At more than 6,000 feet above sea level, Jackson Hole officially qualifies for high altitude status. Some visitors may at first feel short of breath on stepping out of the plane. The sun seems to sheer especially brightly at these heights, and the dry air of the valley cools and heats up quickly as the days’ temperatures makes their journey from brisk to balmy.

There’s something about the altitude; the invigoration that each new day brings: it inspires soaring ambitions and the desire to create—and nurture—excellence. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Jackson Hole’s white-hot culinary scene, and in the commensurate community-building that happens around it.

Tastemakers & Rule Breakers

Everywhere you look, Jackson Hole chefs and foodies and using the valley as their laboratory to create community events, push the limits of what it’s possible to grow in this uniquely challenging climate, and bring impeccable wines and platings to visitors and locals alike.

In Jackson Hole, a celebrity sighting at a fine dining restaurant is fairly de rigueur, but that doesn’t mean locals have become cynical or complacent about how to dine better, more thoughtfully, or more creatively. Quite the contrary.

One need only survey the amount of Jackson Hole chefs who have rolled up their sleeves and brought farm-to-table awareness to valley pantries. FoodTerra, a filmmaker-and-chef team, do exactly that: heading out to regional farms to cook al fresco and show that serious—and clean—eating starts right here.

Then there’s Vertical Harvest, one of the world’s first vertical greenhouses, expertly designed to take up what was once a slice of dead space next to a parking garage. Its gleaming 13,500 three-story space churns out locally grown, fresh vegetable all year round while providing an innovative employment model geared towards providing consistent, meaningful employment for differently abled members of the community.

Hole Food Rescue, another local non-profit, connects donors to a streamlined service that takes blemished or unsaleable (but perfectly safe) food off their hands and delivers it to those in need. The organization serves a two-fold double whammy: reducing food waste and food insecurity in one go.

Forward-Thinking Festival

Hole Food Rescue is one of the beneficiaries this year of the Jackson Hole Food & Wine Festival, a new foodie-focused non-profit that has taken on both the evolution of Jackson Hole’s beloved annual wine auction, as well as provided another locus point for Jackson Hole’s chefs, sommeliers, restaurateurs, and local locavores to break bread and fundraising records.

With a directors’ board curated from Jackson Hole’s top culinary movers and shakers, the Festival represents the next step in the Jackson Hole dining story. Their goal is simple: producing an intimate and unique food and beverage festival that highlights our exceptional valley while giving back to our community. While residents’ first opportunity to interact with the Festival will be its flagship summer event in June, the goal is for Jackson Hole Food & Wine Festival to become a mainstay, resource, and conversation starter for ongoing culinary education.

“I am excited to be a part of creating a culinary festival that hosts events throughout the year,” says Haynes Poe, the Associate Director of JHFW and a former producer of the Jackson Hole Wine Auction. “Our goal is to create a variety of experiences at different price points that include demos, food and beverage seminars, pop-up dinners, tastings, educational sessions, and more.”

The goal is to reach a vast audience at different price points—from the splashy champagne cocktail soiree to the barefoot brew sesh.

An all new approach for 2017

From their first discussions with fellow valley foodies to now, Poe and Megan Gallagher, the Festival’s director, have been galvanized by all the great energy they’ve encountered since launching the first festival. They explain that they’ve already received a lot of support in the community and are eagerly anticipating connecting their favorite chefs with unique venues and food-obsessed patrons. Through this rich brain trust and a circle that includes advising chefs, marketing pros, and more, the JHFW hopes to continue expanding their reach and benefitting worthy causes.

Another local non-profit that stands to benefit from their inaugural fest is Central Wyoming College’s culinary and hospitality program, which provides professional hands-on training for culinary-minded students through a condensed off-season program and two intensive internships during Jackson Hole’s packed summer and winter tourist scenes. In a town where hospitality is a huge economic driver, helping students gain entry into that world simply makes sense.

A community focused idea

In a special twist this year, CWC students will be donning their chef hats to assist at Savor the South, one of JHFW’s biggest events. The students are tasked with creating the dessert course for the lavish outdoor party and will be rubbing elbows with Jackson Hole chefs from local businesses like the Fine Dining Group and Café Genevieve, as well as two James Beard award-winning chefs—Chris Shepherd and Ryan Prewitt—who will be among those emceeing the evening’s cuisine. Poe and Gallagher point out that this will be invaluable exposure for the students to great culinary minds, as well as a whole lot of fun.

Central Wyoming College’s Amy Madera speaks warmly of the collaboration: “Jackson Culinary program is thrilled to be a beneficiary and partner with JHFW this year. The opportunity for our current students and graduates to rub elbows alongside of James Beard Award Winning Chefs is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We hope to see you at Savor the South where our students will be providing a special Southern dessert featuring Wyoming Whiskey.”

With 2017 festival dates set for June 22-24 and 2018 dates already on the books for June 21-23, there’s simply no excuse not to see what all the fuss is about and enjoy some wine, outstanding cuisine, and education featuring chefs from the valley and further afield. “It’s really great exposure for our chefs and our town,” Poe and Gallagher say. “We want to get the word out that Jackson Hole really does have a great food scene.” This is an enthusiasm shared by supporters including the Fine Dining Group, who are advising the Festival as well.

Jackson Hole certainly does have a happening food scene. But even more so, it’s the innovations and generosity of its community members that keep residents and visitors coming back for seconds.

If your appetite—and sense of adventure—is whetted, don’t hesitate to get your tickets now for one, or all, of these events! 

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