Martha Stewart has capacity crowd engaged at her first Food & Wine Classic in Aspen
Martha Stewart came to the Food & Wine Classic for the first time and performed a solid stand-up comedy set Friday morning for a capacity crowd.
Stewart’s charm and dry wit were on full display during her only seminar at her inaugural classic. Stewart, 77, effortlessly gave a 45-minute how-to on “Summer Entertaining,” and while people came for the lessons, they left with a smile after a barrage of one-liners and stories all while making a clambake with lobsters, a dessert and three summer drinks.
“I hope you don’t mind me making jokes,” Stewart said about 15 minutes into her set. “Because it’s early in the morning and we should all be laughing.”
That alone drew a rousing round of applause that was almost as loud as when she was introduced by Food & Wine magazine Editor Hunter Lewis, who thanked the crowd at the St. Regis ballroom for “standing in line for the queen.”
A longtime visitor and downhill skier at Aspen, Stewart has a stronger connection with the event after the company that publishes Martha Stewart Living magazine, Meredith Corp., acquired Food & Wine magazine.
Long before the morning session started, people were standing in a line that stretched out a side door of the St. Regis then downhill on Mill Street toward Wagner Park. That line got so long, a second “auxiliary line” was started on the block going up Mill Street.
Karen Roy of Plymouth, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod Bay got to the hotel more than two hours before the 10 a.m. start and was at the front of the line with her friend.
“We were the first ones here. We got here about 10 minutes of 8 in the morning,” Roy said while she waited behind the velvet rope at the top of the stairs leading down to the 350-person ballroom venue. “We got right over here because we knew it would be busy.”
Roy, a private chef who also runs a construction company with her husband, said she got Stewart’s first book, “Entertaining,” as a wedding gift in the early 1980s. Stewart’s session Friday came from her latest collection, the 95th book she’s released in her storied career.
“Will I ever see Martha Stewart again?” Roy said. “I love to cook. … I’m going to be in the front row paying attention.”
Stewart’s appearance in Aspen this year, said Lewis, was important because of the reach of their two publications and how they align.
“Everything that she puts her hand on is gold. Martha is just so cool and so talented,” Lewis said Thursday night at the Food & Wine opening party. “We always look at what that mix of talent is. You’re going to see some other fresh faces here, too. We’re always trying to think about that right mix.
“It’s kind of like writing a menu. You can’t have all the same thing. You can’t have all the same people. You need to mix up the talent, mix up the skillsets.”
And it doesn’t need much explaining what talent and skills Stewart has brought to the food and entertaining culture.
Asking other longtime chefs and wine experts about Stewart making her first appearance at the Classic can be similar to asking pro golfers about the return of Tiger Woods. They all see the contribution they have made in their chosen fields, but sometimes it might seem like too much focus on one person.
Not so, many said at Thursday’s opening reception, where Stewart made a quick visit, fashionably late, standing on the red carpet for less than five minutes before heading back out.
“She’s really good at food and wine, and it’s hard to ignore that. Although she has a sordid past, you have to move on from that,” said Andy Chabot, who is the sommelier and food and beverage director at Blackberry Farm in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. “She’s an amazing person. And she’s very down to Earth when you talk to her. She’s come to Blackberry a few times. We love her.”
Stewart spent a well-publicized five months in a minimum-security federal prison starting in 2004 after being found guilty of numerous felony charges including lying to investigators about a stock sale. It was an experience that was “horrifying” and a “very, very awful thing,” she said in an interview last year on Katie Couric’s podcast.
Her comeback started shortly after that, and has morphed into a number of genres, including a cooking show with rapper Snoop Dogg, a visitor to Aspen’s Belly Up the past few years and a performer at the 2015 Winter X Games.
During Friday’s Q&A with the audience, Stewart was asked what the favorite thing she shares with Snoop. A question she gets a lot since their unlikely pairing for the cooking show, Stewart didn’t hesitate to continue to placate the capacity crowd.
“Maybe a little smoke. A particular kind of smoke, not a barbecue smoke,” she joked, while making it clear she does not partake in the offers. “Snoop is a lot of fun to work with, and we have a great time doing the show.”
With her food editor of 20 years, Sarah Carey, at her side, Stewart spent the 45 minutes effortlessly moving from talking about her disdain for text messaging to preparing crepes flambe with cognac for her porters “who did not do a very good job of cooking” while she was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to stories about her parents, children and grandchildren.
Stewart said she carried a few small bottles of cognac in her pack on the 1993 trip.
“This was up at about 16,000 feet, and when I poured in the cognac and lit it, the flames went like 30 feet high,” she told Friday’s crowd. “They thought it was magic.”
She told a touching story about still having her mother’s first electric mixer that her father bought which “transformed their lives” for her and her five siblings. She talked about her daughter taking her to Tasmania (“why, I don’t know”) and her grandchildren teaching their friends how to use an empty mussel shell as a tool to get out the next mussel.
“It’s very elegant,” she said as the crowd roared. “And then to see these kids teach their friends, it’s so cute.”
Suffice to say, Stewart’s first Food & Wine appearance was a hit. When she told the crowd she “hopes they invite me back again,” many in the room already knew the answer.