Celebrity chefs and the people who love them gathered this past weekend for the 34th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Hundreds of purveyors and tasters parlayed in the tall white tents, a setup that mimicked the towering mountains behind the scene. Top talent such as Marcus Samuelsson, Andrew Zimmern, Anne Burrell and Richard Blais hosted demonstrations, while skilled sommeliers from around the country poured glass after glass of amazing wines. Some Colorado chefs also made the scene, including Fruition's Alex Seidel, Paul Reilly of Beast + Bottle and Justin Brunson from Old Major and Masterpiece Deli. It's safe to say that none went hungry or thirsty during these three days of extravagant excess, but some things really stood out among the others.
10. American Express Trade Talks
For 27 years, American Express has hosted some of the brightest minds in the hospitality industry to discuss what's going on with the business. This year proved no different as three lectures were offered, featuring Tony Mantuano (chef and partner at Spiaggia in Chicago), celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern, chef Wylie Dufresne, culinary personality Tyler Florence and more. The thoughtful seminars dealt with the challenges of remaining relevant in the ever-changing landscape of the restaurant world; the importance of a mentor-mentee relationship; and how technology has impacted the restaurant business.
9. Blackberry Farm Showed Up
It's not often that this esteemed Tennessee restaurant hosts a dinner on top of Aspen Mountain, but luckily for us, that's exactly what happened this year. A majority of the ingredients were brought straight from the restaurant's 4,200-acre estate, which allowed chefs Cassidee Dabney, Sarah Steffan and Josh Feathers to whip up an amazing multi-course feast of Southern delights. But before the dinner commenced, guests were treated to the venue's superb charcuterie and a spread of handmade sheep's-milk cheeses. Then, as we gathered around the white-linen-draped tables, they served one of the late Sam Bealls's favorite snacks: freshly made potato chips with caviar-laden creme fraiche and a glass of champagne. Following that, we had a crisp pea salad with cheese curds, preserved lemon and Kentucky colonel mint; a family-style mesh of grilled North Carolina trout and Elysian Fields lamb; and sweet-tea-brined fried chicken. All of the food was paired with a superb wine portfolio provided by importer Eric Soloman.
8. Foraging Maroon Bells
At the Caribou Club in Aspen, chef Miles Angelo frequently utilizes the fresh herbs and plants growing around town in his American dishes. This past weekend he teamed up with Celebrity Cruises president of food and beverage operations, chef Cornelius Gallagher, and toured around Maroon Bells for ingredients to make an epic feast. Gallagher did the cooking as Angelo showed viewers what plants were edible and what should be avoided. The end meal consisted of amazing sandwiches from the restaurant as well as freshly caught brown trout with just-gathered wood sorrel, violets and honey.
7. Mini Jimmy's
One of the hottest places to eat and drink when not in the tents is Jimmy's. For the last few years, this celebrated institution has also featured Mini Jimmy's, a pop-up cocktail bar hosted by famed New York speakeasy PDT. Skilled bartender Jeff Bell took over the tiny bar, which is actually inside the bigger bar's coat closet. Each night guests made thirty-minute, four-person reservations to sip on craft cocktails like Benton's Old Fashioneds. And when the party outside is really going, the mini-speakeasy feels way more roomy than the big one.
6. Pork & Co. Party
When skilled chefs such as Justin Brunson (of Old Major, Masterpiece Deli and Masterpiece Kitchen), Adam Sappington (chef and owner of the Country Cat in Portland), and Jason Alley, co-owner and chef of the Virginia restaurants Comfort and Pasture, start piling on the pork, there is nothing one can do but dig in. At this special lineup, hosted by the National Pork Board, guests walked through a fragrant, smoke-filled porch before making their way to the main room, where the real feast waited. This included bowls of pimento cheese with pickles, smoked pork loin, grilled stone fruit, carnitas tacos and more salads than one would expect at a pork party, each one worthy of its place on the table. To make it even better, they also served up succulent raw oysters from Rappahannock Oyster Co. out of Virginia.
5. Strawberries from Kerrygold
Though you might not think of a simple berry as being a highlight in the land of any-food-possible, the baskets of bright ruby fruits scattered around the tasting tents proved a delectable break from the overabundance of fat, umami, salt, sugar and booze. The flavor: perfect. The texture: amazing. The way the berries cleansed your palate and made way for another round of pulled-pork sliders: priceless. The strawberries also went awfully good with the chunks of Irish-made Kerrygold cheddar served right alongside.
4. That View
There is something about eating in beautiful places that just makes the food taste better. Nothing could be truer when it comes to dining in Aspen, a place of such splendor that you can't throw a stick without aiming it at something jaw-dropping. During the festival, numerous events took place on Aspen Mountain, a location only accessible by taking the gondola up, up and up to the top. That part alone offers a stunning vista, but once you've reached your destination, the loveliness that surrounds the area is incomparable.
3. Wine at the Mine
On a normal day, Smuggler Mine in Aspen is closed to the public, but this isn't the case for the fourth annual Wine at the Mine, hosted by Infinite Monkey Theorem. The main booze provider was the Denver urban winery, but the event also showcased Oskar Blues for beer fans. On the food side, plenty of Denver eateries made the scene, including RiNo Yacht Club, Blackbelly Market, Table 6 and Basta. Guests arrived via shuttle to the historic spot, and from there were treated to plenty of vino and a really cool atmosphere in which to enjoy it. This annual event is one of the most unique of the festival, and a good way to experience a side of Aspen not even the locals get to see too often. Discovered in 1879, Smuggler Mine remains the oldest still-working silver mine in the area.
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2. Wines of Spain
Wine is good, but when the opportunity to try various Spanish wines side by side presents itself, well, that's something else. This proves especially true when it comes to the amazing lineup that Wines of Spain hosted. In fact, the organization had a whole pavilion to itself, the perfect way to really showcase the variety of vinos coming out of the country. This included various sherries, Tempranillo, wines from Rioja and many samplings from big wineries such as Ramon Bilbao and Las Rocas — plus Spanish cheese, tapas and other culinary staples.
1. Yes Way, Rosé
From the top of Aspen Mountain to inside the white tents to captivating seminars, everywhere you turned this year, there were bottles and glasses filled with glorious shades of pink wine. Sommelier Jordan Salcito, beverage director for Momofuku restaurants and founder of Bellus Wines, led a couple vibrant discussions on the vino in her Yes Way, Rosé talks. In the tents you found all sorts of gorgeous rosés being poured, such as Elouan from Oregon and pink bubbles by Chateau de Bligny. We even found glasses of Francis Coppola Sofia Rosé being poured at a salon. With all that pink, we are fairly certain this will be the summer of rosé.