Unsurprisingly, the 37th annual iteration of the Aspen Food and Wine Classic successfully catered to every possible aspect of a food lover’s wildest dreams. Daily educational seminars provided crowds with insight, humor and practical knowledge from some of the best minds in cooking today before attendees could let their hair down at any one of the illustrious Grand Tastings. Each of the tasting’s five iterations featured over 200 brands ranging from successful super-chains like Jimmy John’s to some of the country’s most prestigious and lesser-known wineries, with everything in between. All things even remotely culinary were represented, including participants like Korean Air and upscale shampoo company Hair Food.
The enormous volume and variety of participants, activities and afterparties made the event unlike any other — the care with which the event was organized made it remarkable even before considering the star-studded lineup. Martha Stewart hosted a presentation on summer entertaining, Rick Bayless hosted one of the great dinners of the weekend after presenting a panel on mezcal and ceviche earlier in the day and Dwayne Wade hand-poured some of the wines from his superb Napa collection Wade Cellars. Visitors and celebrities engaged in the kind of casual mingling that is sure to arise when top-tier booze flows with unbridled freedom. The minimal distance between presenters and consumers certainly lent the festivities an unusual vitality — the palpable excitement brought on by the general cheerfulness of celebrity guests provided a buzz that thoroughly buttressed the wine’s.
Everything about the event is founded on sheer extravagance. There’s no better example of this than at celebrity wine expert Mark Oldman’s Wine For Quadrillionaires seminar — which found the presenter, dressed in an appropriately garish pilot’s uniform, pouring from a massive 27-liter goliath. The 120-pound bottle of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon was an appropriate representation of a weekend where excess was not only normalized but encouraged to the point that only a vessel of that size could remind you that the edge did indeed still exist. Then there was the food.
The small plates — many of which were served on recyclable or reusable vessels — ran the gamut of global cuisine. It was the presence of the Food and Wine best new chefs — including Annette’s own Caroline Glover — that really stole the show. Kwame Onwuachi of Washington, D.C.’s Kith/Kin brought his phenomenal escovitch, and Paxx Caraballo Moll of Puerto Rico’s Jungle BaoBao served up a scallop escabeche fit for a king. Fish was surprisingly rampant this year and tacos were not in short supply. Everything was delicately portioned — each chef did a great job of making maximum impact in just a few bites. This included the splendidly widespread use of caviar — which involved shooters, spoonfuls and was even spotted being knocked back through boba straws.
Sliders — including mini lobster rolls and a truly sublime beef cheek version from two-time Top Chef contestant Grayson Schmitz — were an obvious go-to. Once again, the dishes succeeded in their simplicity. While there certainly was a fair amount of flash, innovative technique upstaged the desire for sheer ostentation.
Noosa was set up serving their fall flavors — including the new cranberry-apple — with a variety of toppings including brownies, caramel and sprinkles. Dessert-wise nobody shined harder than Milk Bar’s Cristina Tosi. She served up her David Chang approved cereal milk soft serve and birthday cake truffles, prominently displaying her ability to take the nostalgic and turn it into haute-cuisine.
Due to the sheer grandeur of the event, the Classic is certainly something any food lover should aspire to eventually make a pilgrimage to. According to newcomers and repeat offenders alike — the event continues to inspire — each year still managing to improve on a function that appears to have done its best to discover the outer boundaries of all things decadent. In an era where food culture has more and more catered to image, Aspen Food and Wine managed to carefully straddle the line — providing ample opportunities for people to indulge in Instafame while never losing sight of what really makes food and drink delightful — innovative use of great ingredients and the ability to enjoy them with others who truly appreciate the nuance.
All photography courtesy of Galdones Photography/FOOD & WINE.