Originally posted on DiningOut Magazine
Over 5,000 people made the trek up to the idyllic mountain town last month for the 36th Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Braving the winding roads (or flying in via private jet), hungry guests arrived in Aspen for the premier culinary event of the year, replete with a flurry of seminars, celebrity chef demos (with tons of sightings as a bonus), and luxurious bites alongside copious amounts of wine and spirits. Although food and fun were had, the festival tackled the glaring troubles facing the restaurant industry from mental health to the insurgence of the #MeToo movement. Here are a few highlights from Food & Wine Classic in Aspen 2018…
Oh, the things you’ll learn…
Inside the white tents scattered about town, housed a powerhouse of culinary talent from chefs and restauranteurs to sommeliers and cocktail craftsmen. Hungry listeners gathered as culinary leaders imparted cooking techniques, led discussions on the future of the dining scene, and rattled off a few tips and tricks on how to drink wine like a gazillionaire (a la Mark Oldman’s seminar, Wines for Gazillionaires). Culinary legends in attendance included father-daughter duo, Jacques and Claudine Pépin, restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson, and Andrew Zimmern, to name a few.
The grandest tasting of them all
Showcasing bites from award-winning celebrity chefs alongside international wines and spirits, The Grand Tasting Pavillion surely lived up to its name. Perched at the foot of the mountains, The Grand Tasting drew a number of gourmands all looking for a bite of the best. In the courtyard, celebrity chefs including Rick Bayless and Richard Blaisgathered for book signings. Local talent was also in attendance, as Brother Luckteamed up with Shoku En for a delectable bite of Japanese Buri Sashimi with squid ink umeboshi purée. Combining both food and politics, Elysian Chocolates featured a State of the Union display, encouraging guests to break down their chocolate wall. Food & Wine magazine’s ‘Best New Chefs’ held a corner of the tent, so guests could meet and greet (and eat!) with the new and up and coming class of culinary talent. Even though the tents centered around the fun and flurry of the food world, the festival took pause to pay homage to one of the greats, as a tribute wall dedicated to Anthony Bourdain hung in the tasting tent.
The state of the industry
Going beyond just food and wine, the Classic didn’t shy away from the problems facing our current industry. The “Meet the Masters: Lessons from the Journey” panel featuring Will Guidara, Hugh Acheson, and Gabrielle Hamilton, quickly took a turn, focusing on Hamilton’s recent decision to take over the Spotted Pig in New York, and her subsequent partnership with Ken Friedman, an NYC restaurateur who has been accused of multiple counts of sexual assault. While Hamilton defended her stance, Hugh Acheson chimed in, stating, “This new leadership move could be good too, but it can’t be a hall pass to a predator.” During the “The Power of Community” panel, Andrew Zimmern touched on Anthony Bourdain’s untimely passing, furthering the discussion of mental health in the restaurant industry.
Parties, parties, and more parties
Couldn’t swing the 1,700 price tag for tickets? The festivities extended well beyond the realm of the Classic. In fact, a number of people made the journey solely for the parties and popups all around town. Kendra Anderson of Bar Helix held her 7th annual yacht-themed bash with wines, effervescent cocktails, plus an amari bar courtesy of Il Porcellino Salumi. Infinite Monkey Theorem took over Smuggler’s Mine for a wine and silent disco dance party for the annual Wine at the Mine soiree. Lodi Wines hosted free wine tastings a block away from the big blowout. Continuing the epic culinary tour across the states, Heritage Fire landed in Snowmass over the weekend for an afternoon of pork, skewered over live fire, tended to by the likes of Hosea Rosenberg (Blackbelly), Steve Redzikowski (Acorn), and Daniel Asher (River and Woods). Of course, there were a few parties that we weren’t privy to (hello wine dinner at Lance Armstrong’s house!) but that’s why we have next year.
Celebrity sightings abound
Yes, a number of celebrity chefs led noteworthy seminars from Hugh Acheson shucking up seafood to Mark Oldman sabering off bottles of bubbly. Even a few of our local favorites made it on stage, notably Bobby Stuckey who spoke on Chiantis and key varietals from Napa Valley. But even outside the white tents, celebrity sightings were abound. One pop up event, we saw Hugh Acheson chatting it up with Alon Shaya. The aptly named Celebrity Chef 5K Charity Run included the likes of Marcus Samuelson and Bobby Stuckey running alongside our common man (can’t say that we went, the DiningOut staff doesn’t run). During the nightlife, we bumped into Anne Burrell, Ming Tsai, and Curtis Stone all grooving at Escobar (we may or may not have hi-fived Anne Burrell, but that story is for another time). All in all, the Classic offers a good time for celebrity bingo.
Morgan Carter, Managing Editor