Let’s salute the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on our own terms, with local food
2020 is a year of revision. At least that’s how I’m looking at this pandemic. Stripped of social obligations and devoid of festivals, fun events, and frippery, this summer represents a time to regroup, reflect and focus on what sparks inner joy. Instead of hammering full speed ahead and reveling in nonstop thrills and debauchery (which, let’s be honest, is the Aspen Way), we all gotta slow our rolls. Let’s play safe, get outside with friends and family, and honor the place that has supported our every whim in years past.
For the first time in its almost-four-decade history, the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen has been postponed. While this necessary action in the age of coronavirus represents a huge blow to local tourism, I’m sure that some folks feel a small yet satisfying sense of relief. If Aspen herself could speak up, might she voice gratitude at not having to submit herself as a thankless venue?
Remember this on Monday, June 22, and picture the scene that could have been: festivalgoers have already jetted out of here, leaving a decimated Wagner Park and debris-strewn sidewalks in their wake. I adore the Classic, but there’s always a cloudy scrim of feeling a bit used after it’s all over.
Instead, let’s face our current reality and get back to basic — with masks on! First, the 22nd annual Aspen Saturday Market reopens for the season on Saturday, June 20, at 8:30 a.m. Reduced to its original essence of Western Slope farmers and food vendors (no artisans, craftspeople, petting zoo), the market will be divided into two mini markets along Hopkins and Hyman avenues to better foster safe social distancing. Participating businesses equally represent agriculture (18 vendors) and food producers/bakery operations (17 vendors), and the audience is capped to 50 shoppers per street, meaning that the Aspen Saturday Market may closely resemble its first iteration in 1998: All about local food.
Meanwhile, 2019 participants who did not make the cut this year under the state’s “essential” provision need our assistance. (See “Our Story” on the Aspen Saturday Market Facebook page for the full list.) Many will likely participate in the Snowmass Artisan Market (July 10 to Aug. 28), held in Snowmass Base Village on Fridays starting July 10 (through Aug. 28; thecollectivesnowmass.com). Snowmass is also launching “Social Saturdays,” featuring local music, food and drink specials, and family fun (chalk-art competitions, a strider bike race series for tots) in a wide-open atmosphere (July 11 to Sept. 26; gosnowmass.com/events).
If you’re one of those people who has lived in Aspen or visited for years and has yet to stop into the Emporium and Flying Circus, seek out the funky aquamarine Victorian on Main Street this summer. Among the showcased Colorado-made items are gifts, jewelry, art, crafts, and foodstuffs including chocolate truffles from artisan confectioners and farm eggs from Rock Bottom Ranch in Basalt.
Eating local is the ultimate way to support Aspen in the spirit of the Food & Wine Classic. Dining out on one of the new or enhanced patios that have sprung up across town is to hop on the fast track to an exciting, authentic, summer-in-a-ski-town experience. Based on a few first meals out last weekend, it seems clear that the early forced closure in March and offseason rebirth (many restaurants began offering takeout and delivery for the first time) has injected fresh energy into the dining scene. Food seems more thoughtfully prepared, flavors taste sharper, service is surely more attentive. Restaurants and chefs are stepping up; now it’s our turn.
Some favorite haunts are launching new ventures. Last weekend Campo De Fiori unveiled a picnic package that includes an insulated logo Koozie bag to transport hot takeout for up to four people, plus placemats, cutlery, hand wipes and sanitizer, for $12. The reusable bag and salt and pepper shakers will serve countless picnics and park parties in a clear sign of local support.
Other enhancements are popping up across town this week in time for what would have been called “Food & Wine,” so strike up conversations and inquire about specials. And while there are few things more satisfying than cooking a gourmet meal using primitive means, a Pitkin/Eagle County fire ban is in effect since April 9, so campfire cooking is currently off the table. For now let’s hope to attend Cochon 555’s Heritage Fire in Snowmass, the campfire-cooking event that for five years has piggybacked on the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. As of now, Heritage Fire’s smoke-infused smorgasbord on Fanny Hill is planned for Aug. 29. For that to happen—for any of the above propositions to pan out—we all must work together to promote safety. Please wear a mask when entering buildings and when in close proximity of others in public.
This weekend I won’t miss the blotto, meat-sweating crowds, the blind entitlement that comes with a colored lanyard, the urgency to see and do it all in four days. Instead, I’ll relax and enjoy the first true-blue summer weekend in Aspen, outdoors, spending saved money on meals (and my $25 food tax refund gift card!), hanging with friends on patios, in the park, and at sunset picnics. This is what Aspen food and wine is all about, and I feel lucky to be here now. Don’t you?