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Meister Hut Dinner Series Cranmore cooks up a Storm Mountaintop

February 03, 2011
"Kathy and I were talking about how nice it would be to do a dinner at the Meister Hut, all of a sudden the dinners are in the marketing plan," says Harmon. Many people think ski area food is just hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza, he says. "Glenn Phillips, our food and beverage manager is a talented in the kitchen, ace-in-the-hole chef. We take advantage of his skills," he adds.

Chef Glenn Phillips skills are put to the test. The Meister Hut Wine Dinner Series, which began in 2008, will run for five nights during this season, is a five-course meal, complete with wine pairings served at the summit of Cranmore in the old Meister Hut. The rustic ski-warming hut by day is transformed into an evening setting Harmon calls country elegance.

The transformation takes an all mountain crew. "It takes every department on the mountain to pull this off," says Harmon. The Meister Hut closes at 3 p.m. At that time, the ski patrol sweeps the mountain to make certain everyone is off, explains Harmon. Meanwhile the groomers are getting ready to truck supplies and staff to the summit via Snowcat. Lift attendants will be on hand to transport guest to the summit via chair lift. "All departments are involved. If we run into a problem, a groomer or tubing folks help. Timing is crucial, this is the epitome of team work," says Harmon.

At the base staff is preparing to get food, dishes and themselves up the mountain. "The Meister Hut kitchen is small, all heavy prep is done at the base in the Eating House," says Harmon. When the staff arrives on the summit, they put the finishing touches on soups and desserts. He adds that in its day and in the archives of restaurant history, the Eating House was a premier dining establishment.

Speaking of history, when the dinner series first began, there was no dishware. Harmon searched the archives and found some old dishes. He also found some old coasters with the skimobile logo. "We took the old logo and put it on jackets and they are selling like crazy," says Harmon. Harmon also combined the old dishware with new to keep the sense of Cranmore's history and charm.

Everything: dishware, glasses, food, staff and guests have to be trucked up to the top. There are lots of dishes and glasses. Thirty people are served a five-course dinner with wine pairings. That translates into 30 dinner plates, 30 dessert plates and 120 wine glasses. Some dishes are washed at the hut, but because of space limitations, most dirty dishes are trucked back down to the base.

Staff includes two servers, plus Harmon, Phillips, Ben Wilcox, Cranmore's general manager and five back of the house staff. Not to forget Missy Nelson, the sommelier, from Pine State Distributors who educates the guests about the wines they are imbibing and the whys of the pairings.

The evening begins when Wilcox greets guests at the summit. The welcome, and as Harmon says, 'We are welcoming guests into our home,' is followed by a serving of Lilet, a French apertif. The Lilet is well received. Harmon says the state liquor stores report Lilet sales are up during the winter.

The dinner begins. A sherried lobster and wild mushroom bisque is served. Followed by an appetizer, salad, intermezzo, entrée and dessert.

Here's a menu sampling: grilled shrimp cocktail, grilled herb marinated roma tomato and roasted garlic tri-color pepper Caesar salad, entrée of halibut braised with white wine and lemon, or grilled Angus tournedos of beef, or pork tenderloin stuffed with mission fig and fontina. Dessert is a fresh wild berry tart served with homemade whipped cream served with a 10-year-old tawny port.

Nelson and Phillips explain each course both the wine and food. Harmon says in previous years, the dinners were sold out. As of press time there were still a few openings. The next dinner is Feb. 5.

Everything has to be trucked down the mountain, including the guests. The guests are transported up and down via the high-speed express quad. You don't have to be a skier to attend. The lift attendants work the lift so guests can easily get on an off. What about the cold, especially on the way down? "With all the wine and food, most people don't feel the cold on the way down," says Harmon smiling.

The guest list is varied. Some locals, some retirees, some employees but one thing they all have in common is their enthusiasm for the experience. "In all my years in the industry, I can't remember receiving so many hugs at the end of an evening," says Harmon.

For more information, a schedule of dinners, please visit: http://www.cranmore.com/winter/wine_dinners. Tickets can be purchased online.

Varney Smith
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