Food & Wine Classic notebook: Carla Hall brings out the soul; JJ Johnson makes us like rice again |

Food & Wine Classic notebook: Carla Hall brings out the soul; JJ Johnson makes us like rice again

Staff report
The Aspen Times

The crew of The Aspen Times and our editor for our upcoming EAT Aspen magazine spread out around the Food & Wine Classic venues and here’s what they found out:

Fever Tree presents: simple cocktails with real ingredients

Walking into the St. Regis courtyard tent Friday for Fever Tree mixers, I expected a gin and tonic, perhaps a mule — however, they opted to showcase their diverse portfolio of Gingers. Spiced Orange Ginger Ale, Ginger Beer, Smoky Ginger Ale and their classic Ginger Ale were on hand with different liquors.

Fever Tree’s motto was 1-1-1: one great mixer, one spirit and one elevated garnish (think a cinnamon-dusted green apple slice) to create a simple, perfect cocktail. For two Brits who launched Fever Tree to make a better tonic, they sure know their ginger — combining three types to bring the flavor to the forefront: chocolaty ginger from India, green ginger from Ivory Coast and earthy ginger from Nigeria.

My favorite offering combined the newly launched spiced orange ginger ale mixed with Lillet Blanc and topped with an orange slice; a crisp summer sipper.

—Amy Laha, The Aspen Times


The ever-charismatic Carla Hall had the crowd cheering and silencing on command during her Summer Soul Food seminar at the St. Regis. Though the initial crowd control was due more to the thin walls at the venue, Hall kept the audience entertained with her mix of humor, candor and cooking.

The basis of her summer soul food was pot liquor, a building base for salads and soups reduced from different combinations of veggies, meats and herbs. Once the magical mixtures were made, she whipped up dishes like bean salad, smoked trout pea salad and gazpacho as easily as she controlled the throngs from frenzied to focused.

—Sean Beckwith, The Aspen Times


I owe rice an apology. You probably do too.

Turns out the parboiled, enriched rice that’s standard fare in U.S. kitchens isn’t what rice is supposed to taste like. Every culture around the world has a rice, with nuanced flavors and textures. And we’re cooking it wrong. It’s not supposed to be mushy on the bottom of the pot and undercooked on top.

Who knew? J.J. Johnson wants us to buy good rice, like really good rice that’s so fresh it needs to be refrigerated. To cook, steam it (rice cookers are fine), or simmer in a wide-bottomed pan and don’t stir — that crunchy layer at the bottom of the pan is a delicacy not a mistake.

Johnson, new to the Classic, has a new James Beard award-winning book “Between Harlem and Heaven.”

And you know it’s good when Chef Ming Tsai stops by for a bite.

— Allison Pattillo, special to The Aspen Times

Starting off with Spanish flair

If you want to start your Food & Wine Classic off right, attend “Breakfast of Champions: Spanish Edition” with Anthony Giglio. As a presenter, Giglio is hilarious and informative, striking a delicate balance to keep the crowd entertained and learning.

The seminar started off on a good foot as, Giglio gave the crowd “what they really wanted at 10 a.m.” on opening day of the Food & Wine Classic: “A New York hangover cure” in the form of a chorizo, Spanish cheese and egg breakfast sandwich. This tasty breakfast sandwich was accompanied by six healthy pours of Spanish drinks ranging from Cava (which I learned is not the same as Prosecco), a gin called Gin Raw Gastronomic Gin out of Barcelona that I now am convinced I need to add to my home bar and, very fittingly for a morning seminar, a mimosa.

Two of the most important things I learned from Giglio is that if you see a waiter trying to open a bottle of something bubbly and they are pointing the bottle to you while balancing it against their thigh, they are doing it wrong … for a number of reasons that I don’t have the space to delve into here, and that “The first sip of any wine never counts.” That is a statement I can live by.

— Rose Laudicina, The Aspen Times