Friday was an epically beautiful day at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen that had many longtime regulars saying they could not remember a more classic day at the Classic. Yes, I just wrote that, and if you were there, you know it makes sense.
Day dawned early as 371 intrepid runners, mostly flatlanders, came to the Rio Grande Park to watch the sun rise and the ice melt on the lawn before embarking on the 3.1 mile race. Temps hovered right around freezing until the sun crested Independence Pass, just as the gun sounded to start the race. The trip through the West End was magnificent, and a shout-out must go to Christine Benedetti, of the Aspen Daily News, who smoked the course (yes, there were many weed references made by the flatlanders) in a quick 22:09 to win the women’s division. Benedetti was 12th overall, besting uber chef Marcus Samuelsson by a healthy 16 seconds.
The run was followed by an impressive array of seminars including an inspirational trade talk at the Hotel Jerome featuring superstar chefs/restaurateurs Danny Meyer, Jonathan Waxman, Barbara Lynch and Michael Chiarello in a conversation led by Andrew Zimmern. While the mood in the room was high in anticipation for the coming weekend, Zimmern asked the chefs about their most difficult days in the business. Each had poignant answers that detailed the challenges of the game. But when the question came to Meyer, he responded that there was never a darker day than Sept. 11, 2001. But in the ashes of that day, an epiphany came that restaurateurs had the ability to make change, to improve circumstances in difficult times and situations. It was a unique and special comment that supplied a touch of gravitas to a weekend that can seem a bit, well, frothy.
Speaking of frothy, I found myself at an intimate breakfast at Element 47 with a group of journalists and wine presenter Mark Oldman, who debuted his gold lamé hoodie to the assembled guests. Chef Brian Moscatello presented the Nell’s signature lemon pancakes, which were paired with a sparkling Brachetto d’Acqui. It was clear from the first taste and the appearance of Oldman that the Classic was officially “on.” It is these kinds of small gatherings that provide the lagniappe to the weekend.
A steamy tent and a courtyard that baked under a cloudless sky were the takeaways from the tent Friday. Due to a restoration project in the park, the grass under the East Tent was covered by a plastic flooring that made walking a touch slippery. It also made it impossible to empty one’s wineglass in the grass, which has always been my custom.
The day’s highlight, however, may well have been the “Mountain Wines, Mountain Cheeses” seminar with Cheese Lady Laura Werlin, who was profiled yesterday in the Times by Andrew Travers, and Megan Krigbaum, who is the senior wine editor at Food & Wine magazine. The pairings in the packed tent were sublime, and the theme resonated, given our high mountain location.
And we’re just getting started.