Taste of Vail 'Showcase' Dinners the Ultimate in Haute Cuisine

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Local chefs host nationally acclaimed masters at America's premier wine and culinary festival, April 11-14, in Vail Valley, Colorado, home to more than 21 Wine Spectator award-winning restaurants, the most of any resort community in the United States.

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Think about it -- five courses prepared by five different, highly acclaimed chefs, with the actual winemakers in attendance

Epic food and great wine, all for a good cause? Taste of Vail's Chef Showcase Dinners really are the epitome of haute cuisine.

Organizers of America's premier wine and culinary festival, celebrating its 17th year April 11-14, announce an extraordinary lineup of Chef Showcase Dinners, at which the Vail Valley's finest restaurants host the culinary world's brightest stars.

Each dinner, hosted by a local executive chef and joined by other local chefs from restaurants throughout the Vail Valley, is a five-course, five-chef gourmet affair designed around special selections from some of the nearly five dozen participating wineries and followed by live auctions featuring rare and collector's-item bottles from the wineries. Proceeds go to local charities.

"We're very proud to be able to bring nationally acclaimed chefs here to the Vail Valley, one of the world's great dining destinations," says Kevin Nelson, a member of Taste of Vail's board of directors. "This is such an incredible opportunity for food and wine enthusiasts."

On Wednesday, April 11, at 7 p.m., Ludwig's Restaurant, in the Sonnenalp Resort & Spa, hosts Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, executive chef at Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colo. A product of the renowned École Supérieure de Cuisine Française Ferrandi in Paris, Mackinnon-Patterson and his restaurant have been praised by Food & Wine, Esquire, Gourmet and Wine Spectator magazines. At his side in the kitchen will be local chefs Jenna Johansen of Dish and Michael Joersz of Balata, both in Edwards; and Kelly Liken of Restaurant Kelly Liken, in Vail.

On Thursday, April 12, at 6 p.m., Game Creek Restaurant's Executive Chef Darrell Jensen hosts television's celebrity chef extraordinaire, Michael Chiarello of "Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello" on the nationally syndicated Food Network and "NapaStyle" on sister-channel Fine Living Network. Named Chef of the Year by the Culinary Institute of America in 1995 and by Food & Wine magazine in 1985, the Napa Valley icon will cook alongside Beaver Creek chefs Dustin Aipperspach of traMonti restaurant and Steven Topple of Beano's Cabin.

And on Friday, April 13, at 7 p.m., Beaver Creek Chophouse's Executive Chef Jay McCarthy hosts Lee Hefter, executive chef at Spago Beverly Hills, named by Restaurant & Institutions as one of the "best young chefs in America," Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine and Best Chef: California by the James Beard Foundation. Joining Hefter and McCarthy in the kitchen will be local chefs Mercer Mohr of Ocotillo, in the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort & Spa and Charles Hays of Toscanini.

Events like Taste of Vail's Chefs Showcase Dinners are complicated affairs known to build camaraderie among chefs, sommeliers and winemakers, as all courses are paired with special selections from participating wineries. Typically, the host chef is the point person, arranging meetings with the other chefs, his own sommelier and the winemakers themselves. Once the tone is set, the chefs toss more ideas around until everyone is comfortable with the menu and their role in producing it. The night of the event, they all work together -- along with select staff members -- as one big team in the host chef's kitchen.

"Think about it -- five courses prepared by five different, highly acclaimed chefs, with the actual winemakers in attendance," says Nelson, executive chef himself, as well as general manager, at Vail's Terra Bistro restaurant, adding many details of the Chef Showcase Dinners are still in the works. "I can't imagine an endeavor of this magnitude happening anywhere else in the country. And it only happens once a year."

Besides cooking at the Chef Showcase Dinners, chefs Mackinnon-Patterson, Chiarello and Hefter also will be hosting their own morning cooking seminars at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort & Spa.

Celebrating the Vail Valley's rich lifestyle, the fine dining, prestigious art galleries, fashionable shops and phenomenal skiing that have made Vail a world-class, year-round resort, Taste of Vail was created in 1990 by a group of local restaurateurs as a marketing event to showcase the resort's world-class restaurants. Now the internationally famous destination boasts more than 21 Wine Spectator award-winning restaurants, the most of any resort community in the United States. Many of them are among the nearly three dozen Vail Valley restaurants that participate in Taste of Vail every year.

Despite its stature among wine and culinary festivals and a reputation for haute cuisine, the Taste of Vail is a nonprofit organization. In the past 16 years, the festival has contributed more than $330,000 to Vail Valley charities; and in 2005, in conjunction with Ritz-Carlton, the Taste of Vail donated $23,000 to the Hurricane Katrina relief fund.

Tickets to the Chefs Showcase Dinners -- not included in the Festival Pass -- are $150 per person. For more information, or to buy tickets, visit Taste of Vail's Web site or call 970-926-5665.

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Stephen Lloyd Wood
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