Food & Wine Classic in Aspen still fresh at 30

One of the most-popular events at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen is the Classic Cook-off pitting two teams of chefs. This year’s competition featured Jacques Pepin (far right) and Jean-Claude Szurdak (far left) against Michael Symon (black T-shirt) and Bobby Flay (middle). Cook-off hostess Sissy Biggers is between Flay and Pepin. Photo: Huge Galdones/Food & Wine

The irrepressible wine author and lecturer Mark Oldman, dressed like a 1982 rock star to mark the 30th anniversary of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, prepares to saber open a bottle of sparkling wine during breakfast Friday at the Little Nell in Aspen.

Chef Michael Symon shows his surprise after a pan blaze melted part of the overhead mirror during Sunday’s Classic Cook-off at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Photo: Huge Galdones/Food & Wine

ASPEN – At the ripe age of 30, the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen is fresh as a teenager.

The 30th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen ended its three-day run Sunday and just like the fine cheese and great wines featured during this long weekend of Top Chefs and fanatic foodies, the Classic only gets better with age.

The event kicked off Thursday with the much-anticipated José Andrés, Wines from Spain and the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Spanish-style barbecue and paella party at a “typical” Aspen mini-mansion, a 25,000-square foot Tuscan-style home nestled into the flank of Buttermilk Mountain. The night’s revelry included Andrés’ dancing on a kitchen table, much to the glee of party-goers who gawked and repeatedly photographed the stunning sunset viewed from the patio.

Friday began early for some Classic-goers who got up in time to run in a charity 5k led by super-chef (and pretty good runner) Bobby Flay. The run raised money for Grow for Good and the Wholesome Wave foundation, dedicated to supporting local arms and sustainable agriculture.

Breakfast at the Little Nell Hotel was next, where scrambled eggs and caviar were served while sommelier Sabato Sagaria (who just this month received the exclusive Master Sommelier diploma) talked about the extensive facelift planned this fall for the Little Nell’s La Montagna restaurant. “It will include a new name, because people seem to have a lot of trouble pronouncing ‘La Montagna,’” Sagaria said. “You’d be surprised at what I’ve heard.”

Also at breakfast was the irrepressible and immensely knowledgeable wine author and lecturer Mark Oldman, ready to “saber” a bottle of sparkling wine. Oldman, in honor of the Classic’s 30th anniversary, was garbed in red leather pants and matching headband after 1982 rock singer Mike Reno. That anniversary theme continued when Oldman poured everyone a taste of the 1982 Chateau La Croix Bordeaux, from his personal cellar.

The rest of the weekend, packed with seminars, tastings and too many after-hours events to attend, went in a blur.

Chef Andrew Zimmern showed the audience how to cook venison heart, antelope tenderloin and duck breast, and preached on the importance of eating a variety of proteins along with introducing the theme of sustainability and eating locally raised foods that was heard throughout the weekend.

Louisiana-based chef John Besh continued that “eat local” dictum while showing his audience meat-handling insights, including some bare-hand techniques he learned 20 years ago while working in Germany, in his seminar “Basic Butchering Skills.”. He adeptly took apart a 57-pound Colorado lamb while urging the audience to support local meat and produce, “bringing back our agricultural heritage.”

Seminars such as Besh’s and the Knife Skills 101 class by master knife-maker Bob Kramer of Sur La Table, plus the Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs cooking in the Grand Tasting tent, the charity run and a benefit concert featuring Elvis Costello at the Benedict Music Tent, were part of the Classic’s move to keep the event fresh and current. “We watch the trends, we understand what foodies want, and we try to incorporate that into the weekend,” said Food & Wine magazine publisher Christine Grdovic.

Of course, there were great chefs featured throughout the weekend, the highlight being the always-popular Classic Cook-off on Sunday featuring the seemingly ageless Classic favorite Jacques Pepin and his long-time friend Jean-Claude Szurdak against super-chefs Michael Symon and Bobby Flay. That Pepin and Szurdak won the popular vote was less important than the event itself, which included Symon melting part of the overhead mirror after a pan caught fire and Pepin casually opening the oven early on his three omelettes.

The mirror was ruined and Pepin’s cooking-school gaffe made the audience gasp but he simply shrugged. The omelettes, of course, came out perfectly.

Thanks to that eye on what’s current, and perhaps the stronger economy, the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen this year sold out early for the first time since 2008. In an interview with the Aspen Business Journal, Grdovic said that while consumers continue to be watchful, there is a noticeable loosening of the purse strings.

“People are still careful and maybe more efficient, but things are feeling grander,” Grdovic said. “We’ve found that in a recession people cut certain things but they also want to keep certain things. So they’ll cut luxury items, but they want to keep some vacation time, time with family and friends. And that’s what Food & Wine is all about, and that works to our benefit.”

The benefits work both ways. Saturday’s highly popular S’Wine in the Mine party at the Smuggler Mine, sponsored by the infinite Monkey Theorem winery in Denver, raised $1,500 for the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department, which was called to help fight the High Park wildfire near Fort Collins.

The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen got its start in 1983 when Gary Plumley, owner of Of Grape and Grain in Aspen, and Bob and Ruth Kevan of Chez Grandmere in Snowmass Village came up with the idea for an International Wine Festival. That first event drew 300 people. Food & Wine magazine got involved in 1987 and attendance since has grown to 5,000.
– Number of consumers: 5,000
– Purveyors: 300
– Bottles of wine poured: 40,000



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