Aspen Times Weekly: On to the Next One
Yes, Food & Wine is fun. Yes, it is definitely my favorite weekend of the year. But it’s also a heckuva lot of work. Boo-freaking-hoo, right?
Here’s a rundown of my favorite discoveries and experiences of the weekend:
Waking Up with Goose Island
There are many events at the Food & Wine Classic outside of the tents, but none was more thoughtfully prepared than Wednesday morning’s first-ever Goose Island Beer Breakfast led by Goose Island educator and “beer chick” extraordinaire Christina Perozzi, at the beautiful Limelight Lodge rooftop courtyard.
It was particularly early in the morning — 7:30 to be exact — to be drinking beer, but the selections served by the Chicago craft brewer, perhaps best known for its smooth and subtle Matilda, a Belgian-style Pale Ale, were incredibly drinkable and dare I say, desirable, to consume so soon after sunrise.
Three beers were featured this morning – Sofi Paradisi, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale with bright citrus notes and a tart finish; Pepe Nero, a mahogany Belgium farmhouse ale with black pepper finish; and the outstanding Bourbon Co. Brand Coffee Stout, a stout featuring rich, roasted flavors then barrel aged in bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill Distillery. (The latter received a perfect 100 rating by Beer Advocate and is currently rated No. 6 on its list of Top 100 American Beers.)
Each beer was delightfully paired with dishes by Limelight Lodge’s chef de cuisine Joe Gonyo, including a nicely balanced elk hash with poached eggs and just a touch of Hollandaise to add creaminess, and beer batter waffle made with Goose Island Summertime Ale, caramel ice cream and candied bacon sprinkles. Mix in a perfect view of Independence Pass over the white tents in Wagner Park and the morning was darn close to perfect, indeed.
I love to discover new beers, and this was my favorite beer of the weekend.
Big White Tents
The Grand Tasting tents were even more impressive than ever this year. There were many new vendors and an increasing number of exhibitors in both the food and spirits categories. All of which continue to raise the bar in presentation, education and offerings. Woody Creek Distillers made a splash both inside and outside the tent (full disclosure, I assist in marketing with WCD), capturing the attention of lots of spirits drinkers and even a few from Poland and Texas. I loved the taste of VeeV, a spirit distilled from Acai berries. But a word of caution to owners, please don’t compare your spirit with SkinnyGirl! It sends real spirit enthusiasts the other way running. Beyond the crazy associations, VeeV, shaken with fresh herbs, is a delightful smooth spirit that I will be purchasing this to sip this summer.
I Also loved the food offerings from Peru, Viceroy Snowmass’ new restaurant Screen Door (more on this to come), and everything that came off the plates from the Best New Chefs. Speaking of Best New Chefs, what a great selection of young chefs this year. The fete thrown at the top of Aspen Mountain in their honor on Saturday night was absolute perfection with dishes from Thomas Keller, John Besh and Daniel Boulud showing us the possible path to brilliance for these young men and women.
Now Close Your Eyes
My favorite seminar of the weekend was the blind tasting seminar with Richard Betts. Betts, a dear friend of Aspen and former MS at The Little Nell, hosted three panelists, including current wine director and master sommelier Jonathan Pullis, to break down and identify six different wines. It is always fascinating to hear what these somms know about a wine by color, nose, even the experience they gain from the back of the throat. Masterful. And yes, our Johnathan Pullis nailed it. A mind-blowing, fun experience. If you want to understand wine like the experts do, look for Richard Betts’ new book “The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert: Take a Whiff of That” coming to bookshelves this fall. In it is the incredibly handy wheel of wines of the world that helps commoners like me identify and pinpoint locations for every wine you sip.
Bring on the Back Fat
The weekend closed on Sunday afternoon with judging Grand Cochon. I’ve attended this event for several years, but this was the first time I had the pleasure of being able to enjoy every offering from the 10 regional winners, as they competed for the Crown and title King or Queen of Porc. The winner for me, and the other judges including Michael Voltaggio, last year’s champ Jason Vincent, chef Andrew Zimmern and Claudine Pepin, was chef Adam Sobel from RN47 in San Francisco. Using a Berkshire hog from Jubilee Family farm, Sobel created a trio of pork dishes that told a story from beginning (Chiang Mai Pork “Boners”) to the end (“The Return of Fat Elvis”) — think pork belly, peanut butter and bananas. But it was the middle, the second offering, of Fat Back “Mapo Tofu” that took the prize. Pork fat tofu you ask? Why yes!
“The dish was a play on the classic Chinese dish ‘Mapo Tofu,’” explained the boyish Sobel. “I felt the need to incorporate fat into my menu as a highlighted item and played with the idea to make a ‘fat custard,’ but it morphed into a ‘tofu’ in texture. I used rendered pork fat, scented with five-spice, roasted garlic, pork stock, low and high Acyll Gellan. We set the tofu in little clay cups and topped it with the spicy schzeuan braise made of the pigs head, trotters and ground shoulder.”
Now, folks, I will be drinking green juice for the next 10 days.
Can’t wait for next year.
Amiee White Beazley writes about dining, restaurants and food-related travel for the Aspen Times Weekly. She also works at Woody Creek Distillers in Basalt. Follow her on Twitter @awbeazley1, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Inside Inmam Family Wines in the Russian River AVA.