way to get going for the day – fresh and tasty on the smoothie side and the wrap made a perfect breakfast for my daughter on the last day of her spring break.

After a few hours in the office it was lunchtime and a look at my passport once again reinforced just how many places I still had to try! Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. is not your average pizza joint – serving highly imaginative flatbread creations baked in an open concept wood-fired oven. It is a tremendously popular eatery, and offers both a $12 two-course lunch and a $20 three-course dinner for the festival. I tried both the lemon-chicken and apple flatbread and the sundried tomato flatbread – both were superb.

From there is was a quick stop at Crush & Cork on 7th Ave where the Uncorked special is a free tasting of two rare varietals – and Argentinean Torrontes and a South African Pinotage – both of which were very tasty. Another note of thanks here to Kevin Hartwig the owner – Kevin is truly passionate about what he does and for the last three years has been the person bringing the suppliers together for the beer, wine and whisky festivals – please drop by the store and check it out. If you attend any of these events and like the product then it is highly likely you will find it at Kevin’s store.

The evening event started to loom large – the evening whisky festival will be featured in the next blog – and after a few more hours in the office I was in need of a coffee. Rave Coffee started in Canmore a little over a year ago and its distinctive taste has found its way into many of our local restaurants. The beans are roasted on site with tremendous care, and Rave recently came second in a national roasting competition which is one more huge feather in the cap of the local culinary scene. My personal comment here is that prior to Rave I drank coffee with cream and sugar and often an added flavor. Since I started drinking their wares I now drink only unsweetened and unflavoured black coffee – which I guess is a pretty strong endorsement!

So there we have it – two days filled with food. Not counting the courses at the Long Table I now make it 16 experiences complete and 36 still to go, with 9 days left to do it. I feel like the guy from Supersize Me, but instead forced to eat spectacular meals of the highest quality. Tough life eh?

About the Author
Andrew Nickerson
President and Chief Foodie
Canmore Business & Tourism