Sunday, June 15, 2008

Some thoughts from Aspen Food & Wine Classic

I just returned home from three days in Aspen. It was like a dream. The annual Food & Wine Classic is an amazing time of year when all of the heavy hitters in the industry gather together for days of discussions, panels, tastings, networking, and well...of course...parties. All with beautiful Aspen as the backdrop.

I personally think the F&W journalists are some of the industry's nicest group of writers. So this was a fun weekend to see them all (not in NY during a 15 min desk side or at a long James Beard dinner), but to see everyone a tad more relaxed (although it can be stressful to run from party to party). And it was even more fun to see the journalists mixing it up with 'regular people' who had bought the consumer passes, as well as mingling with the many chefs and restaurant industry people and publicists that were there.

Sightings of celebrity chefs included: Tom Collichicco, Padama Lakshmi, Jacques & Claudine Pepin, Barbara Lynch, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, David Chang, Bobby Flay, Ming Tsai, Michelle Bernstein, Masaharu Morimoto, Jose Andres, Bradley Ogden, Wylie Dufresne, Michael Symon, Michael Samuelsson, Roy Yamaguchi, Paul Kahan, Rocco Dispirto, local SF celebrity chef Nancy Oakes (and my pal Ravi!)...and on and on and on.

Additional 'celebrities' included wine great Richard Betts, cocktail mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim, restaurateur Danny Meyer, and top chef publicist Scott Feldman. Top Chef alumni spotted included Hung Huynh, Illan Hall, LeAnne Wong and Marcel Vigneron (no sign of brand new Top Chef Stephanie).

My first evening included a stop by at the Welcome/Kick-Off reception at the St. Regis, the Wines of Spain party, a industry party at the Sky Hotel, a mescal party at the Little Nell and then a retro disco party at the Belly Up. All in the first night. What a hard life I lead.

I've heard Aspen referred to as the Las Vegas of the mountains, and I believe it. And over this weekend? Even more so! Because these are restaurant people, despite a late night, the next day started off with an 8:15 am session. Wow. You mean we're not just here to party? There are classes? These people are not messing around. And we have to do this for 3 days straight? Hmmm...a test of one's endurance for sure. My second session of the day (for the record, a 10 am session), was a wine tasting! Hmmm. I hadn't even had breakfast yet and I was tasting seven wines from Italy's Alto Adige region. And you just couldn't spit, they were too good not to swallow! That's just how they do things in Aspen.

The Grand Tasting tents of the festival are maybe the most fun to be had. There are hundreds of chefs, vineyards, spirit companies, etc. with tables offering you all the free food and booze you could ever hope for. It was amazing. My friend and I were on a mission to see as much of it as we could in the little time we had. We were practically running from table to table, and kept focused and only visited the tables worth visiting. We saw friends in the tent, tasted some odd things (no more takes on pea soup please!), and some incredibly delicious ones too (deconstructed marshmallow s'mores...yummmmm.) I had wine, beer, more wine, margaritas, more wine, champagne, infused vodka, more was perfect.

Friday night is the Food & Wine magazine's big publisher's party that only the top notch folks are invited to. Needless to say, yours truly was not invited. It turned out to be a much needed 'relaxing night off'. My friends and I had a nice dinner in town, and then some post dinner cocktails. There were many more parties that night, but it was honestly so much work to track everyone down, time it so that you were at the right party at the right time, to wait for the folks coming down the mountain from the publisher's party...and not to mention, I was exhausted and had been on a nice buzz a number of times throughout the day already! I was done.

The 'night off' was the best move I made. I had renewed energy Saturday morning (I actually had more than four hours of sleep!), enjoyed two sessions, walked through the Aspen Farmer's Market (surprisingly small), stopped in on my favorite store in Aspen (Les Chefs D'Aspen), went to a Sam Adams beer tasting (ever had a beer milkshake? It's DELICIOUS!), saw a team building a DJ booth over the pool for a party later that night, went to a Wines of South Africa seminar, and even spent some time laying out by the pool reading and napping. All in my hot Tory Burch shoes! :) The perfect Saturday in Aspen.

Sightings of the Best New Chefs happened that night at the Best New Chefs (BNC) reception at Aspen Meadows. We saw Jim Burke, Gerald Craft (ummmm, SO CUTE!), Tim Cushman, Jeremy Fox (go local guy! and first chef to be named to the BNC list that represented a vegetarian restaurant), Koren Grieveson, Michael Psilakis, Ethan Stowell (had the cutest chef team helping him out of all of the BNC), Giuseppe Tentori (such a nice guy!) and Sue Zemanick. By the way, any one know why Eric Warnstedt wasn't there? Here's the view from the balcony of the second floor of the event:

Not only was I lucky to get to attend this event, but I attended as the guest of a friend of mine...who happens to be a member of the press. Wow. Those press folks sure do get it good. We were allowed into the event before everyone else (although there was a slight snafu with timing and we were standing outside waiting for a good 15 min), and barely had to wait in line at each station since it wasn't too crowded yet.

Best sight of a mentor in action? Paul Kahan (BNC back in 1999) working behind Koren Grieveson at the BNC event. He gave Grieveson all of his support and made sure the limelight was on her. It was awesome to see, and even more awesome to see a female chef kick some butt.

From there, we headed to Dave Chang's foodie party at the Hickory House...

Dave was roasting a whole pig, making his famous pork buns, there was a crab boil, and more food (and Mint Juleps!) than a gal could ask for (and if you must know, yes, I had just eaten at the BNC event, but how could I turn down the pork bun??) Wylie Dufresne was a guest chef that night and at one point, I saw Wylie serving up food to Bobby Flay and Michael Symon (who came in together with some friends) while Michelle Bernstein was sitting at a nearby table and Dave was looking on. Just an amazing group of people in that restaurant that night.

I did a horrible job of taking photos this weekend (no celebrity chef wants a camera shoved in their face by a non-member of the media during trade seminars or when they're partying!) But Eater did a great job of capturing some Kodak moments (and also got a heated discussion started during a trade seminar about blogs and public opinion), check it out.

Who did I hope would be in Aspen this weekend but wasn't??
- Mario Batali (rumors it was his son's graduation weekend?)
- Daniel Boulud
- Gavin Kaysen
- Thomas Keller
- Charlie Trotter
- Laurent Tourondel
- John Besh
- Michael Mina
- Eric Ripert
- Anthony Bourdain (ok, pipe dream. Don't really suppose Aspen F&W is Tony's 'scene')
- And my Sam's: Sam Mason and Sam Talbot

And more San Francisco chefs!! I felt like the whole thing was a little New York centric...and as I've said here before, all those New Yorkers think their city is the center of the universe, but I think San Francisco is! Bring on Chris Cosentino, Traci des Jardins, Craig Stoll, Nate Appleman, Hubert Keller, Laurent Manrique, Charles Pham... why isn't there more of a San Fran presence?

I also think there could be a greater emphasis in pastries...bring on the star pastry chefs for seminars, demos, and of course tastings! You could easily pull together an all star cast including Fran├žois Payard, Emily Luchetti, Sherry Yard, Gail Gand, Elizabeth know where you can find me! :)

I'm having problems with my posts...but my Top 10 Celebrity Chef observations and Top Five Lessons from Aspen in a future post.

1 comment:

  1. You are a very, very lucky woman my dear! Thanks for sharing, and letting us live through your experience. Sigh...