McCoy: Chefs dish out helping for young athletes |

McCoy: Chefs dish out helping for young athletes

Chef Al Sapien of the Tabernash Tavern slices up a specialty at the 2012 Chef's Cup.
Cynthia McCoy |

Every year around this time I eagerly wait for “The Call,” like one of Pavlov’s dogs drooling at the sound of any bell, whether or not it gets a treat.

Would I be willing to help judge the Chef’s Cup this year for Winter Park Resort’s Competition Center? Why, it would be my pleasure.It’s that time again and my tail is wagging; okay, my tongue is wagging too. The event is one of my favorites for many reasons. I get to put my previous restaurant experience to use, after working more than a decade as a baker and sous pastry chef for eateries in Gunnison and Grand Lake. It is also inspirational for a foodie like me to see and try all the culinary creations, sampling from some of Grand County’s finest local restaurants, and is a fun social gathering for a good cause.

Proceeds from the event, which also highlights wine, dancing, and an impressive silent auction, benefit the Winter Park Ski Education Foundation and Winter Park Resort’s Competition Center. In 2015 the Foundation granted more than $40,000 to 50-plus athletes (all levels and disciplines).

The organizations help athletes “who without help,” says Jerady Zunno, events and sponsorship manager for the center, “would not be able to participate in Competition Center programs and realize their dreams of skiing or snowboarding at the highest levels of the sport.”

Theme for the 33rd Annual Chef’s Cup is “Winter Luau” and the Center is hoping to attract more than 400 people. Guests are invited to taste entries from more than a dozen local restaurants, and vote for their overall favorite to be awarded the coveted People’s Choice Award.

The yearly event “kicks off the winter season and gives the winning restaurant bragging rights for the year,” Zunno said. “Bob Dart was the president of the Foundation and the Chef’s Cup was a favorite of his.”

Participating Grand County restaurants this year, which donate their time and talent for the event, include Doc’s Roadhouse, Volario’s, Hecks at Devil’s Thumb, Fontenot’s Fresh Seafood & Grill, Hernando’s Pizza & Pasta Pub, Wild Horse Catering, Back Bowl Soup Company, Pepe Osaka’s Fish Taco, Sante Fe Station, Sagebrush, the Sushi Bar, Goody’s, Opa! Charles Gyros, and Deno’s Mountain Bistro.

They will be judged in six different categories (if applicable): Best Appetizer, Best Entrée, Best Dessert, Creativity, Presentation, and for People’s Choice.

As one of several judges in years past, my favorite memories come from the people I see there, and the culinary surprises. One year I couldn’t believe how good a sautéed tofu dish was from the Club Car (tofu’s not really my thing). After that, I was thinking the Club Car, located at Mary Jane Ski Area, should be open year-round!

Who would’ve thought the Crooked Creek Saloon and Eatery from Fraser (known for its saloon more than its menu) could dish out lamb sliders that surpassed in taste those from a Greek restaurant one year? And the Back Bowl’s jalepeno popper soup last year was to-die-for.

Chef Al Sapien of Tabernash Tavern could often be found offering up something incredibly unique. Sapien, who usually wins at least one award each year he participates (it’s usually him and Devil’s Thumb on top), dished out beef cheek one year. It was the most tender piece of meat I’d ever encountered.

And I haven’t even gotten to the dessert discoveries. Bourbon gelato anyone? Yes, please. Sammy and the Fontenot’s crew even served bananas Foster a la flambé, winning them Best Dessert that year.

It’s a sincere pleasure, and very touching, to see several restaurants return each and every year to participate. It takes a lot to put on the event — from those that help with the set-up and coat check, to the DJ, volunteers, chefs and their crews — everyone does such a wonderful job. It’s an honor each year and a blessing to be part of something so special to the community.

Tickets are available at the Winter Park / Fraser Valley Chamber of Commerce and at the Competition Center, located in the Balcony House.

But wait, there’s always more. The Chef’s Cup winds down at 11 p.m. While the night is still young, patrons can spill over to Ullrs Tavern in Winter Park or the Crooked Creek Saloon in Fraser. Both are known to have live music every Friday and Saturday night.

Whatever you do, have fun. See you out there.

Cynthia McCoy can be reached at

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