Local flavor at the Food & Wine Classic
June 15, 2017
While the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen might attract the world's top chefs, sommeliers and foodies, the annual festival also has some strong local ties.
Among the "talent" at the 35th Classic are a few names — and faces — Aspenites are sure to recognize from the daily grind in our mountain town: Carlton McCoy, Bobby Stuckey and Laura Werlin, among others. There also will be Colorado food and drink at parties, in the tent, at one appropriately named seminar and during exclusive taping of a "Top Chef Denver" elimination challenge.
"Colorado has long been known for our natural beauty and outdoor adventure, and we are thrilled to know 'Top Chef' will be showcasing our equally stunning culinary scene during their next season," said Cathy Ritter, director of the Colorado Tourism Office. "Right here in the Roaring Fork Valley, there is a bounty of farmers, producers and makers offering farm tours, seasonal produce and visitor experiences. Some of the state's top producers are providing seasonal ingredients for Gail Simmons' 'Rocky Mountain Flavor' cooking experience at Aspen Food & Wine with the intention to whet the attendee appetites for more Colorado culinary experiences."
Leading the charge on Colorado culinary experiences is Stuckey, whom locals know from his time at The Little Nell.
Stuckey came to The Nell in 1995 and with single-minded determination began pursuing the rigorous path to become a certified master sommelier, a goal he achieved in 2004. His early motivation and education came from tasting with a local group that included master sommeliers Damon Ornowski, Jay Fletcher and restaurateur Walt Harris.
"I learned so much coming up with those guys," he told The Aspen Times as his began to plot his next career move. "I was so lucky to have them as peers and mentors, and most of all as friends."
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That move took Stuckey away from Colorado — but not for long. Stuckey, with business partner chef Lachlan Mackinnon Patterson, opened their first restaurant, Frasca Food and Wine, in August 2004 in Boulder. The neighborhood restaurant, reminiscent of the Italian frascas they had visited in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, continues to earn awards and accolades.
With similarly impressive credits — James Beard award winner, author, speaker, teacher — Werlin also brings to the Classic a bond with Aspen. Though her primary residence is in San Francisco, the wild-haired cheese "edu-tainer" splits time in Aspen and is often found chatting it up with locals at the market and restaurants, trails and parks.
In fact, before Werlin became a staple of Aspen's annual gathering of gourmands since joining the Food & Wine roster in 2006, presenting at the festival here in her backyard was among her highest career aspirations.
"When I got that call from (then-Food & Wine editor) Dana Cowin to be a speaker, I thought I had won the lottery," she said. "It was the confluence of everything I love and wanted to be doing. I loved Aspen already. My dream was to be a speaker at Food & Wine. Those things came together when I got that call."
Of course it doesn't get more local than McCoy, who serves as wine director at The Little Nell. In addition to speaking at the Classic, McCoy and The Nell team have crafted three premium wine and culinary experiences at element 47, partnering with esteemed wineries and organizations and featuring renowned wine savants as your hosts. Among these is "The Legacy of Opus One," featuring a vertical tasting of epic and historic wines that were the result of a Napa pairing between international wine legends Robert Mondavi and Bordeaux's Philippe Rothschild.
"I asked the team at Opus One if they'd ever presented a vertical tasting from the first vintage in 1979 to the current release of 2014," McCoy said about the genesis of the meal. "They hadn't done this yet and agreed it was a good idea given the refreshed interest. Instead of focusing on every vintage, they'll focus on the best, most highly rated vintages."
For an Aspenite, these are mighty big goals. And, like all things Aspen, they will be met and exceeded with a uniquely local flair.