I'll never forget the first time I attended the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. It was the final year that Julia Child, the late, great American chef who demystified French cuisine -- and passed away in 2004 -- made an appearance at the annual Aspen culinary orgy, back when there was no Food Network, no effing Rachael Ray and no Top Chef...except for Child, whose booming voice and hilarious never-staged kitchen theatrics are still legendary.
Over the years, the Classic, now in its thirtieth year, has expanded tenfold, welcoming chefs, who we now call rock stars and celebrities, from all over the country, and this year, it's another star-studded affair. In fact, the lineup is better than it has been for decades.
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Which chefs and grape gurus are gracing glitterati gulch this year? Jose Andres, Mario Batali, Rick Bayless, John Besh, John Bettin, Richard Betts, Sissy Biggers, Sean Brock, Michael Chiarelli, Tom Colicchio, Giada De Laurentiis, Steve Dolinsky, Susan Feniger, Bobby Flay, Antonio Galloni, Anthony Giglio, Paul Grieco, Ray Isle, Johnny Iuzzini, Stephanie Izard, Daniel Joly, Thomas Keller, Christopher Kostow, Kate Krader, Bob Kramer, Megan Krigbaum, Emeril Lagasse, Niki Leondakis, Tim Love, Jim Meehan, Spike Mendelsohn, Danny Meyer, Michel Nischan, Marnie Old, Mark Oldman, Steve Olson, Jacques Pépin, Claudine Pépin, Paul Qui, Paul Roberts, Andrea Robinson, Marcus Samuelsson, Leslie Sbrocco, Gail Simmons, Bobby Stuckey, Michael Symon, Ming Tsai, Laura Werlin, Josh Wesson, Andrew Zimmern, and -- wait for it -- Grant Achatz, the chef/owner of Alinea, and if that name doesn't convince you to pony up the $1,225 price tag, then nothing will.
It's a hefty wad of cash, but it's worth every copper cent. And along with all the glitzy-ritzy parties, Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chefs dinner, appearances by Denver's own FIVE, dozens of cooking demos, wine tastings and grand tastings, which draw hordes of consumers to the town's white-tented wine halls, there are several new events this year: a late-night blowout dessert bash with Johnny Iuzzini and Top Chef: Just Desserts host Gail Simmon; a 5K charity run with Bobby Flay, the proceeds of which will benefit Grow for Good, which supports local and sustainable agriculture; and a thirtieth anniversary gala with live music (Tom Colicchio, by the way, plays in a band, and if you can get past the bodyguards at the private parties, he puts on a good show).