A Glimpse Inside the Fabulous Commotion That Was the 2021 Food and Wine Classic in Aspen

On Thursday, September 9, The Food and Wine Classic in Aspen returned for its 38th year. The festival — effectively a three-day bacchanal centered around seminars, five grand tastings and a plethora of parties at nearly every available bar, restaurant and venue in town — reappeared after a year hiatus, with attendees more excited than ever. Experienced and novice visitors alike spent the weekend gleefully zigzagging across town, with extraordinary food of every sort, near-constant celebrity sightings and a generally opulent atmosphere reminding the many lovers of cuisine exactly why the gathering has long been one of the globe’s most lauded food events.

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While technically centered around the Grand Tasting Pavillion — which each year takes over the entire field of Wagner Park with two gargantuan halls stuffed with stalls from wineries, distilleries and restaurants from around the world — much of the real magic is to be found at the auxiliary events that organically sprang up across town. There hardly seemed to be a single location — from institutions like Public House to chicer spots like 7908 — that didn’t at some point experience a takeover from nationally renowned liquor brands, local product launches or chef-driven dining experiences.

Chef Kwame Onwuachi — most recently famous for his phenomenal biography Notes from A Young Black Chef — transformed 7908 into an immersive meal with multiple daily seatings, his disembodied voice telling the story of his meteoric rise while guests were drenched in projection mapping that overlaid the entire room. Aspen Vodka — a local brand with products that are set to nod to Hunter S. Thompson — used the weekend to debut its flagship hooch, the clear liquid flowing as freely as the Roaring Fork River. The Hotel Jerome became one of the weekend’s real epicenters — hosting events from Chicago’s famed cocktail bar The Aviary, a weekend-long pop-up from Stranahan’s head distiller Owen Martin, multiple sittings with Casa Dragones Tequila and a Sustainable Fish House competition with chefs Brad Kilgore, Giannina Barrantes and Yia Vang.

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A long list of internationally renowned talent — think Martha Stewart and Daniel Boulud — made daily presentations, with big names comfortably intermingling amidst the crowd late into the night. Guy Fieri — and several impersonators — casually strolled through venues, clearly a man basking at the apex of his well-followed dreams. William H. Macy shamelessly promoted Woody Creek Distillery, a company he co-owns. Rodney Scott promoted his book in an equally unconcealed fashion, preparing hushpuppies in front of a more-than-receptive crowd. Eva Longoria joined the mob for shots of her Casa del Sol Tequila, the woman-owned brand she debuted over the weekend.

But it was this year’s local talent that may have really stolen the show. Yacht Club’s Mary Allison Wright and McLain Hedges — alongside the Brasserie Brixton team and Anvil Wine Company — threw one of the weekend’s great parties, taking over Here House for a caviar-fueled disco that raged late into the night. Top Chef alumni Byron Gomez — who currently helms the kitchen at 7908 — linked with fellow contestants Dawn Burrell and Shota Nakajima to throw the Top of the Mountain party, an exclusive event that made diners remember the competition chops of member each of the tenacious trio. Chef Brother Luck made a splash in the Grand Tasting Pavillion, representing Colorado ingredients with his distinct panache.

Despite running at a reduced capacity — with 60% of the usual attendees — the Food and Wine Classic still brimmed with uninhibited delight, smiling faces and full bellies at every turn.

The Aspen Food and Wine Classic will return June 17 – 19, 2022.

All photography courtesy of Rising Sun Photography and Food and Wine