Cafe Society

Observations from the 2010 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen: José Andrés, Jacques Pépin, getting porked, scrambled egg mousse, Alex Seidel and a smoking gun

Thus ends four days of liver damage, debauchery, hangovers, embarrassments and a swollen stomach. The 2010 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen officially came to a close yesterday, and while the weekend isn't without its fuzzy moments, my brain isn't so washed up that I'm not without a fleet of memories and observations. Herewith, the most unforgettable moments. 1. At the best party of the weekend, Spanish chef and all-around nice guy José Andrés, spit-roasted two fat pigs, whose crackling skin he then fed to pork fiends from his own hands. It was a bit like communion, only much better, with Andrés claiming, after every handout, that "pig is lord." 2. Hitting me completely by surprise, the extraordinary salumi, cheese and charcuterie display from Tennessee-based Blackberry Farm, a newcomer to this year's Classic, made me pant and wet my pants. It's because of all that fat that I can no longer see my belly button or my toes. But you know what? I don't give a shit, because in a sea of grapes, strawberries and crackers, all that pig was like finding the Holy Grail. 3. Hey, Best New Chef, Alex Seidel! There will be gazillions of people who insist that I'm biased because you're our hometown hero, but, dude, your transcendent baby lamb ribeye dish at the Best New Chefs dinner was far and away the most beautifully composed dish there, and your graceful, pure flavors were unflinchingly perfect. And I tip my hat to Jeff Osaka, the exec chef/owner of Twelve, who busted his ass, along with the rest of the Fruition staff, to create the finest lamb dish for miles. 4. Speaking of the Best New Chef's dinner, the scrambled egg mousse, a dish from John Shields, the exec of Town House in Chilhowie, Virginia, was the single worst bite of food I've put in my mouth in, well, maybe ever. And it wasn't just me who was horrified. Our table of a dozen, which included two veteran chefs with pitch-perfect palates, and who rarely, if ever, throw out profanities, littered the table with every four-letter word in the dictionary. 5. The Votaggio brothers, Bryan and Michael, the latter of whom won Top Chef: Las Vegas, created some unbelievably bewitching dishes using sous-vide, a smoking gun, foamers, a Vita-Prep mixer and (gasp) a microwave at a lunch at N9NE Steakhouse. As an added benefit, Adam Fleischman, the guy who owns Umami Burger in Los Angeles, was sitting next to me, and guess what y'all? He's scouting for a space in Denver. 6. Thomas Keller has more swagger and confidence than any chef has a right to, his sex appeal stops women (and men) dead in their stilettos and he's one of the most gracious people you could ever hope to meet, all of which goes to say that if it weren't for a little thing called a restraining order, I'd stalk the guy incessantly. 7. There's something absolutely surreal about watching Jacques Pépin cook, and something even more hypnotic when you witness the apotheosized chef making a French omelet, which he effortlessly flips, tucks and folds with remarkable mastery. Seriously, the guy is the David Copperfield of omelets, which may sound ridiculous, but until you've seen what Pépin can do with eggs, butter, a little pressed caviar and a skillet, save your skepticism. 8. It's worth noting -- and celebrating -- the Colorado contingent that participated in the Classic, including the Denver Five, who partied like Prince in 1999, dazzled persnickety gastrosnobs with their focused, mind-bogglingly inspired dishes and discovered, that even in the presence of rock star chefs like Batali, Pépin, Keller, Rick Moonen, Rick Bayless and Tom Colicchio, they're a force to be reckoned with.
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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson