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Food & Wine Classic returned to Colorado last weekend, bringing three days of free-flowing Champagne, superstar-chef-led cooking demonstrations, and a bevy of culinary events to venues across Aspen after a hiatus in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There, we caught up with eight celebrity chefs, who shared their favorite Colorado experiences and restaurants with us. Read on to find out what they had to say, plus how you can experience highlights of the 2021 event at bars and restaurants in Aspen, Denver, and beyond—even if you couldn’t score (or afford) a ticket.
5280: What is your favorite Colorado memory or culinary experience?
“A couple weeks ago, me and the  team went out for my first camping trip [at Grizzly Lake] so that was an experience in itself. I caught my first Colorado golden trout, so that was really amazing because apparently it is really rare… We went foraging and found a whole bunch of porcini mushrooms, some of them the size of my hand. It was extremely cool to do an open fire by a beautiful lake and be able to catch and forage for our own food and feed ourselves.” — Byron Gomez, executive chef at 7908 in Aspen and cheftestant on season 14 of Bravo’s Top Chef: Portland
“I did a TV show here for Ludo Bites America, and I went hunting bison, so it was an amazing memory for me. We hunted bison and we cooked it after, and I ate a piece of heart. It was an amazing experience to be in the plains, and following the bison. After that I realized, you know what? I don’t like to kill. You really feel it when you kill an animal like that. It’s not like killing a lobster, you know what I mean? It’s real.” —Ludo Lefebvre, chef-owner of Petit Trois in Los Angeles, and James Beard Award finalist
“For me, it was my first Food & Wine in ’88, where we drove through the Independence Pass and it was like May or June and so there was still snow on the pass. The wilderness of the Rockies—it’s beautiful. And beside that, I’ve been to Vail, I ski Beaver Creek, Vail, Aspen… so I’ve been coming here many years, summer and winter. I love the West.” —Daniel Boulud, chef-owner of multiple restaurants, including two-Michelin-starred Daniel in New York City
“My favorite [Colorado moment] has been going to the top of Aspen Mountain. You appreciate the grandeur. You know, Colorado is known to be one of the most beautiful states. At that moment, when you’re standing in front of all of those mountains, it’s incredible. It’s so amazing.” —Maneet Chauhan, co-owner and executive chef of Chauhan Ale & Masala House in Nashville, Chopped judge, and 2021 Tournament of Champions winner
“I would say the first time I came out here it was actually at Heritage Fire [Festival four years ago], and it was just beautiful. It was my first time in Colorado, being up here, and it was my first impression, so I loved that. I flew into Denver, and I drove over to Aspen, because I just wanted to see that drive. My friends were like, ‘you gotta look at the red rocks and all that.’ And then it was the mountaintop [dinner at Food & Wine] last night. That was extraordinary, just cooking up there.” —Shota Nakajima, finalist and fan favorite on season 14 of Bravo’s Top Chef: Portland
“[The Feed Your Senses: Immersive Dining event at Food & Wine Classic] is my favorite Colorado experience because I get to express myself in so many different mediums but still having food be the narrative. I’m able to tell a story through my journey through cuisine, and I think it’s important to share your story with as many people as possible to show that we can overcome anything if we put our minds to it. It means a lot, it’s very emotional to see the journey emulated in such a way. [In this meal] there’s visuals, there’s animation, and it really tells my story of where I came from to where I am now.” —Kwame Onwuachi, executive producer at Food & Wine, James Beard Award winning chef, and cheftestant on season 13 of Bravo’s Top Chef: California
“When I was there years ago as a [Food & Wine] Best New Chef, we sat outside at Ajax Tavern at the Little Nell and had burgers and rosé… The combination of the food, atmosphere, wine, and getting to know the other Best New Chefs was magical. To this day, no Classic is complete without sitting at Ajax Tavern with a burger, fries, and rosé.” —Katie Button, CEO/co-founder, Katie Button Restaurants in Asheville, North Carolina and Food & Wine 2015 Best New Chef winner
“In recent memory, what Mother Nature gave us in the form of porcini mushrooms this summer was spectacular. Last year, it was a one-week season, and this year yielded such a robust harvest. It was the greatest porcini season in decades. My wife Danette and I cooked them at home, our team foraged for them, guests brought them as gifts. I think I speak for the state of Colorado when I say that folks must have been asleep at the wheel if they didn’t notice the porcini bounty.” — Bobby Stuckey, owner of Denver’s Tavernetta, Boulder’s Frasca Food & Wine, and others
5280: Any go-to Colorado restaurants to share?
“In Aspen, I like Bosq. Chef Barclay Dodge and I are very close…I think what he’s doing there is really something really cool and really innovative. Another restaurant I discovered is a little hidden gem that is extremely underrated called Plato’s in Aspen Meadows. The view there is the best in Aspen restaurant-wise, I believe. The lunch menu is extremely affordable, as well as the dinner menu. The chef de cuisine Rachel Koppelman used to intern at Eleven Madison Park in New York City and is the former executive chef at Bosq.” —Gomez
“In Aspen, my husband Felix and I greatly missed eating at Matsuhisa this year. The team there executes pristine sushi that we can’t get in Asheville. Felix and I also loved our breakfast at Local Coffee House. I had an excellent cappuccino and the Farm Boy Breakfast, which was the perfect amount to start the day… Everything was delicious and just hit the spot. And the last place we eat in Aspen is the NY Pizza place on Saturday night. After a weekend of elegant meals, wine pairings, and cocktails, that’s where we like to end up for a couple of beers and a pie.” —Button
“When I am in Aspen, I always go see Jodi Larner, general manager at Cache Cache, and Todd Clark, director of operations at Matsuhisa. During the Classic, I love to have lunch on the patio at Casa Tua before my wine seminars. It’s a peaceful way to decompress before I speak. And we always wrap up the weekend at the Little Nell with a meal at Element 47. This year, the last day of the Classic fell on my birthday and I had a great lunch with Danette and friends. Locally, I like to have dinner at Bryan Dayton’s Corrida and Oak [at Fourteenth] and I love what they do at Beckon in Denver.” —Stuckey
More Ways to Experience Food & Wine in Colorado
Sample fare from local Food & Wine vendors.
Coloradans may have spotted some familiar faces while browsing the two grand tasting tents at this year’s event, and those who couldn’t make it can still sample the local products featured there. Carboy Winery serves sips at tasting rooms in Denver, Littleton, Breckenridge, and Palisade (try their new wine seltzer), and Longmont’s St. Vrain Cidery has the largest all-cider taproom in the state.
For spirits, look for labels from Basalt-based Woody Creek Distillers, Denver’s Stranahan’s, and Coor’s Whiskey Co.’s just-released Five Trail Whiskey. Pint’s Peak Ice Cream and Dinoci Dairy Free ice cream are available at select Colorado retailers and restaurants. And if you’re looking for a dining experience, hit up downtown’s Avelina or Hickory House Ribs’ locations in Aspen and Parker.
Eat and drink your way through Aspen.
Some of the most exciting (and delicious) Food & Wine Classic–centered happenings take place at restaurants, bars, and other spots across town—many of which visitors and locals can experience year-round. Bosq, a spot serving American cuisine with an upscale, contemporary twist is a popular stop for festival attendees; go for the tasting menu to savor dishes like grilled shiitake branches with venison and fresh pine cheese. Or splurge on a blind wine tasting and cheese board at the Wine Bar at the Little Nell, a storied late-night hangout for the likes of Martha Stewart, Pink, Lance Armstrong, and other celebs.
Other potential stops include Dante, an offshoot of the celebrated New York bar with a one-year residency at the St. Regis Aspen (it is closed for the summer but will reopen in winter), and White House Tavern, a cozy pub known for its stacked fried chicken sandwiches. Seeking an extra-special meal? Snag a seat at a special event at 7908 in Aspen on September 23, when executive chef Byron Gomez will prepare a multi-course dinner with fellow Top Chef alums Jamie Tran, Chris Viaud, and Nelson German (book here).
Reserve a table at Denver and Boulder restaurants.
For those craving a taste of the fine-dining action in Aspen in the metro area, there are several options. Brasserie Brixton—which slung hot dogs, caviar, and other French-inspired bites at a Yacht Club dance party pop-up at Local Coffee House during the festival weekend—serves exquisite bistro cuisine in Cole (we’re fans of the brunch menu). Meanwhile, diners can see hospitality pro Bobby Stuckey in action during regular dinner services at Frasca, Tavernetta, and Sunday Vinyl. Or grab dinner at Corrida in Boulder, where Samuel McCandless (formerly of Arcana) recently joined the team as executive chef; he gave festival patrons a taste of the restaurant’s new regenerative Land to Market meat program in Aspen last weekend.
Make Ludo Lefebvre’s Crab Cake Recipe
During the Classic, Lefebvre took the stage with his friend and fellow culinary star Daniel Boulud to cook traditional French dishes with a twist. In late 2021, Denverites can get their own taste of Lefebvre’s cuisine with the debut of his newest restaurant, Chez Maggy, which will be housed in the Thompson Denver. The restaurant will pay homage to the classic French brasserie, but diners can expect a Colorado flair with dishes like Lefebvre’s takes on bison and the Denver omelet. In the meantime, get a taste of his culinary style by making the following crab cake recipe, which he prepared live for Food & Wine attendees.
Makes 4 crab cakes
For the crab cake:
1 lb. shrimp, peeled, deveined, and thoroughly dried
3 Tbs. shallots, sliced
¾ cup heavy cream
1 lb. lump crab meat, drained
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. hot sauce
White pepper to taste
Kosher salt to taste
1 bunch parsley
2 cups grapeseed oil or clarified butter for frying
1 bunch tarragon
1 lemon, sliced into wedges
For the sauce:
3 Tbs. shallots, thinly sliced
2 Tbs. Sherry vinegar
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup heavy cream
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
Make the crab cake: Preheat oven to 500°. In a food processor, blend raw shrimp, eggs, salt, and shallots until smooth. Slowly add in heavy cream to make a mousseline (a light mousse), scraping down sides to combine. Remove the substance from the processor and place it in a mixing bowl. Combine mustard, worcestershire, and hot sauce to make a paste. Fold in paste with mousseline. Then gently fold in crab meat. Allow the mixture to set for at least one hour before portioning. Make the sauce.
Portion mix with a ring mold into 6-ounce portions or desired serving size. In a medium skillet, sear the crab cakes on high heat with grapeseed oil or clarified butter. Sear on each side until golden brown, then flip to sear the other side. To finish, place the crab cake on a baking sheet with parchment paper to ensure they do not stick. Bake for six minutes until cooked through. Once cooked, ladle 2 to 3 ounces. of sauce onto a plate. Place crab cake on top, and garnish with parsley, chopped tarragon, and a lemon wedge.
Make the sauce: In a medium saucepan add shallots, sherry vinegar, and white wine over medium heat. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Once reduced, slowly add heavy cream and bring to a low simmer. Reduce until sauce coats the back of a spoon or until about 1 quart of sauce remains. Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender, blend in Dijon mustard until emulsified. If the sauce needs to be thickened, place back on low heat and reduce until desired consistency. Stir occasionally.
To serve: Spoon some sauce on a plate, place the crab cake on top and garnish with tarragon and a lemon wedge.