17 days to go - behind the scenes

Think Big. Collaborate. Have Fun.

Standing on stage at the Ottawa Convention Centre on December 2nd, 2015, I had the great honour of accepting the “Event of the Year” Award at the Canadian Tourism Awards on behalf of Canmore’s food & beverage industry. This was a remarkable achievement given that only 24 months previously the festival was nothing more than a concept on a whiteboard!

Canmore is one of Alberta’s most beloved destinations, a “real” Alberta mountain town with a unique atmosphere and personal touch. Its vibrant and attractive downtown core offers independent boutiques rather than brand-name chain stores. Its arts scene permeates the town, with galleries, sculptures and murals proudly displaying the work of local artisans. And its people are a worldly mix of athletes, mountaineers, writers, painters and nature lovers who are drawn to and inspired by the mountain environment.

Amid all this is a remarkable gastronomic scene – more than 75 food and beverage businesses in a town of only 13,000 full-time residents. Talented chefs come from around the country to call Canmore home, resulting in a wide diversity of restaurant experiences: diners can sample the tastes of a cosmopolitan city in a welcoming environment where the dress code is “comfort.” An ever-increasing number of Canmore-based food and drink manufacturers are gaining deserved recognition both locally and regionally. Brewers, distillers, chocolatiers and coffee roasters all practice their craft, while other producers create smoked meats, spices, sauces, pastas, health foods and much, much more.

Canmore Uncorked started as a conversation with a group of restaurants who recognized the potential for a food event to help promote the local culinary scene, and has since turned into an award-winning model of creative product development and successful collaboration.

Of course, it has not always been easy. There is a staggering amount of organization involved, and with more than 50 participating businesses, over 70 daily tasting experiences, over 30 signature events, and thousands of visitors all crammed into 12 days, there will always be challenges with logistics, communication and alignment.


I have been asked many times is why the festival has been successful, and two things stand out - the people and the vision.

The people fit into two groups. There are the remarkably talented f&b partners who deliver such excellent dining experiences year-round - and especially during the festival. And then there is the small team of extremely passionate and creative people working behind the scenes pretty much 24/7 to help make the festival a success. 

OK, I’ll own up. We thought you were all crazy. I mean who starts a food festival at 10 days? Yet here we are - somehow you pulled it off!
— Tourism Canmore Board Chair, 2014

Then there is the vision. We have always aimed to become a nationally renowned festival, and we have stuck to three guiding principles from the beginning: think big, collaborate, and have fun. Most food festivals start at two or three days with a handful of partners. We started at ten days with 36 partners and have grown from there, introducing innovative and ambitious signature events like the Long Table Dinner, the Bistro Tour, and our famed Olympian Cycle Tour. Along the way we have had a lot of fun, and we hope you have too!

This year we are adding a few new twists. A 120-page hardback cookbook featuring recipes from 42 of our partner restaurants; a festival App which will allow you to evaluate your experiences in real time - earning you festival loyalty points and the chance to win great prizes, and a new launch party showcasing a new chef competition that features chefs from the UK and France pitting their skills against our Canmore locals.


Another question I am frequently asked is what have been my favourite moments from the past three years of Uncorked - awards aside - and after some thought I'd choose a top five in reverse order as follows:

5) Cycling round town the day before the first festival in 2014 and seeing more than 30 red Uncorked flags proudly displayed in front of businesses looking vibrant in the evening sunshine.

4) Reading the guest survey at the end of Uncorked 2016. As perfectionists we are always finding room for improvement, but when 500 survey participants average a 98.3% 'will return' response, chances are something is going OK.

3) Receiving the festival menus and seeing how much collaboration is happening between the businesses - who is partnering with who on an event, who is featuring another businesses product. 

2) Standing in a jam-packed Where the Buffalo Roam during last year's Bistro Tour as Quartetto Gelato took the audience on an emotional musical tour. There were tears. There was boisterous singalong. There was Coffee Martini. Perfect. 

1) And amid many others my first choice would probably have to be the first Long Table Dinner. There were 100 guests and six restaurants catering six courses. It was early April, the temperature hit -5°C, and we were all outside in a park a few blocks from the nearest restaurant. What could possibly go wrong? As it turned out, almost nothing went wrong, and my favourite Uncorked moment to date was probably the sheer relief when the guests had all showed up, they were seated for the first course, and the soup arrived…

And it was still hot!


The Bistro Tour

Andrew Nickerson