Dispatch From Aspen: Food & Wine Classic

June 18 2012, 11:46 AM

The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen isn't just an opportunity to rub elbows with big-name chefs, master sommeliers, and restaurateurs, it's also a wealth of information. Here, my favorite tidbits from the three action-packed days:

• Louisiana chef John Besh taught a course called Butchery for Beginners. In 45 minutes he effortlessly broke down a Colorado lamb and made a dish. That's not likely to be the case for many home cooks, but I did leave with two excellent nuggets of information: 1. Use whichever knife fits most comfortably in your hand—even if it's a cheap one. 2. Line a roasting pan with vegetables instead of using a roasting rack. "Vegetables have flavor, roasting racks don't," Besh says.

• During Mark Oldman's Outsmart the Wine List seminar, he gave dozens of tips on how to beat the unconscionably high restaurant markup. Three tips I'll put to use: 1. Rather than ordering a Malbec, choose a Portuguese red ("They're like Rebecca De Mornay from Risky Business: smooth, rich, and interesting.") 2. Oldman says that 45 percent of the time he orders Beaujolais. These value-driven wines—which have little in common with bubble-gummy Beaujolais Nouveau—are light, have little tannin, and are food-friendly. 3. Although often overlooked, Rosés (my personal favorite for summer sipping) are a cross between a red and a white, which means "it's hard to find a food Rosé doesn't go with."

• Without a doubt, sea urchin was the ingredient of the weekend. I enjoyed it several times over, including served with lardo on flatbread at Infinite Monkey Theorem’s Swine at the Mine party. But my favorite preparation was José Andrés' sea urchin–topped pan de cristal (pictured) where the luxurious seafood was served on crusty Spanish bread with olive oil and Manchego.

• Prosciutto lovers should consider drinking Friulano, a white from northern Italy that ranges from crisp and spicy to big and rich. Either way, master sommelier Bobby Stuckey says it goes beautifully with the saltiness of cured ham. Try a bottle from Bastianich Winery (I sipped this at the brand-new Chefs Club in the St. Regis), or look for Friulano on Frasca Food and Wine's menu.