Reporters’ notebook Day 2: Champagne and caviar, Creole and Caribbean, and even a little cheese at the Food & Wine Classic

A simple approach to champagne and caviar

Ariel Arce, dubbed the “champagne empress of Manhattan” debuted her complex yet approachable ways into champagne and caviar at this weekend’s seminars where six wines and three caviars were paired.

Here are some fun facts and not-so-fun facts about both delicacies:

On the fish egg front, a lot of people don’t realize that all different types of sturgeon are producing all different types of caviar and they all have different flavor profiles.

Kalauga Imperial caviar, which was one of three tasted in Arce’s seminar, is farmed from China. The country is the leading producer of this one product, which you will see on every single three-star Michelin caviar.

Ariel Arce at Friday’s seminar.
Carolyn Sackariason

Arce told the crowd that while Friday’s tasting procedure was to put a little caviar on a potato chip and wash it down with champagne, a more fun (perhaps Aspen) way is to scoop it out of the jar and put it on your hand and suck it off like a little bump, which drew a collective laugh.

On the bubbly side, the region of champagne was decimated in the 1980s, according to Arce.

“There was some really dumb thought out there that if you put trash in the vineyards it would actually reflect the sun when it got very hot out and the region of champagne is littered with garbage,” she said, noting that winemakers are trying to undo what was done and be more sustainable on the land.

Arce started a direct-to-consumer caviar company in the past year after her restaurants suffered during the pandemic.

“I was having to be creative and pivot for survival,” she said. “It was not fun.”

But she realized that people wanted to buy caviar during COVID-19 and it’s been a hit ever since. Arce is the author of “Better with Bubbles” and her caviar website is

— Carolyn Sackariason, The Aspen Times

Chef Kwame Onwuachi hugs Raina Esters at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Creating a taste of home

Kwame Onwuachi started off cooking in his mother’s kitchen at about five years old before being sent to Nigeria on a what was pitched as a two week vacation to visit his grandfather when he was around 10 years old – “It was a two year punishment to teach me what I have here in America and what to appreciate, the small things like running water, electricity, things that we take for granted every single day.”

“That experience directly translated to the career path that I eventually took,” he said.

Now, at 31 years young, Onwuachi is leading his own Food & Wine Classic seminar in Aspen, and it’s an homage to his heritage, “Tasting Home: Afro-Caribbean Cuisine.”

The Friday afternoon seminar was quick-paced and informative and showcased not only the chef’s creativity and talent but also his playfulness and genuine desire to get to know the audience and give them a chance to get to know him.

The audience was treated to Onwuachi cooking up a Creole dish, Étouffée, to honor his mom along with a Caribbean dish.

But attendees left with a lot more information then just cooking techniques and new recipes. We also learned that one of Onwuachi’s favorite movies is “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” he doesn’t like coleslaw, he is coming out with a nail polish line in the future – the color he was wearing during the seminar he said was called “chef’s kiss” – the chef’s preferred cocktail is a gin and tonic with a little bit of elderflower and his favorite condiment is ketchup. (In fact, he loves ketchup so much, the Heinz company is creating a ketchup cologne just for him.)

So now, if you’re ever in a Kwame Onwuachi-themed trivia round, you’ll have a head start to some of the answers.

– Rose Laudicina, The Aspen Times

Chef Brooke Williamson toasts the crowd after her grilled cheese seminar during the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Blurred grill lines

I finally have been requisitioned to cover a food seminar. Granted, it was Brooke Williamson’s “Not Your Mama’s Grilled Cheese,” so not even an idiot like me could mess that up, hypothetically.

Wendsleydale? Gruyere? Halliburton? No, just two dozen slices of good ol’ American singles on white bread drenched in mayonnaise and a lukewarm griddle, that’s the secret. It was like watching take acid at 9:30 a.m. and try to sit on its own whoopee cushion.

Williamson presented some culinary tricks definitely out of my purview, such as using fish sauce in your homemade caramel coating instead of, I don’t know, Smucker’s? If you haven’t realized already, my kitchen vocabulary is limited. Like, you lost me at “bring to a boil.” I don’t know why the sores on my back need to examine the progress, but whatever.

“Everyone here has had breakfast, right?” Williamson asked. “Noooo,” the crowd droned. But please, continue.

I don’t exactly know what I was expecting, but probably something like “Great British Baking Show” with every participant having a mini table and spatula and Easy Bake Oven to make their own lil’ grilled cheese squares.

At least we probably won the tent crowd scream-off against the denizens of Guy Fee-Eddy’s “how to drink in the mornings” lecture. As if we didn’t already know.

– Ben Welch, The Aspen Times

Chef Brooke Williamson presents her final grilled cheese with fried onion rings during her seminar at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)