Food & Wine Classic: Reporters’ notebook |

Food & Wine Classic: Reporters’ notebook

Staff report
People fill Wagner Park Friday for the Food & Wine Grand Tasting.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

With the 34th annual Food & Wine Classic weekend behind us, The Aspen Times reflects on some of the highlights from the weekend.

Mission accomplished

My palate is about as unrefined as they get, so if it weren’t for the fact that edible things fill my belly and keep me from starving, events like the Food & Wine Classic would be almost completely lost on me. You could sell me an $80 steak and a $20 glass of wine, or you could just smother five 20s in mustard. That still doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with feeding a hungry guy on a Sunday afternoon. Cheers, Food & Wine!

— Evan Gibbard

Drooling in style

With hundreds of wines only a fingerpoint and a smile away, it’s hard to pick favorites at the Food & Wine Classic Grand Tasting. But when you play those odds, it’s also inevitable some are going to be less than palatable.

This is the position I found myself in while sipping the flavors of my grandparents’ basement Saturday at Wagner Park. This wine really had it all: the musty bouquet of asbestosy shag carpet and the balance of — well, many people stumbling out of the tents after the tasting.

I looked up from my glass. There was only one way out. It was time to put the “spit” in “spittoon.”

What I thought I looked like was a cowboy showing off in an old-time saloon. What I actually looked like was an idiot with drool running down his chin.

That really is the spirit of the Food & Wine Classic weekend: expanding your horizons. Sometimes that means trying a new cabernet or zinfandel, and sometimes it means getting comfortable with slobbering in front of rich people.

— Benjamin Welch

Still in bed

Disclaimer: I’m writing this in what I’d like to think of as a modern notebook — my cellphone — from bed Sunday morning because, well, Food & Wine weekend did me good.

So here goes:

Two words to describe the Grand Tasting: sensory overload.

I attended the Friday morning/early afternoon tasting to shoot video for our website and therefore resisted fully indulging in all that it had to offer, which begged one question: how is everyone not overwhelmingly full?

Shout-out to all the chefs who sweat their butts off working to prepare such amazing delicacies and allow us consumers to stuff our faces.

I’d also like to give a shout-out to local chef Susie Jimenez and Sportsman Channel host/producer Scott Leysath for three days of Aspen Chefs’ House.

Jimenez hosts the event every year as a way for Aspen locals without F&W passes to be able to partake in and enjoy the weekend, as well.

My first interaction with Jimenez occurred last Tuesday, when I reached out to her via email about interviewing her for a feature story in our paper.

Jimenez obliged, and without even knowing me, offered me to two tickets for her event, which was lovely.

As a side note, the party’s swag bag was so heavy and chock full of swag that the paper bag actually ripped on my walk home.

I’m going to go ahead and deem than one an #Aspenproblem.

Of all the events throughout the weekend, I’d have to say that my favorite was the Smuggler Mine party. Because where but Aspen can you wine, dine and mine, all at the same time?

On that note, I’m going back to bed for a little.

­ — Erica Robbie

Seafood goes with bubbly

I’m from the East Coast and have had access to fresh seafood all my life; however, I’ve never really been a big fan of food from the ocean — or so I thought. So when I chose to attend a seminar called “A Celebration of Champagne & New England” as a kickoff to my Food & Wine Classic experience, I was surprised at my adventurous decision. I’ll admit I was drawn to the word “Champagne” in the title and convinced myself that there is more to New England than just seafood. I will be fine, and if nothing else will enjoy a liquid breakfast.

Turns out I like seafood, and I especially like it paired with sparkling wine, prosecco and rose Champagne. From this seminar with chef Anthony Cole, I learned that I am happy to join the clean plate club when a lobster roll, topped with caviar no less, is in front of me. I learned from master sommelier Carlton McCoy that it is worth it to spend a little extra cash on a nice bottle of sparkling wine or prosecco rather than spending that money on a mediocre bottle of Champagne. And I learned that being willing to try new things can often leave you surprised in the best way, giving you a whole new world, or in my case ocean, of things to explore.

— Rose Anna Laudicina

Memorable moments

How best to sum up Heritage Fire? Event founder Brady Lowe over the loudspeaker at the second annual meat-fest: “Got the meat sweats yet?”

Best late-night bite: Legit Monte Cristo at Thursday night’s Magnum Party at the Jerome.

In the spirit of Swine & Wine, seminar attendees mixed and matched pork and grape to the country sounds of Roger Miller. Chug a lug, chug a lug, chug a lug …

A new movie-night snack, thanks to “Pop! Sparkling Wine & Popcorn”: Skinny Pop white cheddar popcorn coated with lemon-infused oil, sprinkled with sea salt and washed back with a bubbling glass of prosecco.

Top takeaways from Stella Artois’ “Host One to Remember”: “Pour with vigor” and “foam is flavor.”

— Jeanne McGovern

Is it the altitude?

Despite Heritage Fire in Snowmass kicking off the Food & Wine Classic weekend Thursday night, folks seemed bright-eyed and bushy tailed for the first Grand Tasting on Friday morning. Not for long, though! The culinary bacchanal was just as spectacular as we envisioned, and though plenty of people lamented a lack of substantial food, I found some great bites at Aria Resort & Casino Las Vegas, Celebrity Cruises and Chef’s Club Best New Chefs, especially. Again this year, the Spain tent and Lexus courtyard with Patron popsicle stand were hot spots.

Meanwhile, Susie Jimenez and Scott Leysath launched the Aspen Chef’s House on West Hallam Street, where they showcased some spicy bites with wild game and seafood, including marinated elk skewers with gorgonzola compound butter, curried halibut ceviche, and mussels and oysters over summer slaw.

Nilou Motamed, brand-new editor of Food & Wine magazine, had a major “pinch-myself, blown-away moment” in moderating the panel discussion “America’s Obsession with Food” to a packed tent in Paepcke Park on Saturday afternoon. Her question: How did we turn into a nation of flavor-crazed, Instagram-every-bite foodies?

“I can interview the vice president, but people always ask me: “Can you tell me that five-ingredient recipe?” said “Today’s Take” NBC morning show host Tamara Hall, who even admitted she orders Blue Bell ice cream from her home state of Texas — for delivery to Manhattan.

“Food is safe — democratic,” noted Jacques Pepin. People might not be able to talk politics, but most everyone comes together over food. Chris Consentino showed Pepin the worn cookbooks that inspired his career.

“Food is the connective tissue in a world designed to divide us,” he quipped. Indeed.

The fifth annual Wine at the Mine bash Saturday evening drew hundreds of revelers to party in and around Smuggler Mine, which was even wilder than in years past. Grilling stations, booze buffets, hard-hat mine tours, and the silent disco were all in full effect until midnight when partiers descended the mountain to continue celebrating in town.

How do we rally all day and all night for four-plus epic days of eating, drinking and merrymaking? Must be something about the altitude.

— Amanda Rae

Pacing oneself is a relative idea

Where to begin? Food & Wine Classic weekend, round two, is officially over. I look back over the course of the weekend and I’m amazed I made it out alive. Thursday night began with the St. Regis welcome reception, where I finally got to meet Top Chef Season 13 winner Jeremy Ford of Miami Beach. I’m a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native, so meeting this chef and tasting his incredible herbacious lemongrass broth with sashimi was pure heaven.

I then headed over to the Wines from Spain party, where Albarino, blood sausage and chorizo made for perfect bites. I capped off the night with Champagne and fried chicken at The Little Nell, listening to DJ Mayfly rock beats late into the night.

Even though I planned to pace myself this year, it was abundantly clear by Friday morning that pacing oneself during Food & Wine Classic weekend is a relative idea. Good thing I had a bachelorette party in New York City under my belt from last weekend.

On Friday, I listened to host Andrew Zimmern lead a discussion about adaptation in the restaurant business. Later that evening, I headed to Pinions, where I dined with winemaker Sebastian Zuccardi, Besserat Champagne export manager Matthieu Luneau, and Winesellers distributors based in Chicago. I learned about the passion of a third-generation winemaker — Zuccardi — and truly understood why small-production wineries are so special.

On Saturday, Mark Oldman kicked off the weekend with his Wines for IPO Trillionaires seminar, where I downed $10,000 in wine in less than an hour at 10 a.m. From there, the Grand Tasting offered more of a buzz, before a burger at Jimmy’s Bodega helped me wash it all down and soak up the booze. A jaunt over to a private party hosted by Susie Jimenez, followed by another hosted by Momofuku Milk Bar owner and pastry chef Christina Toso, provided some downtime — sort of. After cream cheese-filled bagels, truffles, crack pie and other treats at the St. Regis, it was time for a nap and a shower.

Upon waking up, I doubted whether attending the Smuggler Wine at the Mine party was a good idea, but pulled it together for the big occasion. It was the best decision of the entire weekend. The invite-only party is one-of-a-kind. There are food tents and Infinite Monkey Theorem wines, all set against the backdrop of Smuggler Mine overlooking the city of Aspen. It’s truly one of the best events of the entire year.

On Sunday, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to watch Jeremy Ford — who’s extremely easy on the eyes — cook corn ravioli and fresh burrata in a demonstration at the cooking tent. Top that off with the final Grand Tasting of the weekend and you’ve got a flawless Food & Wine Classic weekend. My body might need a diet and a strict cleanse, but it was all worth it and I can’t wait until next year.

— Lauren Glendenning

Cool rosé

I have always viewed rosé as that dark pink drink that you chug out of a box by the pool in Las Vegas. When I saw that Jordan Salcito, the beverage director for the Momofuko group was leading, “Yes Way, Rosé,” I knew I had to give it another look. And she didn’t disappoint. The lesson: rosés that are made with intention can be complex, versatile and as Eric Railsback of Lieu Dit Winery says, “badass.” Not gonna lie, I have never put rosé and badass in the same sentence but I just might. Favorite takeaway: if you freeze rosé into ice cubes and throw them into a glass by the pool, it will stay refreshingly cool without watering it down. And speaking of cool, according to Railsback, if you’re one of those people who buys “s—-y wine,” the key is to “chill the hell out of it,” which will make it taste better. #roseallday

— Samantha Johnston

New presenters?

Did anybody else see the two tipsy ladies attack the security guard with their blow-up balloon swords at the Grand Tasting on Saturday afternoon? Let’s give these entertaining imbibers a seminar next year.

— Andrew Travers

“Cheese crack”

James Beard Award-winning author and queen of cheese Laura Werlin hosted an East Coast versus West Coast cheese tasting Friday morning, pitting four samples from each side of the U.S. against one another in a seminar that would make Tupac and Biggie proud. The winner, for this reporter, was a Tarentaise Reserve from Springbrook Farm in Vermont — a garlicky, crystallized cow-milk cheese Werlin described as “cheese crack, because it’s kind of addictive.”

— Andrew Travers


Sparking wines and popcorn are two of my very favorite things. Attending a session that speaks to both — heaven under a white-topped tent. I love all sparklings, but I’m a huge fan of prosecco — its just easy on the palate, you can drink it with anything and there’s a price point for every buyer. Today’s session featured the Mionetto Cartizze, which was delightful – very subtle yeast, tiny bubbles and an undertone of fruit (peach, maybe?). Not too dry, not too sweet, just lovely.

— Samantha Johnston

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