Pairing Food with Wine: The Art of Creating the Vintners’ Holidays Menu in Yosemite

Each fall, wine enthusiasts gather in Yosemite for Vintners’ Holidays at The Ahwahnee and enjoy educational wine tasting seminars and a chance to meet some of California’s most esteemed vintners. Part of the event includes a five-course gala dinner that highlights the wines of the featured vintners. Since the wines are the star, The Ahwahnee’s executive chef, Percy Whatley, crafts the menu around the wines being poured — not the other way around. Read on to learn more about Percy and how he goes about developing the delicious Vintners’ Holidays menu.

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Q: How long have you been creating the menu for the Vintner’s Holidays Gala Dinner?
A: Since I was given the opportunity to lead the kitchen in 2005.

Q: For the Vintners’ Holidays Gala Dinner, you are creating the menu based on the wines that will be served. How does this work?
A: With Vintner’s Holidays, the winemakers give us information about the wine that they plan to pour for the gala meal and we solicit any feedback that they may have regarding what types of food and flavors pair well with the wines. I take that information and create the particular dish for that wine with their expert feedback. Usually the information is specific with regard to a particular ingredient, such as Lobster with a Sauvignon Blanc. This gives me the ability to put some of my personal finesse into the garnishes and other flavor profiles to enhance the wine and food experience. It really is a lot of fun.

Q: What are you looking for when pairing food and wine?
A: There are subtleties in wines that need to be found and engaged with when writing the menus for these dinners. Many of these subtleties are typical of the various wines being poured. Some may be a little more acidic than typical, or tannic, or more “oaky,” or more malo-lactic (buttery). Some wines are blended and are not typical at all. But overall, I am looking for the right degree of lightness or richness to a dish compared to the wine being poured. The garnishes in the dish should complement the center of the plate as well, which in turn will complement the wine and the layers of flavors within the wine’s body.

Q: What are a few of your favorite wine and food pairings?
A: Lamb with Zinfandel, scallops with Pinot Gris, pork belly with Pinot Noir, light buttery pasta dish with Chardonnay. There are a number of other international wines that I like a lot, Albariño, Barolo, Lambrusco, Valpolicella, Vinho Verde, and Malbec to name a few.

Q: Do you think wine is better served with food? Why?
A: Red wines definitely need food, otherwise your palate is tired after one glass. White wines aren’t as tannic and can be enjoyed without food, but food helps your palate process the sensory overload that happens when you drink wine. Whether it is a canapé of pate with your glass of Merlot, or a caviar blini with your sparkling brut, those little bites of food create an entirely different experience on your palate vs. just drinking the wine.

Q: Can you share a few tips on pairing wine?
A: Keep your food simply prepared without overcomplicating the preparation of it. If it is a steak, then simple salt and pepper seasoning, seared or grilled to your desired temperature, and rested well. Enjoy it with wine that is the right temperature, not too cold, not too warm. Let the wine sit in your mouth for a few seconds before swallowing it so you can really get the subtle flavors of the wine. Do this before your first bite of food, then take a bite and repeat.  How was that second sip of wine?
What is most important is to drink wine that you like because if you like it, it is a good wine. Then have food that you like with it. Generally this is what makes a good pairing, especially if you enjoy it with family and friends — that is the true joy of good wine and food!

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To taste Percy’s wine and food pairing yourself, join us for Vintners’ Holidays in Yosemite in November or December.

10 Amazing Views in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is justifiably famous for amazing views. From Glacier Point to Olmsted Point to Tunnel View, Yosemite provides visitors with stunning, jaw-dropping scenery on a grand scale. Though these landscapes are shared again and again, they always captivate the viewer – there is never a “meh” moment with the most famous views in Yosemite. But what about the not-so-famous views? Or perhaps you have wished you could have the view all to yourself? In the list below, you’ll find the famous, the lesser-known and even some private views of the sights of Yosemite.

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1.Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View
2. North Dome from Housekeeping Camp
3. Half Dome from Glacier Point (How to Visit in Winter)
4. Glacier Point from Curry Village
5. Half Dome from the Curry Village Ice Rink
6. Tenaya Lake from Tioga Road
7. Half Dome from The Ahwahnee hotel room
8. Yosemite Falls from The Mountain Room restaurant at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls
9. Half Dome from Olmsted Point
10.Yosemite Falls from rafting the Merced River

Elizabeth Falkner Brings the Heat to Yosemite’s Chefs’ Holidays

Elizabeth Falkner has been a longtime participant in Chefs’ Holidays and graces the cover of this year’s brochure. We caught up with her this summer to talk about Chefs’ Holidays, her culinary career, and her love for the park.

Before Falkner became a world-famous chef, she was living in San Francisco with a degree in fine art film. But she was always drawn to food and cooking, especially as California was going through what she called a “food revolution.”

“I loved to cook but I didn’t go to culinary school, I just wanted to work in a restaurant,” she said. “It’s so different from film making, which is quite a long process. People were doing really cool things with food. It was a whole scene. It was like an art movement. I couldn’t not get involved with it.”

Falkner worked in a handful of restaurants before opening her own San Francisco pastry shop and restaurant, Citizen Cake. For years she has been an innovative player in fine dining and culinary events across the country. Falkner said she loves culinary travel through food and meeting and working with new chefs.

“I love that environment of cooking with other people to see how they put it together for a really cohesive menu.”

She now lives and works in New York, and after opening nine restaurants in San Francisco and New York City, she’s not attached to a restaurant at the moment. She said she enjoys the freedom this gives her to cook at food and wine events while working on a memoir and other projects.

Over the years that she’s been featured in Chefs’ Holidays, Falkner said she has enjoyed meeting fans, friends and family of the other chefs, and repeat attendees to Chefs’ Holidays. But she said it’s especially fun seeing people experience Yosemite and Chefs’ Holidays for the first time.

“There’s the bonus of being in this beautiful place and getting to have some fun food and chat with chefs. [Chefs’ Holidays] is more intimate than some other cooking events. It’s much more like a getaway or a holiday. It’s a special environment. We all wake up and look outside and go ‘oh my god, I can’t wait to go out there.’ Everyone has conversations about going out later or what they’ve already done. It’s not 24 hours of food and wine.”

Having visited the park as a child and as an adult, Falkner is no stranger to Yosemite, but the park still carries a sense of awe for her when she visits for Chefs’ Holidays.

“It’s just always been really magical and such a beautiful, amazing part of the planet and an amazing part of California. It’s amazing how many Californians haven’t been here. It’s so, so grand and spiritual in the deepest sense. It’s not like anything else.”

Chefs’ Holidays sessions run between January 10 and February 4, 2016. Elizabeth Falkner is the headliner chef for Session 4 on January 20 and 21. Visit our website to learn more or book a package.

Renovated Cottages at The Ahwahnee in Yosemite

Delaware North at Yosemite recently completed a $650,000 refurbishment to 24 cottage rooms at The Ahwahnee hotel in Yosemite Valley. Funded and managed by Delaware North in collaboration with the National Park Service, the renovation enhanced guest room functionality while at the same time, restored historic integrity.

Richard Kollath and Edward McCann of Kollath-McCann Creative Services, designers for The Ahwahnee since 1998, referenced archival images and other historic documents to guide their selection of textiles, colors and accessory items to update the historic cottages. The cottages were built in 1928, one year after the hotel’s grand opening. The furnishings and materials selected reflect those used in the hotel between 1925 and 1942, which was established by National Park Service historians as the hotel’s “period of historic significance.” The designers’ research steered them toward simple wooden furniture and hand-crafted textiles that echo a western Arts & Crafts style. Highlights of the cottage guest rooms include custom-made Mission Style credenzas and night stands with integrated power outlets and USB ports. The bold, cheerful pattern of the drapery fabric reflects a 1930s design aesthetic, and the texture of the striped broadloom carpet evokes the original hooked rugs that once covered the floors. Linoleum prints of pine cones from local artist Kim Young Min feature exquisite details of indigenous flora found in Yosemite while watercolors of early artist-in-residence Gunnar Widforss capture the incredible grandeur and majesty of Yosemite waterfalls.

“We are proud to unveil the refurbished cottages to our guests,” said General Manager Brett Archer. “The essence of these cottages has been restored and the modern upgrades enhances the guest experience while allowing visitors to appreciate the landscape of Yosemite.

Cocktails at Wawona Hotel in Yosemite

One of Yosemite’s most genteel pleasures is surveying the landscape from a wicker chair on the verandah of the historic Wawona Hotel – cocktail in hand. Not only does the slower pace of Wawona lend itself to reflection, it also lends itself to libation, particularly on a warm summer afternoon. Cocktail service begins in the lobby of this beloved old hotel every afternoon, with plenty of outdoor seating for those inclined to lovely views. This summer season, Wawona Hotel has created some charming additions to the cocktail menu – including appetizers for nibbling prior to dinner in the dining room.

Two tasty cheese plates featuring almond-crusted Brie and a sampler assortment are traditional shared plate offerings, but this summer menu also features crispy fried Brussels sprouts(!) and a generous smoked salmon fillet to share. To accompany your apps, choose from Wawona namesake cocktails such as the Wawona Julep or the Washburn’s Old-Fashioned. New this year is the Greens Keeper – a refreshing cucumber and lemon flavored gin-based drink. The season’s best specialty martini may be the PomeGranite Dome (get it?) with Patron Silver tequila and pomeganate juice.

In addition to sipping and snacking, Wawona provides the best old-fashioned entertainment this side of the Yosemite entrance gate, as Tom Bopp plays piano and sings about life in Wawona. Join him for an evening of Wawona history show-tune-style, in the lobby of the hotel.

If cocktail hour is not on your Yosemite agenda, lunch in the Wawona Dining Room may provide a restful break in an adventure-filled day. Lunch specialties include salads, hot & cold sandwiches and burgers along with spaghetti pomodoro and fish & chips.

High Sierra Cooking Camp in Yosemite


If you have ever stayed at a High Sierra Camp in Yosemite National Park, you have been fortunate enough to experience one of the most unique dining experiences in California. Yosemite’s High Sierra Camps provide the backcountry experience without the burdens of backpacking by providing tent cabins with bunk beds, linens, and meals cooked on-site with great care by High Sierra Camp cooks. Five camps: Glen Aulin, May Lake, Vogelsang, Sunrise and Merced Lake, provide access to some of Yosemite’s most breathtaking landscapes during the short summer season in the high country.

Each year, the High Sierra Camp cooks attend a High Sierra Cooking Camp before the summer season begins and guests begin arriving for their backcountry experience. All five camps have their own cooking staff comprised of two camp cooks who split the week for the entire season. With three and a half days on and three and a half days off, the cooks prepare breakfast and dinner meals every day until the camps close down in September. Glen Aulin is the first camp to open each summer and though it has the smallest kitchen, it is usually the site of Cooking Camp. All camp chefs gather at in the camp kitchen during setup and spend time with Ahwahnee Executive Chef Percy Whatley in a communal cooking atmosphere meant to foster ideas, camaraderie and good cooking. Chef Percy has been conducting Cooking Camp since 2002 and prior to that, Delaware North Master Chef Roland Henin conducted the very first Cooking Camp. This year Cooking Camp took place on June 9 and 10, 2015 at Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp.

Cooking Camp Dinner Menu #1
Trout with Caper Brown Butter
Potato & Corn Chowder
Green Salad
Green Beans with almonds
House made dinner rolls
Cream puffs with lemon curd & strawberries for dessert

Cooks are very passionate about their jobs at the High Sierra Camps. They treasure the freedom and creativity of running each kitchen independently as a High Sierra version of Executive Chef. Though the camps have a set menu for the main dish ingredient, how the dish is prepared and which side dishes accompany the main is up to each cook, and they embrace this flexibility wholeheartedly. Food orders are placed a week in advance and fulfilled by mule train delivery from the Tuolumne Meadows Stable (or Yosemite Valley Stable in the case of Merced Lake), so creative menu planning is a must. If, for some reason, the requested menu items don’t make on the mule train, camp cooks test their creative cooking skills by improvising from the pantry. Camp cooks begin their day at 5:45 am to prepare breakfast and continue cooking throughout the day, including making bread from scratch and providing a hot drink service prior to dinner.  Dinner prep begins in the afternoon before finishing the day with final cleanup by 10:00 pm. Box lunches for guests are sandwiches prepared and snacks assembled by camp helpers. With three and a half days off each week, camp cooks make the most of their location in Yosemite’s high country. Next to cooking in the High Sierra, every camp cook expressed a love of Yosemite as the most compelling reason to accept the challenge of preparing meals in such a remote location.

Guests of the High Sierra Camps are guaranteed meals as part of their camp reservation. Hikers and backpackers can also tent camp next to the High Sierra Camps in campgrounds operated by the National Park Service and still be served a hearty backcountry meal. Tent campers may take advantage of the proximity to camp by purchasing a Meals Only High Sierra Camp reservation. To tent camp, you must have a wilderness permit issued by Yosemite National Park. Please note that in the past, a Meals Only reservation purchase guaranteed a wilderness permit for the holder and this is no longer accepted. You must already have a permit in order to make a Meals Only purchase.

Make a Meals Only reservation this summer: http://www.yosemitepark.com/high-sierra-camp-lodging.aspx

Learn more about wilderness permits in Yosemite: http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildpermits.htm

High Sierra Camp Cooks 2015:

Ryan Cobble at Glen Aulin since 2001
Caitlin Rea at Sunrise for her third season
John Corry at Sunrise for 13 years, also fill-in cook who has cooked at all camps!
Cody Freeman at Merced Lake for his 2nd season
Zach Jones at May Lake for his 3rd season
Robbie Zukowski at Vogelsang for her 3rd season
Jennifer Shoor at May Lake since 2001 with Brian Schoor her husband and Camp Manager
Paul Lebourgeois at Merced Lake for his 5th season
Mitchell Williams at Glen Aulin for his 3rd season
Lucas Banks at Vogelsang for his 3rd season

 

Little Known Facts About the History of Curry Village in Yosemite

Curry Village after a spring snowstorm 2015

Curry Village after a spring snowstorm 2015. Photo by Marta Czajkowska.

Did you know that Curry Village in Yosemite National Park is a National Historic District? Designated on the National Historic Landmark register as Camp Curry Historic District, Curry Village was originally established as Camp Curry by the Curry family in 1899. Over one hundred years later, this rustic resort in Yosemite Valley is still serving thousands of park visitors each year with a mix of lodging consisting of hotel rooms, cabins and tent cabins set at the east end of the valley just under Glacier Point with a commanding view of Half Dome. Curry Village is by far the largest lodging property in the park with 503 accommodations. With restaurants, stores, a swimming pool and a guest lounge, Curry Village maintains the legacy of Camp Curry with comforts established by the Curry family and their passion for Yosemite.

1.  The original rate was $1.50 per day. This rate included lodging and meals.

2. The camp once housed a bowling alley and dance hall.

3. Early refrigeration consisted of carving blocks of ice from Mirror Lake in winter and storing them in sawdust for summer.

4. There was one heck of a toboggan run at Curry Village from 1927 to 1952.

5. After Camp Curry, the Curry family built The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley and became the Yosemite Park & Curry Company.

6. A children’s park at Camp Curry was known as Kiddie Kamp, and housed a petting zoo.  It also included a mini train ride.

7. At Camp Curry, the song “Indian Love Call” was sung during the Firefall, which took place every summer night at 9:00 pm.

8. The Curry Village Ice Rink once hosted a Winter Carnival where a King and Queen were crowned during an elaborate pageant.

6 Ways to Enjoy Winter in Yosemite

1. Ice Skating

Where: Curry Village Ice Rink in Yosemite Valley
When: November through February 29
How: Skate rentals available – and don’t forget the s’mores kits for the fire pit!

2. Skiing, Snowboarding and Snowtubing

Where: Badger Pass Ski Area
When: Mid-December through March
How: Lessons, rentals, and dining available

3. Chefs’ Holidays

Where: The Ahwahnee
When: January and February
How: Dine with famous chefs and attend cooking demos in an historic national park lodge

4. Ostrander Ski Hut or Glacier Point Ski Hut:

Where: Backcountry lodging along the Glacier Point Road
When: Mid-December through March
How: Not accessible by vehicle in winter, you can snowshoe or cross-country ski to Yosemite’s ski huts

5. Snowshoeing

Where: Badger Pass Ski Area
When: Every day when enough snow covers the ground, evenings during the full moon
How: Rent snowshoes at Badger Pass Ski Area on your own, join park rangers or Delaware North at Yosemite interpretive naturalists on guided walks (snowshoes included)

6. Camera Walks

Where: Yosemite Valley
When: Several days a week in winter, find the schedule in the Yosemite Guide
How: With instructors from the Ansel Adams Gallery

5 Easy Ways to Enjoy Yosemite

Whether you are visiting Yosemite with small children, have specific mobility needs, or simply plan to take it easy on vacation, Yosemite can be enjoyed in many ways with little effort once you arrive. Below are five easy ways to enjoy the beauty of Yosemite National Park.

1. Mirror Lake: Easy One Mile Paved Walk

Location: Yosemite Valley
Access: Shuttle Bus Stop #17, paved road/bike path to beginning of hiking trails (road closed to private vehicles except those with disabled person parking placard), nearest parking at Curry Village, restroom (pit toilet),
Availability: Year-Round
Don’t Miss: The unique view of Half Dome from this vantage point!

2. Lower Yosemite Falls: Paved Path to Yosemite’s Largest Waterfall

Location: Yosemite Valley
Access: Shuttle Bus Stop #6, paved trail to Lower Yosemite Fall, nearest parking at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls or on Northside Drive, restrooms, picnic area
Availability: Year-Round, though Yosemite Falls runs dry in late summer, later refreshed by fall and winter rain/snow
Don’t Miss: The lunar rainbow during the full moon in April/May/June!

3. Glacier Point: Drive to Yosemite’s Most Famous Overlook

Location: Terminus of the Glacier Point Road
Access: Glacier Point Bus Tour, Stargazing Bus Tour, large parking lot with RV spaces, paved walkways lead to viewpoints and hiking trails (Four Mile Trail, Panorama Trail), restrooms (pit toilets), Glacier Point Gift Shop, Glacier Point Snack Stand
Availability: Spring through Fall when the Glacier Point Road is open
Don’t Miss: Hot dogs and ice cream at the snack stand and the Geology Hut with killer views of Nevada Fall!

4. The Ahwahnee: Walk, Bike or Drive to Lunch at a National Park Lodge

Location: Yosemite Valley
Access: Shuttle Bus Stop #3, parking lot, paved bike paths, hiking trail section of the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail
Availability: Year-Round
Don’t Miss: the Great Lounge, a meal in The Ahwahnee Dining Room, cocktails on The Ahwahnee Bar patio in summer, Chefs’ Holidays in January

5. Happy Isles: Ride the Bus to Yosemite’s Nature Center

Location: Yosemite Valley
Access: Shuttle Bus Stop #16, paved level walkways and boardwalks, Happy Isles Nature Center, Happy Isles Snack Stand, restrooms
Availability: Year-Round, though the Nature Center and Snack Stand are open summer only
Don’t Miss: The NOAA weather station, The Fen (pictured) and the interpretive sign marking the location of the 1996 Happy Isles Rockfall

Need a place to stay to enjoy all that outrageous Yosemite beauty? Make reservations for all Yosemite National Park lodging here: http://www.yosemitepark.com/lodging.aspx

Learn more about accessibility in Yosemite at the links below and download the park’s accessibility guide [873 kb PDF], which describes access to areas, facilities, and services for people with disabilities.

http://www.yosemitepark.com/accessibility.aspx

http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/accessibility.htm

 

 

 

A Summer Day at Wawona in Yosemite

Wawona Hotel in Yosemite National Park

Wawona Hotel in Yosemite National Park

Have you ever spent a summer day in the Wawona area of Yosemite National Park? Though summer is winding down for 2014, you can still spend a day here exploring giant sequoia trees, an historic hotel, the Pioneer Yosemite History Center and hit the greens for a round of golf before fall brings shorter days and cooler nights. Wawona is best known as the home of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias – Yosemite’s largest and most accessible sequoia grove, home to over 200 mature trees that can be thousands of years old! The Big Trees Tram Tour provides park visitors with a detailed tour of Mariposa Grove in an open-air tram vehicle with an audio narrative. This is the last year of the Big Trees Tram Tour as changes resulting from the restoration of the grove get underway in 2015. The tour operates as long as the Mariposa Grove Road is open, so you can still catch a tour until October 2014. Otherwise. you can hike through the grove to admire these lovely ancient trees and enjoy the tranquility of this old-growth forest.

The Bachelor and Three Graces at Mariposa Grove

The Bachelor and Three Graces at Mariposa Grove

Big Trees Tram Tour in Yosemite

Big Trees Tram Tour in Yosemite

After a morning in Mariposa Grove, a leisurely lunch awaits at the dining room of the Wawona Hotel. The summer menu includes classics like Fish & Chips, Caesar Salad and the All-American Hamburger. Dine on the verandah at this National Historic Landmark and admire the Victorian era architecture of the main building as the hotel was built in stages during the 1800s. Before they are pruned in early September, hops vines cover the verandahs. Planted by early settlers in the Wawona area, hops is a main ingredient in the brewing of beer. Though not native to Yosemite, the hops are allowed to remain as part of the historic character of Wawona Hotel.

Fish & Chips at The Wawona Hotel Dining Room

Fish & Chips at The Wawona Hotel Dining Room

Hops vines growing on the verandahs of Wawona Hotel

Hops vines growing on the verandahs of Wawona Hotel

For some exercise and fresh air after lunch, consider playing a round of golf at the Wawona golf course. This historic nine hole course was opened in 1918, and has since become a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary – an award winning education and certification program that helps golf course managers protect the environment and preserve the natural resource aspect of the game of golf. Though golfing is not an activity usually found in national parks, the course is preserved and protected as part of the historic character of Wawona Hotel and as an Audubon sanctuary. Keep in mind that when you are on the course near the hotel, you are viewing Wawona Hotel from the original approach to the hotel’s entrance where you can see the hotel with Chilnualna Falls in the background.

Hole #5 on the Wawona golf course

Hole #5 on the Wawona golf course

The view of Wawona Hotel from Wawona golf course

The view of Wawona Hotel from Wawona golf course

The photos above were taken on a lovely summer day in Wawona and posted to our Instagram account (@yosemitednc).