The annual Food & Wine Classic that takes place in Aspen every June is known in industry circles as the epicurean equivalent of the Olympics. And given that the festival features more than 72 hours of pure excess, one certainly needs to be in peak physical form in order to go the distance. But late on Sunday afternoon, when most attendees had packed up their swag and headed for home to nurture their hangovers, the true hardcore partiers descended on what might qualify as the most debaucherous event of the weekend: the swine- and booze-fueled bacchanal known as Grand Cochon.
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Founded by the father of the heritage pork movement, Brady Lowe, 2013 marked the five-year anniversary of Grand Cochon, the equivalent of the NBA finals for ten rock-star chefs staging an epic cookoff, in hopes of being crowned the Queen of King of Porc.
The event is the culmination of the year-long, nationwide Cochon 555 tour, which pits regional culinary competitors against each other to find out who's pork preparation skills are tops. As if the prospect of sampling your way through what our best count registered as more than sixty tastes of porcine-infused snacks isn't tempting enough, there's the lure of all-you-can-drink beer, bourbon and of course, wine to make this event truly off the chain.
Read on for a recap of this year's Grand Cochon -- and start training for your 2014 attendance now.
Prepare to feast: Tickets to Grand Cochon tend to sell out quickly, so you'll want to score yours early. VIP pricing is $200 (compared to the basic ticket price of $150), but you'll definitely want to fork over the extra fifty clams. Why? Because your VIP pass provides you with a precious 45 extra minutes to explore the event before the general admission throng descends upon the tables in the Hotel Jerome ballroom like hundreds of hungry vultures. Also? We strongly recommend an event day juice-only fast. This will likely turn out to be a futile attempt to prepare your body for the onslaught of pork and booze, but it's worth a shot.
Have a plan: Due to the comically over-the-top nature of this event, you'll want to give some serious thought to your survival strategy. Keep these facts in mind: There are ten chef stations representing the best restaurants in the country, each proffering anywhere from three to six pork-based bites. Circle the room once to familiarize yourself with each chef's dish, then zone in on those that will tantalize your palate best. While you're scoping out the food, take note of the various alcoholic drink choices, too -- they're staged somewhat randomly throughout the venue -- to be sure you get to imbibe all your favorite bevvies.
Drink (somewhat) responsibly: As previously mentioned, your Grand Cochon ticket affords you the opportunity to wash down all that pork with an insane amount of booze. And there is truly something to satisfy everyone's palate: Veritable barrels full of bourbon from craft makers like Breckenridge Mountain Whiskey, Four Roses and Buffalo Trace; mezcal from Fidencio, Illegal Mezca and Pierde Almas; and (naturally) our favorite, wine of all varieties and styles. Our preferred pours came from Robert Kacher Selections, who wisely offered several choices of riesling and rosé, the hands-down best pairing partners for pork.
Pace yourself: If you have any intention of leaving the Grand Cochon under your own steam (and believe us when we say when saw plenty of peeps who did not), you'd be wise not to attempt to eat and drink everything that's actually available for consumption. The event spans three full hours (assuming you start at the VIP entrance time of 3 p.m.), which equates to 180 minutes of stuffing your gullet. Grand Cochon vets make sure to take a breather between booths and drink plenty of H20.
Revisit your faves: Attendees are asked to vote for their favorite chefs by collecting tokens from the tables of their top picks, then dropping them into the community token bucket for counting by the festival organizers. By the second hour of feasting, what you sampled during your first lap will be but a distant memory. Make your way back to the top three or four dishes you loved best and try them again. Don't be surprised if you have a tough time settling on a favorite, but you'll have a helluva good time trying.
Pick a winner, then go whole hog: Once you've cast your vote, it's time to wait for the ceremonial crowning of the winning chef. This will take some time -- and it's also the most frenetic (by which we mean ridiculously fun) part of the event. Shots of pork-infused Fernet will be consumed; spontaneous flirtation with Top Chef alums will occur; photos with winemakers sporting nifty T-shirts will be taken. And you will continue to consume more food than you thought humanly possible.
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Get your after-party on (and on): After watching chef Adam Sobel of San Francisco's RN74 receive his well-deserved crown, attendees stumbled walked out of the Jerome headed for an assortment of afterparties around town. While this may strike you as a bit ambitious, after you attend next year's event you'll see why these spontaneous gatherings offer the most prized interactions of all. Because it's there that you can relive all the best parts of the gorge-fest with the new best friends you've made, possibly consume a fistful of caviar, and start plotting your return visit to Grand Cochon at the 2014 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.