THIRTY YEARS OF CHEFS’ HOLIDAYS

There’s no recipe in this post or much discussion of food. Honestly, I just wanted a chance to show some of my images from our recent visit to the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite National Park is one of the true gems of the national park system in the United States. It was viewed as a treasure by the Native Americans who lived in it, and by early settlers and prospectors. Even shortly after gold rush days, there were efforts to protect Yosemite Valley. In fact, it celebrates its 125th anniversary as a national park this year. If you have visited the park, you know what a special and magical place it is (sans other tourists, if you could wish it). If you have never visited, it is a must on your list of places to visit.

The Ahwahnee Hotel, by itself, is a place that deserves its own spot on your list. The hotel was opened in 1927 at a cost approaching $2 million – a huge sum in those days. The story is that earlier lodging in the park could best be described as “rustic”. Many wealthy tourists including Lady Astor refused to visit because of the primitive conditions. For that reason the hotel was envisioned for that clientele. It was built in a grand style but in a fashion that blended into the beautiful mountain surroundings. Fearful of fires that had already destroyed more than one national park lodge, the builders used reinforced concrete stained to resemble California redwood. Even today, the eye of the visitor will be fooled by the exterior of the building.

Of course, the hotel has been modernized to remain attractive to demanding guests, but many of the original details including giant fireplaces, intricate woodwork, artwork, detailed floors, and even wooden ice chests on each guest wing have been preserved. The main dining hall is in the impressive style of many of the classic national park lodges. The food is definitely a cut above the fare in other national park lodges.

Most agree that the best time for a visit to Yosemite and the Ahwahnee is in the spring when the many waterfalls are at full flow. Next-best may be the autumn with colorful foliage and Indian Summer weather. Summer is beautiful with the only downside being the wall-to-wall humans.

Winter is clearly the low season. Snows can be fierce, and more than one visitor has gotten lost and frozen during an ill-conceived hike. The plus side is that there are many fewer visitors. That has posed a problem for the famous Ahwahnee Hotel. Unlike many of the grand old hotels of the national parks, the Ahwahnee stays open all winter, so it needs to attract as many guests as possible. They do that with various special activities.

The Bracebridge Dinner is a tradition that goes back to the first year that the hotel was opened. The dinner is a festive occasion with English period costumes, entertainments, and foods. It is extremely popular and becomes oversubscribed very early.

The Vintners’ Holiday is a gathering of thirty or more California vintners and guests who talk about things wine-related and wind up with a festive dinner complete with carefully paired wines.

For the past 30 years, the hotel has been sponsoring its Chefs’ Holiday. There are back-to-back sessions that run through January and early February. This year, there will be a delay of a few hours on Super Bowl Sunday so that football fans/food enthusiasts will not need to miss either event.

The Chefs’ Holiday attracts many well-known chefs and food writers, predominantly from California, but actually from all around. This is the second year for Sarah and Evan, but other chefs and writers include Kent Rathbun from Abacus in Dallas, Nancy Silverton and Mary Sue Milliken from Los Angeles, as well as Duskie Estes, Elizabeth Faulkner, and Zoi Antonitsas of television competitive cooking fame.

Guest chefs provide a short demonstration of one of their signature dishes and then host a tasting. Each session ends with an elaborate dinner prepared by the chefs, complete with carefully paired California wines.

It is fair to say that the Ahwahnee staff  is doing their part to assure a successful winter season in Yosemite.

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2 Comments

Filed under Photography, Restaurants, Travel

2 responses to “THIRTY YEARS OF CHEFS’ HOLIDAYS

  1. I’m very envious, and this hotel reminds me of Jack Nicholson, for some reason…

  2. Thanks for your comment. Babysitting is hard work, but somebody has to do it.

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