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Food & Wine Reporter’s Notebook Day 2: Pairings on the go and a stiff competition

Chefs Stephanie Izzard and Tiffy Cooks prepare dishes during a morning seminar at the Hotel Jerome during Food & Wine in Aspen on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The Fastidious and the Foodies

I was waiting outside the tent for a Burger King or McDonald’s truck to show up for Mark Oldman’s “Fast Food and Fancy Wines” seminar. I should’ve had loftier expectations for what these people consider “fast food.”

“When Food & Wine says ‘fast food,’ they don’t mean Hardee’s. They don’t mean Jack in the Box,” Oldman said. “This is from The Little Nell.” Now it makes sense.

Placed in front of the attendees in a packed room was an intimidating setting of eight wines — three white, two rose and three red of various orientations — and a large plate consisting of truffle fries, a spring roll, a chicken wing, a grilled cheese square, a barbecue rib and a beef slider (eaten in that order, respectively, along with the paired wines). I envision this is what Wendy’s serves in heaven; unfortunately, I’ll probably never know. (Because I’m immortal, not because I’m going to hell. Jeez.)

“Most wines work with most food, but there’s a precision to making all the flavors really stand out,” Oldman said, half choking on a spring roll and Chapoutier Belleruche Rose. “Need some water?” an audience member asked.

“At Food & Wine?” Oldman wheezed. “In my hotel room I have a spigot and chardonnay comes out.” Um, bro that’s probably the bidet.

I don’t pretend to be an authority on food or wine — I was expecting to be scarfing down a Double Chubby Chuck and pounding Mogen David, after all — but as Oldman guided us through each pairing of food and drink, he explained how the different components complemented each other.

For example, “Spicy foods need something bubbly and tangy, not a deep red,” Oldman said. “You need a weight match and a flavor match.”

And he was right. Delicately take a bite of the creamy grilled cheese, chew thoughtfully, then sip its ruche counterpart and boom — every element immediately enhances twofold in your mouth. It didn’t even matter that our grub had been sitting out for a while.

“French fries are like sex,” Oldman said. “Even when it’s cold, it’s good.”

I’m certainly not one to kink shame necromancy but maybe Aspen PD should put an extra watch around the Ute Cemetery tonight.

— Benjamin Welch

Single Malt Showdown: Scotland vs America vs Japan with Nate Ganapathi

Our host for the afternoon, Nate Ganapathi, started his journey in whiskey as an investment and has gone on to create a career in the industry. He’s recognized as an authority in collecting and is a judge of the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The theme of the day was single malt, a new tradition for American makers — being only 7 years old and not yet officially recognized by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau — went off on the OG whiskey makers from Scotland and newer but more recognized Japanese variations.

While slated as a competition, all 10 of the options were special in their own right. Having conceded that women have better palates at the top of the seminar, one of Ganapathi’s goals is to market whiskey better to women, who have been left out of much of the historical narrative.

Whether we have better palates or not, I am delighted to share my favorites of the day and a few tidbits learned along the way. Coming in at No. 1 for me was Dalmore from Scotland. With its signature orange nose and diverse cask method (six different casks), it was silky smooth and immensely drinkable. No. 2 came from Taiwan (not technically in the three-country seminar title competition) maker Kavalan. This whiskey had a port cask finish that made it so enjoyable with zero afterburn. Kavalan has become synonymous with great whiskey, having won some of the highest international awards in recent years.

My top three seminar takeaways: Always smell whiskey with your mouth open to get both senses working at the same time; whiskey ages are determined by the lowest age in the bottle (you could be drinking 99% 30 year and 1% 18 year, but it is labeled as 18 year); and my personal favorite, never pass by a duty-free shop — especially in Tokyo and London airports — without buying a whiskey. They apparently have some of best selections to add to your collection (either for investment or enjoyment). Slàinte mhath, kanpai and cheers to worldwide whiskey making.

— Amy Laha

Video: 5 minutes with Daniel Daou from DAOU Family Estates at the 2022 Food & Wine Classic

Kelly Hayes and Daniel Daou

WineInk columnist Kelly Hayes sits down for a drink and a quick discussion with Proprietor & Winemaker Daniel Daou from DAOU Family Estates at the 2022 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.

Food & Wine: Burgers, anyone?

Kelly Hayes and Mark Oldman

Craving something salty? Aspen Times Weekly WineInk columnist Kelly Hayes grabs a bite at CP Burger with wine expert Mark Oldman to chat about the magic of “Fast Food & Fantastic Wine” — which Mark is sharing more of in his 3 p.m. Friday seminar at The Little Nell for the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen! Kelly will be chatting with Bobby Stuckey and Carlin Karr on Saturday, so stay tuned for more coverage throughout the weekend.

Food & Wine: Fresh restaurants set the table for dining in Aspen

To list every restaurant opening since Food & Wine was last in town in September may seem like an overwhelming task.

But I’m about to have my second cup of coffee, which should grant me enough grit to give it a try.

I’ve counted more than half a dozen new restaurants — a slew of big-city imports, ski-town staples and even some locally owned ventures (yes, those do still exist) — among the comings of the last nine or so months, with a bit of wiggle room to account for early and late arrivals.

Oh, and also: me, the Aspen Times Weekly’s newest food columnist with a mushy affection for old cookbooks and nostalgic menus.

I started writing the weekly column in November, but I’d like to think my immersion into Andrew Zimmern’s seminar on time-traveling recipes at last year’s Food & Wine was a harbinger of many an earnest column to come. My affinity for familiarity has often pointed me toward Aspen’s restaurant past, but my perch on the byline of “Foodstuff” has given me a pretty clear view (and a great seat at the table) for our dining present, too.


Aspen’s hottest venture may well be Chica Aspen, if not for the buzzy atmosphere then for the fact that food often arrives at the table in varying states of about-to-be-ignited, literally-on-fire and still-smoking. One dessert, a golden, sugary “Flaming Skull,” is set alight tableside to reveal the lava cake underneath; the al pastor ribs arrive in a cloud of smoke.

But the menu at Chica Aspen — the third iteration, following Chicas in Las Vegas and Miami — isn’t only about the heat. Celebrity chef Lorena Garcia considers Chica a “celebration” of Latin American cuisine that she has infused with heart in offerings like a Meyer lemon chicken from her home kitchen and empanadas inspired by her grandmother’s.

Speaking of heart: over at Catch Steak Aspen, corporate chef Michael Vignola said earlier this year that he was a firm believer in the idea of inherently romantic foods. On his list were potatoes and eggs, which you can find gussied up steakhouse-style at Catch Steak Aspen as crispy potato croquettes with creme fraiche and Osetra caviar.

The menu at this enterprise on East Hopkins Avenue — part of Catch Hospitality Group, which also has ventures in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Playa del Carmen, Mexico — features an abundance of options for the carnivorous among us; some seafood, and a plant-based “chicken” parm, offer less beefy fare.

Photos from Catch Steak Aspen on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, in downtown Aspen. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

Aspen’s buzziest openings follow the rule of threes (or perhaps the rule of “C’s”) with the debut of Casa d’Angelo, another big-city import with three other locations in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and Aventura, Florida.

Chef Angelo Elia’s menu embraces classic Italian fare with antipasti, pastas and “carne e pesci” in abundance; here in Aspen, where he said the area and its food culture remind him of Europe (and especially Italy), inspiration abounds, too.


Those who deign to drive past the roundabout (egads!) are apt to find flavors just as rich and vibrant with deep mountain roots in Snowmass Village, where two of the latest debuts in Base Village are already ski-town staples and new openings up by the Snowmass Mall embrace the alpine spirit.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time before Kenichi made its way to Snowmass — the “matter” in this case being three decades as a stalwart sushi spot in Aspen first.

Kenichi owner Brent Reed, who also operates Izakaya in Carbondale, brings signature Kenichi specialties like yellowtail and otoro serrano sashimi and the popular “Dynamo” rolls to the menu in Base Village. The new space is designed to inspire an appreciation for the cuisine and cultivate “the sense of coming into something sacred,” Reed said.

Just around the corner, Aurum Snowmass brings hearty, wholesome New American fare to a casual space at the base of the Village Express chairlift.

Happy hour is the cornerstone of the menu here, just as it is at other Aurum locations in Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge, with a menu of “snacks” like a French onion burger and crispy curried cauliflower that could just as well constitute a whole meal. The rest of the offerings are substantial and stick-to-the ribs, too: think mixed game chili, Rocky Mountain trout, short ribs and steak.

Stark’s Alpine Grill, located inside the recently-revamped-and-renamed Viewline Resort on the Snowmass Mall, veers toward the classic side with its American fare offerings: “Steaks and Chops,” plus homemade pastas and other entrees, anchor the roster here.

Its opening is one of several that rolled out with the new hotel digs at the Viewline and neighboring Wildwood hotel.

The Lobby Bar, located in the lobby of the Viewline, offers easy bites like charcuterie boards and sliders alongside a list of swanky sips. And Last Chair, a cozy retro beer hall inside the Wildwood, makes comfort food classics like burgers, chicken sandwiches, cobb salads and ice cream sundaes the star of the show at this locals-oriented joint.


PARC Aspen, a new farm-to-table venture, is slated to fill the space previously occupied by the beloved L’Hostaria that closed last November.

The new restaurant’s mission statement? “Bringing local back to Aspen, one curated dish at a time.”

Owners Maryanna and Harley Sefton have deep roots in the valley — they’ve been coming to Aspen for 25 years and have been full-time residents since 2018 — and executive chef Mark Connell joins the team after stints at the Snow Lodge and Casa D’Angelo.

PARC Aspen will offer different menus at the bar, contemporary finer dining room and an experiential 12-person private dining space, with price points to match. The restaurant is slated to open later this summer.

Food & Wine: Feeding the local Aspen economy

(Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen is the unofficial start of summer in the resort community, which up until mid-June is a quiet and sleepy mountain town with few visitors.

The 2021 Food & Wine Classic kicked off in Aspen on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Locals are just returning from offseason excursions all over the globe and businesses are staffing up with new recruits. Hiring is difficult these days with labor shortages and a local housing crisis, so the demands placed on the valley’s businesses to accommodate the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen this year are especially challenging.

Earlier this spring at a chamber of commerce board meeting, employers across business sectors in the resort community lamented the effects the labor shortage is having on the guest experience, particularly the difficulty getting people from the airport to town and vice versa.

The week prior to the Food & Wine Classic, occupancy in Aspen is just shy of 50% and then jumps more than 30% for the three-day event, beginning Thursday and ending Sunday, according to Eliza Voss, vice president of destination marketing for the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

Leading up to the epicurean extravaganza, it very much becomes “game on” for local hotels, lodges, restaurants, taxis, limos, property managers, caterers, party planners, audio visual experts, tent providers, linen and uniform companies, florists, and everyone in between to make it happen.

“The Classic couldn’t happen without them,” said Jennifer Albright Carney, chief operating officer for ACRA who has been helping organize the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen for over two decades.

The Classic utilizes 13 different locations for the event’s seminars and culinary demonstrations, Albright Carney noted, and exhibitors use local catering companies to assist them.

Over the years, parties held all over town at restaurants and at private houses outside of the official event have grown exponentially, requiring small armies of caterers, bartenders and other service personnel for support.

A line wraps around the walking mall to get into the first Grand Tasting of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

“The ancillary aspect of the weekend is so much bigger than before,” said Lori Lefevre, spokesperson for Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. “For every one of those things they come with entourages.”

The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen has been compared to the Sundance Film Festival in that there is an official footprint of the event, but the weekend is full of extracurricular festivities throughout the host resort (in Sundance’s case, Park City, Utah).

In Aspen, vendors and exhibitors partner with local restaurants for winemaker dinners and spirit experts often use bars to showcase their latest concoctions. Wendy Mitchell, owner of Meat & Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop and Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar, said the bar will host brand events and celebrity bartenders, but the restaurant is left for the foodies and local workers over the weekend.

“I think our place is for the people who are working,” she said. “A lot of the chefs and those in the industry will come in to enjoy the eclectic wine list.”

Many area restaurants take advantage of Food & Wine’s invitation to have a table in the Grand Tasting Pavilion, which allows them to showcase their latest dishes and interact with patrons.

For years, the number of attendees, exhibitors and vendors had been capped at 5,000 people, which organizers found is the sweet spot for the experience and infrastructure bandwidth. But this year, like last September when the event was moved from the traditional June dates because of the pandemic, the number of people is capped at 75% of 2019 numbers, according to Lefevre.

The reduced capacity was a judgment call made last fall when COVID-19 restrictions were still in place around the country, she noted.

“Plus, we got really good feedback that it was robust with a tiny bit of breathing room,” Lefevre said of fewer people in the Grand Tasting Pavilion and at the seminars.

When tickets went on sale shortly after last year’s event, they sold out in two hours.

The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen years ago did market research on how much an average attendee spends in the resort community on food, alcohol and shopping over the weekend. That figure and the demographics are dated, so the Food & Wine Classic plans to do a study this year to update the market share landscape.

“We all want to know and it’s so valuable,” Lefevre said.

Judging from city sales tax receipts for June 2019 for the pre-pandemic Classic and then in June 2020 when the event wasn’t held, there is no question how much the event impacts the local economy.

Taxable sales in June 2019 were $66 million, with $18 million of that in accommodations and $11 million in restaurants and bars.

Those figures dropped the same month in 2020 to $51.9 million in taxable sales, with $6 million in accommodations and $8 million in the restaurant and bar industry.

“It’s the premiere culinary event in the country, and having it in Aspen elevates the local culinary scene,” Voss said.

This story was featured in the 39th Aspen Times Food & Wine Classic Weekend magazine, available now on location and at www.aspentimes.com.

Food & Wine: The Little Nell, Aspen’s home grown wine gem

As proud as Aspen’s local skiers are of the world-class ski mountain that rises above the town, so too are local wine lovers proud of the wine program at The Little Nell Hotel.

This year, the esteemed wine destination was honored to be a James Beard Award finalist in the category of “Outstanding Wine Program.” As of this writing, the announcement of the winner was still pending as the awards ceremony took place June 13 in Chicago at the Lyric Opera House.

Whether the program won or not, the nomination itself is indicative of The Little Nell’s long legacy of excellence for its extensive wine list and tradition of service. Wine director Chris Dunaway and his team, including Jesse Libby, Jon Koch and Rachel Liggett-Draper, were justly proud of what was the Hotel’s 16th James Beard nomination since the awards debuted in 1991.

“I’m just so incredibly proud of how well the team has persevered through the past few difficult years and made such an incredible commitment to guest experience and transforming that through the power of great wine and enlightened hospitality,” Dunaway said about the nomination for the Beard Award after the previous two years dealing with the pandemic. “What’s unique about us is that we are a part of a much larger organization, being a hotel as opposed to a restaurant or wine bar. It takes excellence in every department to make this happen, and I just want everyone at The Nell to be proud and feel like this is just as much their accomplishment as anyone else’s, and that goes to those here today and who’ve worked tirelessly for us over the decades.”

And for those decades since its founding in 1989, The Nell has been the de facto clubhouse for the wine crowd during the Food & Wine Classic. With a roster of 10 Master Sommeliers who served in the hotel, a funky wine cellar and speakeasy, the best patio in Aspen and operations at the top of the mountain, The Nell provides “only-in-Aspen experiences” for wine lovers.

Past Master Sommeliers on The Nell’s wine staff who have gone on to make lasting impacts on the world of wine include Carlton McCoy, managing partner of Lawrence Wine Estates in Napa, California; Dustin Wilson, who founded the eclectic Verve wine shops in New York, Chicago and San Francisco; Bobby Stuckey, Food & Wine presenter and partner in Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine; and, of course, local wine maven Jonathan Pullis. All have been a part of creating the culture that makes The Nell what it is today.

This year, the hotel will be hosting a pair of wine dinners during the Classic featuring the cuisine of Matt Zubrod, The Nell’s culinary director. On Friday, there will be a celebration of Viña Tondonia from Rioja, Spain, at the López de Heredia Wine Dinner. Guests will sip the bodega’s most highly coveted gran reserva wines along with a four-course tasting menu.

Then on Saturday, the Nell’s wine team will toast Mayacamas Vineyards’ winemaker Braiden Albrecht as they pair a four-course dinner alongside Mayacamas’ sublime expressions of cabernet sauvignon from the Mt. Veeder AVA in the Napa Valley.

Of course, those are just the scheduled events as winemakers, distributors and connoisseurs will gather at all hours to drink the wines available on The Nell’s Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning list. For many, the pinnacle of the Food & Wine experience takes place at The Little Nell.

It’s as good as the skiing.

This story was featured in the 39th Aspen Times Food & Wine Classic Weekend magazine, available now on location and at www.aspentimes.com.

Wagner Park gets broken down, then built back up

The exodus of foodies and spirits lovers from Aspen meant Wagner Park was in breakdown mode Monday as the city aims to have the park open to the public by the end of the month and in time for Fourth of July festivities.

Wagner Park, home to two Grand Tasting tents, was ground zero for the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, the annual event that signals the beginning of the peak season for tourism. The event ran Friday through Sunday.

This week, city workers will put in sand and level the field to ready it for resodding next week, city officials said. By Monday’s end, the tents had been broken down.

“If all goes well and according to plan, we’ll open the field that evening (June 30),” said Matt Kuhn, operations manager for the city Parks Department.

From June 27-29, the city will strip the park and install the sod that will be hauled in from the Front Range. Barring any torrential rain storms, the sod will be installed in time for it to open in advance of Independence Day, said Kuhn and Austin Weiss, the city’s director of Parks and Open Space.

Wagner Park is a popular venue for watching the Fourth of July fireworks display over Aspen Mountain, which is set for 9:15 p.m. The park also flanks Mill Street, where the Dancing in the Streets party will be held from 8 to 10:30 p.m. July 4.

“We want to get it open as soon as possible,” Weiss said.

The entire cost of the project is $93,724, Kuhn said. Food & Wine organizers are contributing $35,000 toward the cost, and the city will pay the rest, he said.