It’s not all caviar and Champagne at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen—although both high-end treats do flow freely during the three-day celebration. The glam festival at the foot of Aspen Mountain is also a wonderful time to connect with superstar chefs and authors (both Martha Stewart and Ruth Reichl were there this year), learn from the best in the hospitality industry (Christina Tosi, Ashley Christensen, and Andrew Zimmern, to name just a few), and celebrate our Colorado-based talent, too. Read on for a highlight reel of what we tasted, sipped, and took away.
Caroline Glover’s summertime chopped salad with flatbread. The Aurora-based chef–owner of Annette was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef earlier this year, which meant that she not only appeared on the magazine’s June cover, but also cooked a dish inside the Grand Tasting tent in Aspen. Glover and her team were all smiles as they served 1,000 lucky attendees a beautiful fresh salad of romaine, radishes, pickled ramps, and roasted tomatoes in a charred cucumber vinaigrette, with a little flatbread and sunflower seed hummus alongside—a lovely counterpoint to all the rich food on offer elsewhere.
Matthew Kammerer’s “BBQ carrot.” Another Best New Chef from the 2019 class, the Harbor House Inn (Elk, California) chef served a humble-looking but intensely delicious carrot dish inside the Grand Tasting tent. To make it, Kammerer slowly grilled the carrots until tender, then sliced and brushed them with a mixture of black butter and miso. The already-flavorful carrots were then dressed in a butter-fried hemp-sesame-garlic-shallot paste that was seasoned with shiro shoyu, lemon, and house-made sea salt. Whoa.
Lisa Donovan’s mind-blowing spiced peach hand pie. Before we even finished the first bite of the North Carolina-based pastry chef’s hand pie, we were smitten. The pastry was light and oh-so-flaky, not to mention buttery beyond compare, while ripe peaches and warm spices (cinnamon, vanilla) made up the filling. Donovan, also a James Beard Foundation Award-winning author, shared that the trick is to understand how dry your environment is so you can add more ice water as needed. Also, gently stir the ice water into the butter and flour mixture with your hands for more control.
All the Verlasso salmon. There was more fresh, sustainably raised salmon at this year’s Classic than you could shake a pole at, and we loved every bite. In the Grand Tasting tent, Verlasso served cured salmon with a bright lemon-and-créme-fraîche sorbet, topped with Sterling caviar. On top of Buttermilk Mountain, Top Chef Edmund “Eddie” Konrad (of Laurel in Philadelphia) wowed us with a simple-but-spectacular sashimi of sorts, marrying brown sugar-cured salmon with a Pennsylvania-style chowchow, green tomato kombu purée, and lemon ponzu. Even as full as we were by that point in the weekend, we went back for thirds.
Bosq’s tortilla española. At a private tasting for Félix Solís Avantis, Aspen chef C. Barclay Dodge of Bosq Restaurant made our afternoon with square bites of tortilla española (we might have had a couple each!). “It is a classic style tortilla made with eggs, onions, and potatoes,” says Dodge. “We added some wild, locally foraged stinging nettles to it to give it a Bosq twist.” Venturing into Spanish cuisine (to honor the Spanish winery) and including foraged ingredients is familiar territory for Dodge—not only is he known for foraging, but he spent time cooking in Spain, too.
Blackberry Mountain’s sweet potato pizza. The AMEX Trade Luncheon featuring chefs Josh Feathers and Joel Werner of the illustrious Blackberry Mountain did not disappoint. The veg-heavy meal was a hearty reminder that plant-based dishes are not only nutritious, but also delicious. One of our favorite bites was the sweet potato pizza with kale, rosemary, and fermented peppers. Mary Celeste Beall, proprietor of both Blackberry Mountain and Blackberry Farm, declared it her favorite pie ever.
Every dish at Heritage Fire. With more than 3,500 pounds of locally raised meat, poultry, and vegetables on the menu (as well as non-local seafood), it’s a challenge to pick just one dish from this outdoor celebration of cooking over live fire. Kudos to all of the Colorado chefs who participated: Josh Pollack (Rosenberg’s Bagels and Delicatessen); Lon Symensma (LeRoux, ChoLon); Alberto Figueroa (Viceroy Snowmass); newly promoted executive chef Matt Vawter (Mercantile Dining & Provision); Kyle Wilkins (Home Team BBQ of Aspen); Hosea Rosenberg (Blackbelly); Nate Singer (Carter County Meats); Steve Redzikowski (Oak at Fourteenth); Marc Felder (Edge, Four Seasons Denver); Dan Foster (Westin Snowmass); Will Nolan (Rico BBQ Co.); Adam Vero (Hearth & Dram); Christopher Mosera (Aikopops); Eric Lee (Acreage by Stem Ciders); and Kelly Whitaker (Basta, the Wolf’s Tailor). As Vawter put it: “It was impressive to see how a group of chefs that usually cook in restaurants with stoves and ovens, cook with the bare essentials, cinderblocks, grates, and fire.” Indeed.
Jason Nauert also conducted a butchery demonstration; Elan Wenzel (Element Knife Company, Sushi Sasa) taught attendees all about Japanese and Western knives; and Josh Dybzinski of Home Team BBQ (Aspen), Matt Stober of Toro Kitchen & Lounge (Snowmass), and Eliot Poirier of the Way Home (Carbondale) poured drinks for all.
Pacifico Aquaculture striped bass sashimi and nigiri at Matsuhisa Aspen. As if dinner at Matsuhisa wasn’t already a treat, we got to taste the sustainable Pacifico Aquaculture striped bass three ways over the course of a couple of hours. The semi-firm, clean-tasting fish shone as sashimi, nigiri, and seared fillets. Raised off the coast of Baja in cold, clear waters, Pacifico’s bass is just as good for the planet as it is for your palate.
The pollo al forno and gnocchi stagionale at the Barbuto dinner. Legendary New York City chef Jonathan Waxman threw a pop-up dinner at the Little Nell on Saturday night that was the top ticket of the festival. Served family style and accompanied by Kosta Browne wines out of California, Waxman delighted attendees with a full roster of beloved dishes from his now-closed Barbuto. Especially memorable were the tender, juicy roast chicken with salsa verde and the caramelized gnocchi with asparagus, peas, and wild mushrooms.
Eggs on eggs. Normally caviar and mining don’t mix. Not so at the Infinite Monkey Theorem’s annual Wine at the Mine party, where California’s Passmore Ranch served its sustainable, farm-raised (and delicious!) caviar over soft scrambled eggs and créme fraîche.
Bin 707 Foodbar’s taste of Colorado. It’s no surprise that chef-owner Josh Niernberg and the team from Grand Junction’s Bin 707 put as many locally grown ingredients into their Grand Tasting tent bite as possible—intentional, Colorado-based sourcing is part of their DNA. On beautiful aspen leaf plates, the delicious salad included Centennial State striped bass “lox” with confited Yukon Gold potatoes, sheep’s milk crema, pickled dill seeds, and Row 7 Seed Badger Flame beets grown on the Western Slope. In Bin 707’s hands, Colorado tastes good.
Sean Kenyon’s sherry cobbler. Denver’s own Sean Kenyon and Woody Creek Distillers got prime billing at the Publisher’s Party on top of the mountain. In keeping with the Spanish theme, Kenyon mixed up his take on a sherry cobbler, a cocktail made with Oloroso sherry, lemon juice, strawberry purée, Lustau Pedro Ximenez sherry, and muddled blackberries and strawberries. The festive sip impressed the crowd—most notably basketball legend Dwyane Wade.
2018 Domaine Pertuisane Têtu Rosé. Colorado should be proud that the summer pop-up at Chefs Club inside the St. Regis Aspen Resort—which previously hosted the team from Eleven Madison Park, one of the best restaurants in the world—features our own local talent: chef Tom Coohill (Cohills Restaurant), in partnership with the acclaimed Park90 wine bar from the Regent Singapore. The launch party to kick off the pop-up featured excellent house-made charcuterie and other small bites from Coohill, as well as this lovely old vine rose from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France.
Billecart-Salmon Little Nell Brut Réserve N.V. Champagne. This glorious, fine-bubbled Champagne is the real deal: A blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier grapes sourced from across the famous French wine region. It also happens to be the exclusive house bubbly at Element 47 inside the Little Nell, where we enjoyed a glass with a beautiful plate of seared salmon. Because, you know, more salmon.
Negroni fountain. Kendra Anderson, the glamorous owner of Bar Helix in RiNo, knows how to throw one hell of a party. Collaborating with Abigail Plonkey (MaximalistXD, Thrice) and Bar Helix compatriot Victoria Errio, the trio created a subterranean homage to all things Negroni in honor of the cocktail’s 100th anniversary and the upcoming Negroni Week (June 24–30). Myriad Denver chefs and bartenders drank and danced, and—best yet—the merriment was fueled by a flowing Negroni fountain (that we wanted to steal for ourselves).
Palmer & Co. Rosé Reserve Champagne. As we walked around the Grand Tasting tents eating Blackberry Farm’s sweet tea-brined fried chicken, we found ourselves in front of Palmer & Co.’s booth. It was a match made in heaven (and one we would like to recreate again and again). The elegant strawberry notes and tiny bubbles offset the chicken’s decadence. Score one for fate.
Odell Brewing Co. Sippin’ Pretty Fruited Sour. Never ones to pass up a sour beer, Odell’s Sippin’ Pretty stopped us in our Grand Tasting tracks for both its fresh-squeezed grapefruit taste and the can’s gorgeous design (we know, never judge a book by its cover…). Consider it the ultimate porch pounder.
Collet Champagne. There really is no such thing as too many bubbles in the Grand Tasting tent. And if you followed the crowd, you’d soon find yourself in front of Collet’s glorious bottles of Champagne. We tasted through the lot but especially savored the exquisite and radiant Blanc de Blancs.
Golden Moon Distillery’s absinthe and rye whiskey punch. We made two separate trips to Golden Moon’s booth because you never know what distiller Steven Gould has up his sleeve (last year we discovered Ex Gratia). This year, in addition to tasting Food & Winer-s on his line of premium spirits, he was ladling rye whiskey punch into glasses. It packed a, well, punch but it was a nice alternative to wine. Likewise the absinthe, which cleansed the palate and readied us for the next bite.
On employee retention: “We need to give people a path forward—not just a ladder up—because not everyone is meant to manage.” —Ashley Christensen, James Beard Award-winning chef, restaurateur, author
On cooking at home: “One of the best instant sauces in my cookbook (Bringing It Home) is this easy: Combine honey, smoked Spanish paprika, salt, and a splash of water. It’s especially beautiful drizzled over grilled lamb chops.” —Gail Simmons, Top Chef judge and author
On wages in the hospitality industry: “A lot of change needs to take place regarding pay disparity in restaurants. It’s an inherently flawed system when leadership makes less than hourly employees.” —Will Guidara, co-owner Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan
On sustainability in aquaculture: “Today we are not facing a global health problem, or a global food problem, or a food insecurity problem. We don’t have a climate change issue. We’re having a humanitarian crisis on our planet….Somehow we have also found a way to ‘other’ our planet. We are pushing problems that need to be solved today onto the plates of future generations. If we don’t take care of it ourselves and start advocating for the things we know to be true and right, there won’t be anything left for our children to advocate for. If you’re not for sustainability, then you are not for caring for other human beings and not for caring for our planet.” —Andrew Zimmern, TV personality and cookbook author
On innovation: “I don’t like the word. It’s forced and almost sells imagination down the road in lieu of the bottom line. At Milk Bar, we’re perfectly imperfect and comfortably uncomfortable. In the face of innovation and technology, we need to retain our humanity, too.” —Christina Tosi, chef and mastermind behind New York City-based Milk Bar
On robotics in the restaurant industry: “Is [robotics] taking away jobs? It really isn’t because we have a severe labor shortage.” —Michael Farid, co-founder and CEO, Spyce Food Co.
On inclusion: “To move forward, we need to make a space for different cultures and force it so that all are acknowledged for their differences.” —Traci Des Jardins, prolific San Francisco chef and restaurateur
On pairing wine and food: “The reason you fall in love is because of the similarities and contrasts. This is the same.” —Josh Wesson, respected sommelier and NPR commentator
On grenache: “Grenache is a secret weapon for a sommeliers. If everyone is ordering different things, this is the wine.” —Andy Chabot, sommelier and food and beverage director for Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain
On training staff: “I want my staff to leave my kitchen as better cooks and better people.” —Nina Compton, chef-owner of Compère Lapin in New Orleans