Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Yosemite Chef's Holidays: food and snow fun

Here's our plan: a three-day winter trip to Yosemite National Park when it's hushed under a mantle of snow. Hikes to wispy, wintery waterfalls, ice skating in Curry Village, and hanging out with trendy chefs. Wait-us hangin' with chefs in Yosemite?

Honestly, my sister, Mary Kay, and I aren't really that into spending time in the kitchen. But we do love good food, wine and cheese, and mingling with foodies—you know, those people who know all the hottest food trends and wine discoveries. So when we had the chance to attend Yosemite's Chefs' Holidays at the Ahwahnee, last winter, we leapt. Frankly, we figured we'd be out playing in the snow most of the time, with the occasional foray into a cooking demo. But that's not how it worked out.

The foodie stuff turns out to be a knockout. The demos are fun, casual, even funny sometimes and have a load of info that even laid-back home cooks like us can use (kosher salt is best in cooking; fennel makes a good substitute for celery in stocks and soups; don't saute with straight olive oil-use a blend of oils for better flavor and less scorching). "What I like," says Mary Kay, "is that it's a mini-cooking course without being too technical." 

It's a blast meeting the young chefs, cheesemakers and vintners at nightly wine-and-cheese gatherings. And the Gala Dinner is a meal to remember, supervised by such cutting edge chefs as John Stewart and Duskie Estes (seen above, photo credit Yosemite DNC) of Bovolo and Zazu; each session features different chefs.

Even the behind-the-scenes tour of the Ahwahnee's kitchen, with its own pastry shop and  bakery (making 400 loaves of bread daily), turns out to be kind of fascinating. The kitchen dates to the hotel's beginnings in 1927 and has its own great stories, for example, in the early days, 500 lb. blocks of ice cut from Mirror Lake were used to keep the kitchen's  'icebox' cool.

But after all that wonderful food (and time indoors), we need to stretch our legs. A hike to Yosemite Falls sounds like just the thing. We step out of the hotel into a white world. A soft snow is falling, the park is quiet, and we're the only ones on the trail. Its an easy, level trek of less than an hour to the base of Yosemite Falls, which even now has more than a trickle of falling water. We watch as the icy water drops in rhythmic plops onto rocks, some freezes, forming a pile of ice. "It looks like a snow cone," I tell Mary Kay. "Wow- I guess you can't you get your mind off food for a minute!" she laughs.

Details: book now for 2 or 3-day Chef's Holidays, with start dates in January (11, 14, 18, 21, 25, 28) and February (1, 4) in 2009. Call 801/ 559-4870 or click here.

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