It's only day two of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, and at least one local chef has already made a huge splash, running laps around the pool at a Denver FIVE party...and bombing it with liquid nitrogen. "I think that's the first time anyone has probably done that at Food & Wine...or anywhere in Aspen," quips Ian Kleinman, who owns the Inventing Room -- and turned heads and dropped jaws with his molecular stunt. I caught up with Kleinman, Max MacKissock (Squeaky Bean); Chris Cina (Breckenridge-Wynkoop); Travis Plakke (Denver FIVE bartender and "Leigh Sullivan's man-bitch"); Jensen Cummings (Slotted Spoon Meatball Eatery); and Michel Wahaltere, a former Denver chef, now in Aspen, who's planning a new mobile eatery later this year in Denver, and asked them about their favorite part of the culinary bonanza that's the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.
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Travis Plakke: "The Classic is just such a cool place to hang out with all the best industry people in the country -- and seeing all my friends from Denver is pretty awesome, too," says Plottke, who poured cocktails at the FIVE party. "Last night, a bunch of us had an epic dance party at Belly Up and then at our condo, and then I did a shot of Averna this morning at 7 a.m, which is a really cool way to get the day started off right." Plottke's plan for the remainder of the weekend? "To taste one of everything that's being poured -- and not swallow." Jensen Cummings: The best part of the Food & Wine Classic, says Cummings, is the "beer and the spirits. And all the rubber duckies that float around in the pool." When I nabbed him for an interview, Cummings was on his way to a powwow with New York star chef and restaurateur Danny Meyer. "I'm pretty stoked about seeing him," he tells me. "I'm also looking forward to not being the drunkest one in the room." Max MacKissock: "I'm having a great time in Aspen -- I'm fucking loving it," says MacKissock, who's here with his wife Jennifer Jasinski, exec chef-owner of Rioja, Euclid Hall and Bistro Vendome. And for the first time, he's here to play -- not work. "I'm never going to come up here and work again during the Classic -- it's just too much fun to play," he tells me.
What's his agenda for the next few days? "I'm going to mountain bike, and Jen and I have a ritual every Friday, where we go to Ajax Tavern and eat oysters and drink champagne," he says. The Classic, adds MacKissock, is the pinnacle of "people who are of like minds -- people who are super into food and wine, eating, drinking and having fun. It's just a really cool confluence of industry people and friends, and my plan is to mountain bike every day and party every night." But unlike a few years ago, when MacKissock insists that "aliens abducted me and mysteriously left me face down next to the pool sometime between 4:30 and 6 a.m. in nothing but my boxer shorts," he promises that there won't be a repeat of that this year. Then again, this is Aspen, where finding yourself nearly naked by the pool is no big deal.
Ian Kleinman: "The best thing about the Classic is bonding with my fellow chefs, having the culinary world come together in one place and seeing what my alcohol tolerance is," cracks Kleinman, adding that his wish for the weekend is catching a glimpse of Masaharu Morimoto. "I've had a man-crush on him for years -- he has the ability to turn everything he touches into something beautiful and amazing, and I'd love to run into him." Kleinman, who made a chile relleno space foam, also admits that nitro-bombing the swimming pool was "fucking cool." Agreed. Chris Cina: "I'm having dinner tonight at Town, Mark Fischer's new place in Carbondale, and I'm really looking forward to it," says Cina, who, like MacKissock, is at the Classic "just to have fun." He's attended a few seminars, including one conducted by Frasca Food & Wine sommelier and co-owner Bobby Stuckey, and stipulatess that the Classic is the "premiere event for chefs on every level." It's here, he adds, that "people come and learn from the best of the best -- and the free beer doesn't hurt, either." Michel Wahaltere: "In twenty years of living on and off in Aspen, this is the first year that I've just been able to play -- I actually get to hang out with some awesome people and have a good time," reports Wahaltere. That's not to say that he's not soaking up the vast knowledge that appears at every turn. "There are so many great wines to try at the Classic -- and so many people who know so much abut them, and the seminars are just incredible." The highlight so far for Wahaltere? "I got to meet Johnny Iuzzini, and he's such a cool kid -- a rebel -- and he reminds me of me when I was crazy like him." Wahaltere also reveals that everyone wants his T-shirt. "People have threatened to rip it right off my back," he says.
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For more shots of the Denver FIVE party, flip the page.