Planning One Helluva Party |

Planning One Helluva Party

Surrounded by thick binders full of schedules, Food & Wine special projects producer Devin Padgett thumbs through a 27+ page "to do" list Thursday morning June 2, 2005. "There's a lot of stuff to do," says Padgett, "We're now on a 16 month cycle. We're already working on the 2006 Food & Wine Classic." Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

The Food & Wine Magazine Classic at Aspen is one helluva party. Dont believe us? A quick rundown of what it takes to wine, dine and entertain 5,000 people for three days in Aspen should do the trick.With the help of Devin Padgett, the Aspen-based producer of special projects for Food & Wine magazine, weve compiled a to-do list of sorts for the annual festival. Its impressive, but then so is the Classic, the 23rd edition of which begins June 10 and runs through June 13.

The first Food & Wine Magazine Classic at Aspen was a small gathering held in a tent in a Snowmass Village parking lot. For years thereafter, the event was low-key, coordinated through a simple phone call from the magazine to the local chamber.Now, 23 years later, the Classic is the granddaddy of all food and wine festivals, according to Padgett, who has overseen the Aspen extravaganza for 17 years. Planning begins 18 months before the actual event with a year-round, skeleton staff of three. By June, that number including volunteers swells to more than 600.Its a big, big job, acknowledges Padgett. Its so big, in fact, that the events May 5-June 15, 2005, production schedule comprises 32 pages of things to do; it doesnt include the months of work beforehand or the weeks of cleanup afterward.

Needless to say, gathering the worlds top 50 culinary stars, wine experts and leading restaurateurs is no easy task. And its one that requires a great deal of planning. If you want to get people like Emeril and Wolfgang Puck here, you have to reach out months in advance, says Padgett. For example, Emeril Lagasse was invited to attend this years Classic 16 months ago. He accepted. The entire program, which includes 84 seminars and classes, is typically completed after Thanksgiving; print advertising begins in the February/March edition of Food & Wine magazine.

Key to the Classics growth and success over the years has been its relationship with Aspen: the people, the city, the restaurants, the lodges. But it hasnt always been easy 2,500 hotel rooms is no small block to book. So to ensure the events future, organizers realized a few years back that they had to get onto the calendar years make that decades in advance. Weve had to be real proactive in securing local venues and sites, which is a change from years past, explains Padgett. Everything is just so busy now that we have to be sure to work well in advance, to work hand in hand with the city, lodges, etc.Just how far in advance are we talking? Padgett says things are looking good for 2025 literally.

The Food & Wine Magazine Classic nearly doubles the population of Aspen in a matter of minutes. Its true: 5,000 attendees, plus more than 100 journalists and some 300 vintners and winemakers make up quite a crowd. And thered probably be more people in attendance if it were allowed.We capped the event at 5,000 in 1996, says Padgett, adding that consumer passes always sell out by early March. And we feel good with that number; we dont intend to grow it further.Equally high is the demand for exhibition space. According to Padgett, Food & Wine begins accepting exhibitor applications from food vendors and vintners after the first of the year; a wait list is usually in place by mid-February, with some 100 to 150 applicants turned away before all is said and done.By April 15, everything is sold out and finalized, says Padgett.Whew!

They say the devil is in the details, and in no situation is this more true than Food & Wine. Think about it: To put on the three-day party takes: 200,000 cocktail napkins 150,000 cups 100,000 plates 100,000 forks 34,000 wineglasses 1,000 corkscrewsNot to mention designing a custom dishwasher capable of washing 3,000 glasses per hour and re-creating kitchen stages for more than 80 cooking and wine-tasting demonstrations. In all, a full-time crew of more than two dozen men will unload 14 to 16 semi-trucks of supplies that are stored year-round in a massive downvalley warehouse. Then, post-festival, they must put it all away.

Wagner Park is ground zero for the Classic, with the daily Grand Tastings held under massive white tents. According to Padgett, more than 80,000 square feet of tented space is installed and then torn down each year. Within those walls, thousands of glasses of wine are poured, swirled, sipped and spit. Also imbibed: water some 50,000 bottles of Fiji water is chilled each year and coffee 750 pounds of beans are brewed annually. And to soak up the spirits: more than 1 ton of domestic and imported cheeses; 3,000 freshly baked baguettes; and 2,500 pounds of fresh fruit.Plus, its an international affair, with food and wine from countries all over the world, including Australia, Chile, Argentina, France, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Germany, South Africa, Spain and every major food region of the United States. Bon apptit, Aspen!

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