By Jill Ballinger
Yosemite's splendor is hard to match. It's peace is even more evident in the winter months when the crowds are gone, and one annual event brings people together to enjoy those things with one important addition: world class cuisine.
The 28th annual Chefs' Holidays event has opened, welcoming 24 of America's renowned chefs. The Ahwahnee is also welcoming a diverse group of visitors looking for a different kind of Yosemite experience.
For each session of Chefs' Holidays, guests are invited to take part in a "meet the chefs" reception, educational cooking demonstrations and tastings, a behind-the-scenes kitchen tour and a five-course Chefs' Holidays gala dinner prepared by the guest chefs and paired with complementary wines, served by candlelight in The Ahwahnee dining room.
"Our guests love meeting their favorite chefs in person and learning about food trends and techniques in the kitchen," said Chefs' Holidays program director Kathy Langley.
"Chefs' Holidays is truly a delicious and interactive event and we work hard to bring the best of the best each year. Many of our participating chefs are nationally-known for their talent and have been recognized with James Beard Awards. Others you may recognize by their participation in such shows as 'Iron Chef' or 'Top Chef'."
The three featured chefs, Peter Armellino, Douglas Keane and Victor Scargle, have deep connections in Northern California, and their audiences showed a loyalty to them. A couple from Saratoga returned to the event once again--this time to see Armellino--even though they can visit his restaurant in their home town.
There were ranchers and doctors, retirees and journalists, and almost every other profession imaginable. Journalist Mika Takeuchi of San Francisco is no stranger to good food, but this was her first time in Yosemite.
"It's magical," Takeuchi said, sporting a new pair of golden bear earrings. "All the food, and this," she said, noting the grandeur of The Ahwahnee dining room and the snowy park outside.
The three chefs, who have worked together and known each other for more than a decade, prepared the gala dinner, with the local help of Executive Chef Percy Whatley and Chef Paul Padua.
The well-orchestrated choreography of the elaborate meal was impeccable.
Langley said having such a friendly collaboration is key to making a successful session, as the chefs joined with line cooks and other staff in the kitchen to plate the dinners.
In the end, Armellino's thoughts were clearly shared by those enjoying what had been prepared. In the candle-lit dining room of The Ahwahnee, the diverse group of people laughed, talked, drank and ate. How they got to Yosemite or where they came from didn't seem to matter.
In the end, the food and wine was the common bond they shared in one of the most glorious locations in the world.
Chefs' Holidays continue throughout January. Mariposa County residents can attend the chef demonstrations at no cost, and there is a local discount for the gala dinner. Information about the schedule for the remainder of the event can be found at www.yosemitepark/chefsholidays.