When I arrived in Aspen this year, the weather greeted me with a big smile and a warm hug, with sun shining across the flourishing green mountains. In what I consider to be icing on a year of cake, I was thrilled to be invited back to the picturesque Colorado town to cover the 2010 Food & Wine Classic after having an incredible time at the event in 2009.
Last year, as a bit of a food & wine newbie, I sadly made it to town only too late to participate in the opening events. This year, however, I reached my destination with plenty of time to spare, refreshed and ready to indulge in my favorite food and wine. After a superb interview with local award-winning chef Ryan Hardy of the Little Nell’s Montagna (look for it on DB in August!) I made my way to the Food & Wine Classic’s opening reception at the gorgeous St. Regis Aspen featuring four of Bravo’s Top Chefs – last season’s winner Michael Voltaggio, brother Bryan Voltaggio, Jennifer Carroll, and Eli Kirshtein. Late to the evening’s soiree after spending a bit of time acclimating myself to the altitude (8000 ft above sea level!), I made sure to snag a few pics of the red carpet guests, which included Dana Cowin and Christina Grdovic of Food & Wine, Top Chef judge Gail Simmons, and a bevy of celebrated chefs from Thomas Keller and Masaharu Morimoto to Tom Colicchio and Michel Nischan.
Much to my surprise, I bumped into Lüke San Antonio executive chef Steven McHugh who was in town to assist chef John Besh with his Tails and Ales luncheon. McHugh noted that the crawfish provided for the luncheon had been driven up overnight by a few of Besh’s New Orleans staff who, surprisingly, had never seen the Colorado Rockies, let alone snow (which is still atop a few local mountain peaks). It seems the Food & Wine Classic provides many of its visitors with one-of-a-kind memories.
From the Top Chef event, I headed to the delicious Wines of Spain barbeque graciously hosted by the ever-convivial chef Jose Andres at his nearby rental home. A repeat event, I was super excited to make it into town early enough to attend the pork-themed bash. Andres roasted a number of pigs on spits in his spacious backyard before slicing and dicing the porcine nearby. The evening’s menu included everything one can enjoy from our pork pals, from crispy pig skin, which Andres bestowed on guests in a bit of pork communion, to pork belly and blood sausage. Wines from Spain were poured at three tables around the property to compliment the piggy extravaganza as guests mingled before sunset. In attendance, the great Jacques Pépin, along with his daughter Claudine, cheese lady Laura Werlin, chef Art Smith, wine man Joshua Wesson, a smattering of former Top Chef competitors, and all of the 2010 Food & Wine Best New Chefs. San Francisco chef Chris Cosentino stepped in behind the bbq to assist with the pork facilitation, with former Top Chef cheftestant Michael Isabella working the coals as well.
Throughout the evening, Andres, a loyal Lakers fan, could be found in the center of a packed living room as guests gathered around a big screen television to watch the end of the NBA finals. While East Coast devotees like chef Bryan Voltaggio and yours truly hoped for a Celtics win, the majority of the crowd, including the host himself, celebrated the Lakers win, and the wonderful Classic kickoff, with an extra glass of Spanish wine as the evening came to a close.
*Photo credit: Jennifer Heigl / Daily Blender