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Food gaining attention at Winefest

By Dave Buchanan
Oh, and there’s food, too. That sums up the attitude widely held up to a few years ago about the culinary opportunities at the Colorado Mountain Winefest. The food, if you consider buffalo jerky, smoked turkey legs and funnel cakes the sort of food that goes with wine, was eminently forgettable. But that’s all changing now, and while you’ll still find booths handing out the midway-type eats, there’s a definite push toward better food at reasonable prices. It all fits with the nationwide foodie trend, with celebrity chefs becoming superstars and the rising popularity in home cooking, food blogs, cooking classes and the list goes on. I asked chef Wayne Smith, chief instructor at the Culinary Arts Academy at Western Colorado Community College, for his take on where the food level at Winefest is headed and he agreed there are more people each year expressing an interest in good food as well as the good wines. “Colorado winemaking is really improving and we’re attracting people with an interest in good wine and good food,” Smith said. “I definitely think there are more and more people coming here for the food as much as for the wine.” Smith and his talented staff and students are greatly responsible for this, since they are the cooks and servers in the Winefest's VIP tent, which is gaining a reputation for serving not only a special selection of Colorado wines but special food, too. This year, the diverse and thoughtful VIP menu included such dishes as glazed pork tenderloin with Cannelini cassoulet, pan-seared scallops with pesto linguine and a salad of chicken confit with blue cheese, spice-dusted walnuts, petite lettuces and raspberry-rice wine vinaigrette. Not your typical Country Jam fare, and thankfully so. The VIP tents attracts people who can afford good wine and good food, given the $150 tickets to the exclusive VIP tent sold out in a wink. But the good food isn’t limited to the deep pockets. “We’re hearing from more and more people how pleased they are with the event,” said Winefest director Marilyn Jensen. “People are saying how they wish there was more of the salmon and the lamb and loved having igourmet here.” Pennsylvania-based igourmet, which offered some great-looking cheese plates, is an online specialty foods store offering gourmet cheeses and literally thousands of other items. You can access their Web site The naturally raised, grass-fed lamb was from Sherry Haugen's mountain grown lamb in Center. It also was a bit of a coup to have Steamboat Springs chef and entrepreneur Dean Martin, famed for his Asian barbecue sauce, serving a sashimi-style tuna and shrimp kabobs with fresh peaches on a bed of mixed field greens. Although Martin initially had trouble getting booth space, someone in the Grand Junction Visitors and Convention Bureau evidently knew his sauce and quickly opened a space for him. “We’re in shows probably 35 weeks a year and heard a lot of good things about (Winefest),” Martin said. “I wasn’t too happy about Peachfest, our booth was in a dusty area off the beaten path, but Winefest was great.” He also kept down the cost of his food, in part not to price himself out of the competition but also to make sure there was above-average food available at an affordable price. “I was really happy with the way it went and I think the clients were too,” said Martin, a professional chef for 25 years. “We had people standing in line for our food, which is the best reward a chef can get. We’ll definitely be back next year.”