The 40 Year Feast – Industry Professionals Reflect on the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen

Carla Hall, Marcus Samuelsson, Mei Lin, Gail Simmons and Kristen Kish. Photo courtesy of C2 Photography / Food and Wine.

Each June, the town of Aspen is transformed. The metamorphosis is always riveting, but this year was special.

This time around, the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen turned 40. With every passing summer, it adds more layers and more gilded splinterings as it etches its way out through the community and into the culinary culture at large. Ostensibly centered around five grand tastings, the weekend is really built out of innumerable seminars, brand-sponsored parties, venue activations, wine and spirit tastings and mountaintop feasts. For some, it’s a victory lap. For others, an unadulterated bacchanal. The elaborate event is set up for guests to learn, shmooze, sip, snack, groove and appreciate the culinary world’s astounding elegance, and then do it all over again. For three marathon days.

It’s the type of event where it’s easy for folks to rub elbows with their idols, in the end, as much a hyper-charged creative pressure cooker as it is Coachella.

“It was wonderful to see so many of our clients and partners over the jam-packed weekend and chat about how the industry is continuing to grow,” said Fireside at Five cofounder Gertie Harris. “From a personal note, we felt there was an energy and excitement around collaboration and sharing new ideas with one another. We had some great conversations with some world-renowned chefs, beverage directors and hospitality groups who were discussing new projects. It gave us a glimpse into how they were approaching a rapidly changing industry,” she continued.

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The organizers were equally excited.We were so thrilled to be back in Aspen to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Food and Wine Classic and bring the brand to life again in the Rockies,” said Food and Wine Editor-in-Chief Hunter Lewis. “The event has been a mirror to food culture in the past four decades, starting with the Francophiles that launched it back in the early 1980s, the rise of American cuisine, and the evolution of food TV chefs in the 90s, and now a focus on global cuisines. As editor and one of the hosts, the feeling I felt the most during the weekend was one of gratitude. How lucky we are to be stewards of this rich history as we continue to shape the event for the future.”

Even for the fresh-faced newcomers, the Classic has all the trappings of a reunion, where novice guests can have no trouble falling in with seasoned groups fit for navigating the endless entertainment. The volunteer staff is full of folks who have been doing the gig for decades.

“I have been attending the Food and Wine Classic for the last 30-plus years. I’m always representing the restaurants and usually hosting an event with one of our many winery or distillery partners,” said Mateo‘s Matthew Jansen. “We took this year off from hosting our own event and enjoyed several trade tastings and satellite parties. I can never get enough of catching up with friends from all around the world, dining at some of Colorado’s best restaurants, and sneaking off to enjoy amazing hikes and bike rides. Every year seems to capture a fresh perspective in celebrating food and wine,” he continued. “The entire set-up seems to be more refined every year, and I’m so grateful to have this experience just a moment away.”

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While attendees know they can count on all the foundational fun getting more dialed in with each iteration, many guests have been excited to see some additional growth, particularly when it comes to diversity.

“Aspen Food and Wine has little to no diversity or cultural influences with the programming or events. It is rare to see a BIPOC during the entire weekend. Over the last two years, I have seen growth in the cultural spaces and more representation,” said The Wine Suite’s Maia Parish optimistically. “Representation is vital to growth in any industry. This year was the most diverse in my eight years of attending various events under and outside the tent. It was a joy to witness, and I look forward to continued growth,” she added, noting that she was honored to be on the wine team for the Hotel Jerome‘s Black on Black Dinner, where she poured notable wines from Carmelo Anthony, Marvina Robinson and CJ McCollum.

The Hotel Jerome was also responsible for some of the weekend’s best programming. Its Epicurean Passport included events like the La Casa Del Sol dinner by Chef David Castro Hussong from Fauna, Chef Tomas Bermudez from La Docena and Top Chef Season 18 contestant Byron Gomez, and the REUNION Dinner in Prospect by Chef Tim Hollingsworth from Otium LA. “For the Third Annual Epicurean Passport weekend, we wanted to take things to the next level, which we were able to do by collaborating with elite event design partner and top planning agency Rafanelli Events to help us bring our dreams to life and tell the unique visual story of each activation,” said Jerome’s general manager Patrick Davila.

“For me, the festival was not just delicious. It was also a promising opportunity to create new networks and community with folks that can help us make headway on some of the big issues impacting our society,” said the Latinx House‘s Monica Ramirez. She and cofounder Olga Segura will return to Aspen on August 24 – 27 for their second annual Raizado Festival, a four-day event celebrating the achievements and culture of the local Latino community.

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For Gomez, owner of Pollo Tico in Boulder and former chef at Aspen’s now-shuttered 7908, the festival has always been a good place for him to push for greater recognition for the cooking of his home country. “I got to cook and highlight my food and culture in many different ways throughout the festival. Finding that niche to talk about Costa Rica and who I am as an immigrant is an honor, especially on an internationally-recognized stage like Food and Wine,” he said of his fifth year attending.

This year’s event was a triumph of self-expression, its best qualities gloriously amplified as it continues to shape itself to fit food culture’s endless dynamism.

The 41st Food and Wine Classic in Aspen will take place on June 14 – 16, 2024. Tickets for the event will go on sale in January. Anyone who wants to get notified can register on the website to learn when tickets are available.

Also, for folks planning on attending the event, it’s crucial to secure lodging as early as possible. In-town locations tend to book up quickly. Spots in Snowmass — including the Viewline Resort — can provide a solid alternative.

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