By Jeff Heilman, Meetings Focus Magazine -- In April’s issue, we focused on how venture capitalists, academic institutions and governmental agencies are supporting and nurturing Utah’s high-growth technology sector. Buzzing with its own entrepreneurial energy is the food and beverage scene, which has steadily evolved since the 2002 Winter Olympics and is now in acceleration mode.
Next month, Salt Lake City celebrates its “coming of age as a culinary hotspot” with the inaugural Eat Drink SLC, a festival featuring leading area restaurants, food purveyors, wineries, small batch distillers and award-winning Utah craft brewers.

Lesley Christoph, whose creative marketing agency is among the event’s sponsors, describes a hotbed culture of “collaboration, experimentation and creativity that is attracting top culinary talent, artisans and innovators who are completely redefining the scene.”

Following the relaxing of liquor laws several years ago, it’s now time for groups to make a beeline for the culinary excitement happening in Salt Lake City and Park City.

Veteran local restaurateurs and enterprising outsiders alike are rewriting the rules of dining in Utah’s always-evolving, ever-surprising capital city.

Chef-owner Mikel Trapp has been on the Utah culinary scene for more than 30 years, with roles including director of food and beverage at the acclaimed Stein Eriksen Lodge in Deer Valley; managing director of food and beverage and executive chef at Snowbird, overseeing 13 restaurants; and chef-consultant for three Olympic Games.

In partnership with the LaSalle Restaurant Group, which operates a quartet of Salt Lake City eateries, including the event-capable Faustina, Trapp’s latest venture, Current Fish & Oyster opened in March. Housed in a remodeled historic building from 1906, the 150-seat seafood restaurant comes with an outdoor patio and can host around 40 people for private events.

Another winning heritage re-use is the AAA Four Diamond, 225-room Hotel Monaco. Housed in the historic Continental Bank building, the meetings-capable boutique features award-winning New American bistro fare at Bambara. The open kitchen restaurant includes the 35-seat Vault Bar, and seating up to 20 people, the stately Chairman’s Office for private dining.

Utah’s craft beer scene continues to soar, with Squatters, founded in 1989, among the top brew pubs. With locations in Park City and at Salt Lake International Airport, the downtown venue offers the upstairs Loft and colorful outdoor Potting Shed for private events.

Drawing locals and convention attendees alike, Bar X is a Prohibition-era (1933) dive upgraded to dynamic cocktail lounge. Owned by Ty Burrell of TV’s Modern Family and partners, the venue is connected via doorway to sibling Beer Bar, offering some 130 different brews, communal outdoor seating and food including gourmet sausages from Austrian-born Salt Lake City chef Frody Volgger.

For culinary experiences, Caputo’s Market & Deli offers classes in chocolate and cheese, both staples of the Utah culinary scene, plus custom programs for groups. Another surprising standout is Utah grocery chain Harmon’s, which offers immensely popular cooking classes in its stellar display kitchens. With a brand-new location close to the Salt Palace Convention Center, groups are exposed to diverse international cuisines and techniques.

Located in a remarkable wilderness setting just 20 miles from downtown, historic Log Haven (see “Zoom In” Q&A on page 84 of this issue) is an enchanting choice for events, functions and weddings.