All the Denver Chefs We Spotted at Aspen Food & Wine 2024 | Westword

All the Local Culinary Talent We Spotted at Aspen Food & Wine

The event is filled with celebrity chefs, but the Denver scene was well-represented.
Inside the grand tasting tent at Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.
Inside the grand tasting tent at Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Molly Martin
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The 41st annual Food & Wine Classic, which took place in Aspen June 14-16, was packed with national food names, including the current Top Chef finalists (they didn't give up any spoilers about who will win this year's competition) and such longtime television staples as Andrew Zimmern, Tyler Florence and Tom Colicchio.

The festivities included the traditional Grand Tasting tent with its seminars, where attendees sipped wine with experts, learned about everything from summer grilling (from three-time James Beard award winner Gregory Gourdet) to reinventing retro comfort foods (from Kristin Kish, who made her debut as Top Chef host this year).

But much of the action at the Food & Wine Classic happens at the many parties and pop-ups that take place all over town. We spotted Maneet Chauhan leaving a Birdcall-sponsored caviar and champagne party with a bucket of fried chicken in hand, and Food & Wine's culinary director-at-large, Justin Chapple, going hard on the dance floor at a Virgin Island-themed party at the top of the gondola.
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Bobby Stuckey (left) was honored at the event's kickoff party.
Molly Martin
We also saw a lot of familiar faces, since the Denver scene showed up big time. The weekend kicked off on Thursday, June 13, with a welcome party where Frasca Hospitality Group founder and master sommelier Bobby Stuckey was presented with the second annual mentorship award by Food & Wine editor Hunter Lewis. The first person to get the award last year was culinary legend Jacques Pépin, so Stuckey is in very good company.

The award was a saber. "I think you know how to use this," Lewis joked.
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Il Porcellino's cured meats were popular in the Grand Tasting tent.
Molly Martin
On June 14, people lined up early to get into the first Grand Tasting session, where free-flowing wine, spirits and food of all kinds were served by brands from around the world. We spotted some Colorado favorites, including Longmont's Dry Land Distillers, Boulder-based Justin's Peanut Butter, and Pinemelon, the local grocery delivery business that launched in Denver in 2022 and is planning to expand to other cities soon.

One of the longer lines in the tent was at the Il Porcellino Salumi table, which was overflowing with cured meats. In January, founder Bill Miner made the call to close his Tennyson Street retail shop and deli in order to focus on the wholesale side of his business. "It's the best decision I ever made," he told us, adding that he's happy the Blackbelly team was able to take over his former space and continue serving the neighborhood.
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If you find yourself in Aspen, make a stop at Westy's for some pizza and beer.
Molly Martin
In December, Westbound & Down acquired Aspen Brewing and Capitol Creek Brewing. While it has plans to revamp the Aspen brewpub, it's currently open as Westy's, where it's serving tavern-style pies and fresh salads along with plenty of beer and a solid cocktail menu.

During the Food & Wine Classic, Westy's hosted an oyster and wine pop-up on its patio. Chef Casey Taylor, who oversees the food at all the Westbound & Down locations, was shucking at the packed event. While you can't usually order bivalves at this location, if you find yourself in Aspen, you can (and should) stop by for a taste of these pizzas, which are made using flour from Boulder's Dry Storage to create a dough that's fermented for 48 hours. We also loved the Little Gem salad with a spicy Calabrian chile vinaigrette that's currently on the menu.
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Kelly Whitaker brought all of his chefs to Aspen for the Food & Wine Classic.
Molly Martin
Fresh off his huge James Beard win for best restaurateur in the country, Id Est Hospitality founder Kelly Whitaker was carrying his medal around town and rightfully soaking up a lot of praise while also praising Erika, his wife and business partner, for finally getting the recognition she deserves for the big part she's played in building the company.

We ran into Kelly Whitaker for the first of many times at a pop-up inside Hooch, a subterranean cocktail bar. He'd brought the chefs from each of his restaurants (Basta, Brutø, the Wolf's Tailor and Hey Kiddo) along for the festivities, and all of them were dishing out hand rolls to the crowd while Caroline Clark, Id Est beverage and hospitality director, played karaoke host (and belted out an impressive rendition of Pat Benatar's "We Belong"). The singing wasn't a random add-on — Whitaker recently introduced a high-tech karaoke setup at Ok Yeah, the bar at Hey Kiddo.
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Lon Symensma was spotted cooking in a stunning setting.
Molly Martin
Chefs Kwame Onwuachi and Gregory Gourdet cooked a summer barbecue feast at an off-site party hosted at a ranch with a view of the Maroon Bells. Helping out was ChoLon owner Lon Symensma, who was happy to be lending a hand as the team served an impressive lineup of dishes including barbecue chicken wings made with Haitian spice rub and jerk lamb ribs.

It's been a big year already for Symensma, who opened a pair of new restaurants near Sloan's Lake: a third outpost of ChoLon and a new concept, Italian eatery Gusto, which is where we had a Caesar salad that was one of the best things we ate in May.
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Brutø chef Byron Gomez topping oysters with rendered beef fat.
Molly Martin
One of the highlights of the weekend was hosted at Smuggler's Mine, where a crew of Denver chefs were cooking over live fire as part of the ASPENX Global Fire event in partnership with Aspen Public Radio.

Miles Odell, who will soon be the latest addition to Denver's bagel revolution with a brick-and-mortar bagel shop set to open this year in the former Denver Bread Co. space at 3200 Irving Street, was serving steak topped with scoops of caviar.

Fruition and Mercantile owner Alex Seidel dished up lamb shawarma. There was wagyu strip with creamed spinach and salsa macha from Justin Brunson, who also hand-chopped dry-aged beef from his own company, Brunson Meat Co., for a mini tartare cone that was served inside the mine, which guests could tour.

Former Greenwich chef Justin Freeman, who is now heading up the kitchen at Somebody People and running his own pop-up series, Monarch, was also helping out at the event, along with Westbound & Down's Casey Taylor.

The best bites of the night, though, came from the Id Est team, which offered three dishes: a whole roasted Columbia River salmon, a beef skewer that was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and an oyster setup that was the big hit of the night.
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Attendees were clamoring for a taste of these oysters.
Molly Martin
Brutø executive chef Byron Gomez, who took over that position this year, shucked Flambadou oysters tray by tray. Each oyster was topped with the restaurant's house-fermented chile kombo koshu before Gomez added the finishing touch: beef fat, dripped over the top using a metal funnel with a long handle that was kept hot in a live fire.

We missed some of the other Denver chefs in town. Annette owner Caroline Glover was there for the F&W Best New Chefs Reunion Cookout (she was on the list in 2019); Lucina co-owner Erasmo Casiano worked the Epicurian Passport dinner at the Hotel Jerome and was a delegate for Latinx House, an organization that was at the event representing Justice 4 Migrant Women and Humans Who Feed Us.

The entire weekend was a whirlwind, and it was a treat to see so many people from the local scene on hand, celebrating the fact that Colorado has gained so much national notoriety in the last year with the debut of the state's first Michelin Guide in 2023 and the big wins at the Beard Awards last week.

Now we're waiting to see which spots will be added to the 2024 Michelin update...
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