High Country: Cannabis makes culinary history at Food & Wine Classic
Upon legalization of adult-use cannabis in Colorado in 2014, an instant curiosity among regular revelers of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen begged the question of just how long it might take for the plant to play a role in official festivities. Five years later, cannabis has made history at the world’s preeminent festival for foodies.
For the first time, in its 37th year, the Food & Wine Classic welcomed two CBD companies, Grön CBD and Fleur d’Henri, as exhibitors in the Grand Tasting Pavilion, which plays host to the leading food, wine, spirits, travel and hospitality brands. Beyond the tents, Happy Planet CBD sponsored the Food & Wine Classic 5K Charity Race, where salve samples were at the ready for racers post-finish line. And while not discussed during her “Summer Entertaining” seminar, this year’s headlining guest Martha Stewart is even going green — albeit as a consultant for Canadian marijuana company Canopy Growth, where she is advising on development for a CBD line for people and their pets.
“Since legalization, we have talked about what was right for the audience and for the event,” explains Diella Allen, Food & Wine’s executive director of event marketing. “In the last year, utilization of CBD has become more popular and widely used in food and wellness products. We had several CBD brands apply to participate at the Classic this year and we selected three brands. All the products were zero-THC products.”
Acceptance from the Food & Wine magazine-produced event is an apex of awareness and is the highest stamp of approval the cannabis food and wellness movement has seen yet. Bringing more than 5,000 attendees — from industry luminaries and trade executives to “Top Chef” talent and in-crowd consumers — the opportunity for exposure is largely unrivaled.
“Being a part of Food & Wine is by far the most impactful of anything our company has ever done and is really groundbreaking for our industry. It feels like we just went to our first Oscars!” says Grön CBD founder and CEO Christine Smith. “We are so honored and so proud to represent cannabis … and represent it well.”
This sentiment is coming from a company whose products also made it into the gift bags at Kim Kardashian’s CBD-themed baby shower in April. Based in Portland, Oregon, Grön CBD was launched in 2017 to complement its original THC-infused line, which is available in more than 400 marijuana retailers across the state. Smith traded a 20-year career as an architect in 2014 to start her own sustainable, organic edibles brand, which sources its cannabis oil from a Tier II OLCC, Clean Green Certified grow facility on her own Skunk Valley Farm where she lives with her husband, who has long operated a Portland-area marijuana dispensary.
Smith credits the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill legalizing cannabis extracts derived from hemp, to joining what she calls a “bucket list event” a reality for Grön CBD: “Without that kind of acknowledgment from the federal government, we wouldn’t have been in Aspen. We are further down the road toward total legalization and it’s my job to be the best advocate I can. There is a lack of education and just a lot of noise around CBD, so our mission was to put this conversation on the biggest platform possible. Being at Food & Wine absolutely has done that for us.”
Jim Huffman has attended the Food & Wine Classic personally for a number of years and in starting Fleur d’Henri in January, the event was at the top of his team’s wish list. As executive vice president and general counsel, Huffman enlisted his son and daughter-in-law — both have years of Michelin star-rated restaurant experience — along with his daughter to create what he considers “the Rolls Royce of the CBD industry.”
Passholders pay up to $3,950 for three days of unlimited access to the Food & Wine Classic, which Huffman says, “Is just perfectly well-suited for Fleur d’Henri’s target demographic.
With one brick and mortar location in Colorado Springs and two planned to open in Denver in August, Huffman says, “The quality of our confections reflect that comparison. Our primary focus is offering a retail experience with our products because of the level of confusion there is today. To be able to answer a customer’s question directly and professionally is increasingly important.”
And it wasn’t just the Food & Wine Classic’s vetted partners that contributed to the CBD conversation this year. With the entirety of Aspen joining in on the culinary celebration, additional cannabis brands popped up around downtown seeking attendees’ attention. Denver-based Stillwater Brands hosted a private yoga class led by Aspen Shakti’s Jayne Gottlieb to give media and influencers a sneak peek of its new CBD-only powder Caliper, which launches nationwide in September; Rag & Bone set up a cocktail bar in-store thanks to a partnership with Shlomo’s Aspen and Toast, whose CBD tincture was spritzed atop drinks for thirsty shoppers; and Boulder-based Numb Nuts painted the town with sample packs of its just-launched CBD-infused, gourmet line of snacks.
Food & Wine Editor-in-Chief Hunter Lewis says of the explosive CBD trend, “We’re still in the Wild West phase with the food and beverage industry on the cutting edge of CBD and cannabis innovation, because it’s an agricultural product. The next 10 years will only bring more cultural acceptance, more governmental regulation and an incredible amount of research and investment. And we’ll see Big Food continue to acquire the best of the emerging brands to meet consumer demand.”
CBD has clearly taken center stage in the current mainstream event landscape, overshadowing the cannabis compound that does have a psychoactive effect on your mind. While Food & Wine organizers declined to comment on THC (despite the fact that alcohol is mind-altering, too, and championed here), what unfolded in Aspen this year will only propel the entire plant forward to having a permanent seat at the table.
Katie Shapiro can be reached at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @bykatieshapiro.