Christmas is almost here! Honestly, I’m usually pretty grouchy this time of year with all the shopping, crowds and festive chores, but this year has felt very different! Matt and I recently opened up our brand new home to host our second annual Christmas on the Side party (a potluck where we dine exclusively on appies, sides and desserts – the best part of any holiday feast!) and it was so fun to incorporate some of the entertaining tips I learned at the 30th anniversary of Christmas in November at Jasper Park Lodge! It’s a four-day all-inclusive event in the Rockies with buffets, seated dinners, all-you-can-drink wine and cocktails, dazzling celebrity chef sightings and informative workshops on everything Christmas from mixology to wreath decorating. Just picture all the best parts of a luxury cruise with no sunburn and no seasickness!
I went with my friend Michelle as well as her mom, Gloria, and sister, Sarah. It was Sarah’s and my first time, but members of their family have been going to Christmas in November on and off for decades, so the whole ride up was filled with stories and buzz about what we might see this year. After a 7-hour drive up to Jasper on a snowy weekend, we finally arrived at the lodge! It was somewhat jarring to see Christmas decor, hear carols and smell cookies baking as soon as we rolled up on November 8, but the excitement was infectious. Just when I’d been loaded down with a massive bag of swag and thought things couldn’t get any better, we turned around to see an absolutely glorious sight. The CIN information booth was made out of actual gingerbread. People were seriously standing inside of it and providing information to guests. This was a fully confection-based structure. You could even see places where people had broken off candies for a little taste – not that I would ever participate in such mischief, myself!
After we hauled our stuff into our room, I learned that each night we would be graced with a Christmas gift and card from the lodge! I’m talking about fancy gifts, like a bedtime snack of milk and cookies from Duchess Bake Shop, sparkling wine with matching CIN wine glasses and a little set of swag from Le Creuset! In the gift bags we were given at check-in, we received recipe cards, turkey basters, whisks, dish scrubbers, seasoning packets, and beautiful, shiny new copies of Anna Olson’s latest book, Set for the Holidays. In other words, we were spoiled as heck.
The first night was a silly sweater party (to which we showed up in STYLE I must say) and multi-station buffet that put cruise ships to shame. There was every kind of meat, vegetable cheese, salad, seafood and bite-sized dessert expertly prepared and served by the lodge’s banquet staff. There was a whole roasted pig, crab legs, a full raclette station (omg) and tables covered in full glasses of wine and signature cocktails. Never before have I experienced such bacchanalia.
Michelle and Gloria kept warning Sarah and I to pace ourselves, because this wasn’t even the biggest night of the weekend. They were definitely correct. Between the buffet Thursday, fancy beef tenderloin holiday dinner on the Friday and the full scale gala on the Saturday with an EDM after party, yeah, it was a good weekend to be pacing yourself.
The meals were incredible in general. We started with a breakfast buffet each day, with lots of beautiful Fairmont items including a few favourites like stuffed french toast, ricotta blueberry pancakes and corned beef hash. The lunches and dinners were plated and each meal was enjoyed with your assigned tablemates (again, so cruise-like!) and we considered ourselves quite fortunate to have some lovely dining companions! There were lots of mother-daughter pairs, tables full of friends that had snowballed over the years, and a surprising (and awesome!) number of couples enjoying the diverse offerings.
There definitely was something for everyone with all of the different workshops and classes to attend. Michelle and I sat down months beforehand and registered for all the ones we found most appealing, which included a brilliant session on soups and stocks by Paul Rogalski, co-owner and chef of Rouge in Calgary, a lesson on dips and spreads by chef Blair Lebsack and Caitlin Fulton, co-owners of Edmonton’s Rge Rd (check out my Rge Rd review here!), a fun introduction to Quebec-inspired holiday food by Food Network chefs and proud Montrealers Chuck Hughes and Danny Smiles, a Charton-Hobbs wine tasting featuring an all-Canadian cheese board, a mixology class with flair bartender Micah Dew and a workshop focused on the art of puff pastry by Giselle Courteau and Jacob Pelletier of Duchess Bake Shop.
The workshops were my favourite part, no question. I learned so many great tips, like how to make pommes aligot (my new favourite food) and that they don’t typically cook with black pepper at Rouge because it doesn’t always work well with wine. We learned that a weed grinder (sorry, electric spice mill) is the perfect tool for pulverizing your dried mushrooms and that when you prepare a batch of cocktails before a party, you should go lighter on the sweet or sour flavouring so you can customize each pour to your guests’ taste.
Between classes, we had a soak in the gorgeous outdoor hot tub, picked up stocking stuffers in the gift shop, walked around the grounds and explored the decor cabin decked out to the nines by celebrated designer Cory Christopher. There really is no bad way to experience this event!
This awesome food and beverage-based weekend is definitely pricey, but considering it covered high end accommodations, three meals a day, workshops, snacks, beverages, gifts (and did I mention the tables absolutely buckling with wine?) I was very satisfied with the value. It was a once-in-a-while treat for me, for sure, but something I’m looking forward to experiencing again a few years from now when my liver has fully recovered. For me, just having that kind of access to entertaining tips from some of the top chefs in Canada was well worth the price of admission and I highly recommend you add Christmas in November to your bucket list!
I’ve attached a few extra photos to give you a better idea of what it was all about. Merry Christmas and happy New Year from the Hungry family to you and yours!