Foodstuff: A seat at the kids’ table at the Food & Wine Classic
The statement I’m about to make may well be counterintuitive to the entire premise of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, which rolled into town last weekend with an all-you-can-imagine buffet of some of the most inventive and audacious foods and drinks on any menus anywhere and rolled out of town with a hangover on Sunday.
My favorite meal of the entire Classic wasn’t some unexpected explosion of fruity flavor, or the most vibrant watercress I’ve ever had, or some ambitious take on something wholly out of the ordinary. It was the big plate of pasta and marinara, french fries and sliders, mini pizzas and sliced up veggies that were offered at the Limelight during the kickoff party on Wednesday night. I felt like I was eating at the kids’ table, and I loved it.
Familiar, simple foods ended up being a recurring theme throughout my bonanza Classic experience this year.
On Thursday, before the Classic had really even begun, I was so overwhelmed by the weekend ahead and an already-long week that I resorted to old reliable at dinnertime: a slice of cheese pizza and some french fries from Taste of Philly in Snowmass Village. It was a winning combo for the first Fanny Hill concert of the summer.
On Friday, after starting the morning with a wine tasting and spanish hams, what lured me in for lunch wasn’t molecular gastronomy but the comfort grub of CP Burger, where I was filming our WineInk columnist Kelly Hayes chatting it up with wine expert Mark Oldman. Though I had ordered a kale salad before they arrived, I couldn’t resist a falafel burger once I heard how much Oldman was enjoying his burger, fries and a shake.
For bites at some dear friends’ joint birthday party that night, potato chips, carrots and ranch dressing hit the spot. Nothing fancy or ambitious there, just the comfort of crunch from the fundamentals of after-school snacking.
On Saturday, mildly hungover and facing down a day of Food & Wine commitments that stretched from 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., the last thing I needed was a hundred different wines and dozens of food samples in the Grand Tasting Pavilion.
I went anyway and felt bombarded by dishes that I would have loved at a tasting dinner over two hours but found to be way, way too much to take in during the hour I had free between two interviews. I don’t think we were built to consume 20 of the most exquisite, one-of-a-kind culinary experiences in the industry in a span of a few hours or even a few days, let alone 60 minutes in the middle of work.
So, I gravitated, again, toward the familiar: fancy grilled cheeses, slices of pizza, chips and salsa and fruit sorbet. I went back to local chef Mawa McQueen’s table twice for the jollof rice, which was as comforting as it was delicious. Kerrygold drew me in with cheese cubes and bread, and a vacation home rental company handing out prepackaged cookies earned my appreciation when I enjoyed the soft snack later in the day, back at the office.
I appreciated, also, connecting with some friendly faces in the sea of people ebbing and flowing in the tent: a hello to Rose at Mawa’s, to Luisa at Stark’s Alpine Grill, to Maggie, dutifully manning one of the compost-recycle-trash bins, and to Hannah, who walked next to me mostly in dazed silence as we both wandered wide-eyed through the crowds.
Deep in the throes of sensory overload, it helped to identify a few things that weren’t entirely new and eye-popping.
Later that night, long after the tasting tent, two seminars, two interviews, two after-hours parties that turned into three because we stumbled into the wrong one first, all I wanted for dinner was noodles with butter and a little bit of pepper. Somewhere south of 1 a.m., it was exactly what I needed.
And then there was Sunday. Could it really be Sunday? Some, surely, were brunching extravagantly, or making the most out of their last wine tasting seminar of the weekend or scoping out what they might get to finagle as a take-home from the tasting tent.
You could find me in line at Paradise, seeking out a cinnamon roll like the ones I used to nosh as a kid when I tagged along with my dad to the coffee shop. I may have been royally toast, but by the time I made it to a Juneteenth celebration at Aspen Meadows Resort that afternoon, I had almost (almost) settled enough to relish some truly exquisite spicy tacos and other bites.